Austrian EU presidency sets sights on first stage of Turkey accession talks

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Austrian EU presidency sets sights on first stage of Turkey accession talks

Austrian EU presidency sets sights on first stage of Turkey accession talks
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Austria has taken the reins of the European Union presidency for the first half of this year, coordinating the politics of the EU’s 25 member states.In Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Euronews met Ursula Plassnik, the Austrian Foreign Minister and member of the conservative ruling party.Towering at 1.9 metres, she’s often joked that her head may be in the clouds, but her feet are firmly on the ground.She’s helping to steer her country’s presidency at a crucial time – kick-starting a fresh debate on the EU constitution and tackling issues around enlargement:

Euronews: “What, in a nutshell are the priorities of the Austrian EU presidency? What are the big issues you want to tackle?”

Ursula Plassnik: “The European Union needs to do more to be closer to each citizen, to win back their confidence. The EU’s self-confidence should be strengthened. So we will put employment, work and growth at the top of the agenda for the EU spring summit. Furthermore, we have to boost science and research, the environment, and support for universities. We also have to work on the most pressing international issues. As a foreign minister, I’m aiming to focus mainly on the Balkans.”

Euronews: “Is Europe facing a crisis of confidence over the constitution? Is the project dead or alive?”

Ursula Plassnik: “Dead or alive? This is the sort of question to ask a pathologist. We’re working on a political process. We’re working to lay the basis for the future of the European Union. We’re trying to adapt our common rules, as we always have. Of course this requires the same rules for twenty-seven states, for four hundred and fifty million people. Those are legal rules and we have to develop them further. But there’s no quick fix solution. Right now, I’m at the listening stage, hearing the wishes and proposals from different sides. But I know very well that there are no easy answers. My goal is the development of a common procedure, in a concrete and precise way, by the end of the Austrian EU presidency and the EU summit in June.”

Euronews: “So the Austrian EU presidency aims to become more transparent and to bring its citizens closer. That sounds fine, but what does that mean in concrete terms?”

Ursula Plassnik: “What’s important for us, here in Europe? I’d like to underline the objectives of the EU constitutional treaty. First of all, we want to live in peace. And peace is not a matter of course. A few days ago I attended the funeral of President Ibrahim Rugova in Kosovo. For people there, war and armed conflict is still quite a recent experience and still very present in their minds. For many of us in the EU, direct experience of war is something which has already perhaps been pushed into the background. We have to help people in Kosovo to develop a European perspective.”

Euronews: “Do you think one day you’ll be sitting next to a Kosovan Foreign Minister in the European Council? Will Kosovo become a sovereign state, and a member of the EU? Is this a goal which should be pursued?”

Ursula Plassnik: “At the moment our objective is for all Balkan states to gain a European perspective, to bring them closer to Europe, to support them on the path to reform. This also applies to Kosovo. A negotiation process on the future of Kosovo is starting now, under the direction of the United Nations.”

Euronews: “Many Europeans are concerned over the speed and reach of EU enlargement. Where are the frontiers of Europe? Does Europe have frontiers? And who belongs in Europe? Turkey, for instance, yes or no?”

Ursula Plassnik: “The frontiers of Europe, to give you a more general answer, can’t be drawn with a ruler. They can’t be drawn by geographers or historians. Europe was always a political project. That doesn’t mean there will be a Europe without frontiers – No. Looking more closely at the Balkan states for instance, we Europeans don’t want a zone of instability to emerge between Italy and Greece. The Balkans have taken a painful path in their recent history. They are part of the challenge of European reconstruction. They are part of European reunification, part of this continent’s reconciliation. Romania and Bulgaria, with whom we’ve signed treaties, are part of this Europe as well. On January 1st, 2007, Romania and Bulgaria will join the European Union – unless the delay clause is activiated, in which case they will join a year later.”

Euronews: “You still haven’t answered my question regarding Turkey…”

Ursula Plassnik: “We started EU membership talks with Turkey, as you know, on October 3rd, as we did with Croatia. For the moment we are in the technical preparation phase regarding both states. We can probably open the first stage of negotiation during the Austrian EU presidency. The outcome of these negotitations is uncertain. This is written in the negotiation mandate. But the decision we all took last October is a firm decision.”