Wolfgang Sobotka Stresses Need for Active EU Neighbourhood Policy

Austrian Parliament, 28 January 2019

Austrian National Council President opens Meeting of the Secretaries General of the European Union Parliaments

Vienna (PK) - The EU's neighbourhood policy remains the focus of the Austrian Parliament's foreign policy activities even now that Austria’s European Council Presidency is over. This is true not only for the Western Balkans and the EU’s eastern partners, but also for countries to the south, stressed Austrian National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka today at the opening of the Meeting of the Secretaries General of the European Union Parliaments. In particular he welcomed the agreement reached between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in the name dispute. This once again proves that even long-standing conflicts can be resolved peacefully if talks are conducted with the necessary patience, he stated.

The heads of the administrations of EU parliaments met in Vienna at the invitation of the Austrian Parliament’s Secretary General Harald Dossi to prepare for the Conference of Speakers of the European Union Parliaments to be held on 8 and 9 April 2019. Only after the April conference will the Parliamentary Dimension of the Austrian EU Presidency officially be concluded. The date in April is also of great interest because the timetable for Brexit will have become clear, said Mr. Sobotka.

Today's meeting of the Secretaries General focused in particular on the upcoming European elections and the issue “Open Parliament - Opportunities and Limits”, referencing the tensions between opening up parliaments and security aspects.

Focus for the parliamentary speakers in April: Neighbourhood policy and cooperation between national parliaments and European institutions

In his welcoming address, the President of the Austrian National Council took stock of the positive results from the Austrian Council Presidency. The Austrian Presidency was extremely successful with regard to the number of trilogue decisions and Council decisions. Despite the extremely difficult political situation, Austria was able to make a positive contribution, not only concerning Brexit, but also on Frontex, on reducing CO2 emissions from cars and lorries and on the negotiations for the upcoming EU budget.

Austria places a special focus on neighbourhood policy, Mr. Sobotka said, stressing that this commitment is crucial for Europe’s future and unity. The Austrian Parliament will continue to make foreign policy a priority, he stated. In this context, Mr. Sobotka referred to the scholarship programme initiated by the Austrian Parliament for employees of the parliaments of the Western Balkan states.

However, neighbourhood policy must offer more, he said. This is why the Conference of Speakers of European Union Parliaments in April will focus on the issue of the EU's relations with its neighbours in Eastern Europe, such as Ukraine and Russia, and with countries to the south, said Mr. Sobotka, pointing out that he himself had recently visited Kiev and Moscow. The Africa Summit in Vienna on 18 December also made it clear how important it is for Europe to broaden its focus to include countries to the south as well.

Highlighting the progress made in applying the subsidiarity principle, Mr. Sobotka also noted that the EU should place less emphasis on regulations and more emphasis on directives. It is necessary to take a clear stance on the fact that the EU is responsible for the major issues - such as foreign, economic and climate policy - but that there is sufficient room for manoeuvre at national and regional level to shape policy, said Mr. Sobotka. (End)

PLEASE NOTE: Photos of the conference can be found at the website of the Austrian Parliament at www.parlament.gv.at/SERV/FOTO/ARCHIV.

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