Enlargement of the EU is a key step towards the unification of Europe as a whole, says Thomas Klestil, federal president of Austria. But the greater challenge for Europe is to develop a stronger role in international politics and to learn to speak with one voice. –

With the accession of 10 mostly central European countries to the EU, European integration will reach far beyond the former dividing lines on the continent and take a major step towards the unification of the continent as a whole.

Looking towards the future, larger Europe there are many uncertainties about international peace, security and stability. What will be Europe’s place among the superpowers of tomorrow and what alliances will emerge?

How can Europe find solutions to major conflicts such as those in the Middle East? How can we contain nuclear proliferation and the use of weapons of mass destruction by unreliable or unpredictable regimes?

How can we defend our societies against new threats of terrorism, organized crime or uncontrolled migration? What can we do to prevent a clash of civilizations or dangerous divisions between rich and poor countries?

To meet these challenges, close international cooperation will be required and Europe – especially the EU – will have to play a stronger role in managing and containing these dangers.

Europe will only have the necessary weight in world affairs if peace and stability prevail in every part of our continent – and if ultimately all its countries participate in European integration.

The forthcoming round of accession will therefore be a most important step toward such a united Europe. Other countries in south-eastern and eastern Europe must follow.

According to the founding treaties of the EU, all European countries have the right to join if they are able and ready to meet the obligations of EU membership, as laid down in the Copenhagen Criteria.

The larger the EU gets, the stronger its internal cohesion must become. The Intergovernmental Conference of 2004 is therefore called upon to further strengthen European institutions and to establish greater clarity in the division of competencies between them and the EU member states.

But ultimately the EU will achieve its goals only if the “European idea” enjoys the necessary support of the people of Europe.

The EU must be more actively involved in meeting the concerns of its people: to live in peace and security, to meet their social needs, to enjoy economic opportunities and to preserve a healthy environment for themselves and future generations.

The EU must seek greater transparency of its decision-making and involve its citizens more closely in that process. Only then will it be possible to create among the people of Europe a true feeling of being part of European unification.

With the appointment of the high representative for common foreign and security policy, the EU has taken a further important step towards a genuine European foreign policy.

To become more visible on the world stage, Europe must speak with one voice, and it will need a truly common foreign policy implemented by a European foreign minister, acting jointly with member states.

It is a sad reality that in world affairs military power still appears to be indispensable. By creating a modest European military capacity, the EU will be able to undertake smaller missions independently of US participation.

This, however, should only be a beginning. Eventually, governments must agree to end the present duplication of defence efforts and to establish a genuine common defence system.

Only by catching up in those areas where it is lagging behind the US will Europe be able to become an equal and reliable partner of our American friends.

It is too early to predict the form European integration will ultimately take. Will there be a United States of Europe? Will the EU become a federation or a confederation? Will nation states unite in a “Europe of Fatherlands”, as proposed by Charles de Gaulle?

There is, as yet, little purpose in trying to define the “finalité européenne”. The EU remains a unique body and at the same time a mere union of independent states. It will eventually find the form most suitable to its members and its peoples.

One prediction, however, I would like to make: as deep as integration may become in the political, economic and security fields, European countries will retain specific identities. The incredible plurality of nations, cultures, languages and religions is part of the wealth of the European continent and must be preserved.

Despite all these challenges, I am certain that the forthcoming round of enlargement is in the interests of Europe as a whole. It will strengthen its role as an equal partner of other major powers and as a global player in the multi-polar world of tomorrow.

Expanding the reach of the EU will not stop after this next phase of enlargement. We will have to look beyond the confines of the present union – to our eastern and south-eastern neighbours in particular.

There, a common effort will be needed to foster stability, development, democracy and respect for human rights. Those states of the region that have not yet applied for accession to the EU should settle their problems by drawing inspiration from the EU’s experience of integration.

Also those European countries that will stay outside the EU for the foreseeable future expect a message on how the EU plans to accommodate their European aspirations.

Building on existing instruments and relations, access of other European countries to the internal market and other relevant EU policies could be provided in five areas:

  • reinforced political dialogue;
  • economic cooperation and closer trade links;
  • cooperation in justice and home affairs;
  • cooperation in financial assistance, public and private investment;
  • and gradual harmonization with EU policies and standards.

There is no doubt that Europe must assume a stronger role in international politics.

The 21st century brings new uncertainties and dangers to world peace and stability.

Only a stronger Europe will be able to participate in finding solutions to these threats.

This year will be a determining period in several respects. Prospects include:

  • a successful accomplishment of enlargement;
  • the consolidation of institutions;
  • the coordination of economic policies;
  • the opening of the Intergovernmental Conference; and
  • the development of a new constitutional treaty that would give the EU a renewed and stronger international role to speak to the world with one voice.

The Convention on the Future of Europe is a historic opportunity to provide the EU with substantial power. We are fully committed to ensuring such a positive outcome next spring with the adoption of a unified proposal.

The new institutions are to ensure visibility, effective action on the part of an enlarged EU within a context of democracy and transparency, and consolidate Europe’s capacity to project values and rules beyond its own borders. The enlargement and strengthening of the EU are vital to democracy, freedom and security in Europe.

The annual meetings of heads of state of central Europe, which now go beyond the region, help to consolidate a common sentiment that finds its expression in the European values set forth in the Charter of Fundamental Rights: human dignity, solidarity, diversity and non-discrimination.

Thomas Klestil
Thomas Klestil has been the federal president of Austria since July 1992. He made a vital contribution to the preparatory work for Austria’s accession to the European Union.