Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz: Strengthen European cooperation, reach compromises and achieve results
Summary of the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union presented to the European Parliament
“We have had an intensive 6 months with a very packed work programme, marked by excellent cooperation with the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council”, said Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz during a speech before the European Parliament on 15 January 2019 in which he presented a summary of the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU. “53 agreements were reached in 161 trilogue negotiations. The commitment shown by many actors bore witness to the willingness to compromise”, said Sebastian Kurz, who also thanked trio partners Estonia and Bulgaria.
“Everybody should work on a daily basis to improve the European Union. In a similar vein to my remarks at the start of the Austrian Presidency, I would also say today that there is always more that unites us than divides us. The Union has a complex structure, meaning that decision making can sometimes take time. There is however so much that we have to solve together that we have no alternative but to cooperate with one another and be willing to find joint compromises”, the Austrian head of government emphasised.
Brexit – maintaining the unity of the EU 27
“At the start, we intended to do everything possible to maintain the unity of the EU 27, which we managed to do so far. The EU is above reproach regarding the negotiations – an excellent withdrawal agreement has been negotiated and a declaration on the future relationship has been secured. It is also important in the future to ensure a joint approach between the Council, Commission and Parliament”, the Federal Chancellor said prior to the Brexit vote in the British parliament. Austria would continue to pursue this goal.
Security and the fight against illegal migration
“In spite of a deadlock on the issue of distribution, progress has been made on cooperation with third countries. Nowadays, rescue operations are being conducted not only by European boats, but increasingly by Egypt and Libya. The resulting repatriation to North Africa means that there are now 95 per cent less arrivals in Europe than in 2015”, said Sebastian Kurz, reiterating his stance on the fight against illegal migration. An important factor was that there had been a huge drop in the number of people dying in the Mediterranean. The Central Mediterranean route had de facto been closed. The Federal Chancellor was equally pleased about the EU‑wide agreement to strengthen the Frontex mandate: “We continue to support the Commission’s proposals on the increase in staffing – some must still be persuaded. The obligation of solidarity means that we have introduced a new proposal instead of the dispute on distribution.”
Competitiveness, prosperity and sustainability
Under the motto “A Europe that protects”, the Austrian Presidency also focused on strengthening the single market in a sustainable way. Some positive examples highlighted by the Federal Chancellor were agreements on cyber security and on the broadcasting regulation. “A shift in Council opinion on the taxation of internet giants was also initiated”, continued Sebastian Kurz. “As sustainability is a matter of great importance for the Republic of Austria, the ban on certain single‑use plastics, but also a reduction in CO2 emissions for passenger cars and HGVs are significant steps achieved in successful trilogue negotiations. Likewise, I would like to mention protection at the workplace from carcinogenic substances as well as the agreement to establish a European Labour Agency”, stressed the Federal Chancellor.
“A strong Europe also needs a modern budget. We went full speed ahead at the start of the negotiations on the multiannual financial framework and more was achieved than initially expected. I hope that the negotiations can now continue at a quick rate”, said Sebastian Kurz.
“I am thankful that the EU is placing greater focus on the Western Balkans. It is good to see positive development in some countries, such as the solution to the name issue in Macedonia and the opening of two chapters with Serbia and one with Montenegro, which are an important symbol for the start of the European perspective for this region”, said Federal Chancellor Kurz, expressing his opinion on the European Union’s Neighbourhood Policy. “At an Africa forum in December, we increased the focus on economic development and wish to improve living conditions in Africa. The feedback from African governments has been positive”, said the head of government.
“With regards to the fight against anti‑Semitism and anti‑Zionism, in November we held in Vienna the first European conference to gather participants from all European Jewish communities. In December, Council conclusions were adopted on this issue. If Jews no longer feel secure in some member states, then it is important for us to take action”, said the Federal Chancellor and expressed thanks for the support received in this area.
Sebastian Kurz concluded his speech by thanking the European Commission, the European Parliament and all heads of state or government for the constructive cooperation that took place during the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union: “We continually strived to do our bit to strengthen European cooperation, reach compromises and achieve results. We will continue to actively work towards strengthening the EU, even after the end of the Austrian Presidency.”
Photos from the European Parliament are provided on the official Flickr channel.