|THE AUSTRO FRENCH CENTRE FOR RAPPROCHEMENT IN EUROPE
A short presentation givent at the Diplomatic Academy, Vienna -July 2006
Whenever I am asked to present the ideas, the mission that drives the CFA I am usually asked two elementary questions which come to people’s mind when they hear about it: why Austria and France and what type of rapprochement are we talking about?
These questions are legitimate as historically ,Austria and France have not often teamed up in their respective histories and have even been legendary adversaries ,especially under their Habsburg,Bourbon or Napoleonic rulers.
Rapprochement in Europe ,on the other hand ,seems an accomplished item on the European agenda, particularly since the European Union is no longer a purely Western European Union as its predecessor organisations used to be.
What Austria and France are doing in the CFA has therefore certainly a number of historical roots and historical motivations, but it is also of a most topical nature in regard to Europe’s current agenda as I will try to explain talking about some of its most recent activities.
The origins of the Centre date back to the days of the Cold War when Europe was divided between East and West and two hostile blocks confronted eachother.In this period it was not easy to create lines of communication ,contacts between East and West which were often monopolized and closely controlled by the superpowers of the day, the Soviet Union in the East and the United States and its allies in the West.
Austria and France, in this period were both countries that refused to accept this state of affairs , a seemingly insurmountable division of Europe that left little room for a dialogue between Europeans of the East and the West that did not pass through either Moscow or Washington.
Austria was motivated by its status as a neutral country that was free to build relations of varying nature to East as well as West. While, as a liberal democracy it had strong political and economic ties to Western
Europe ,it never quite gave up efforts to maintain contacts towards Eastern European neighbours to which it felt close by history and geography.
France, on the other hand, although an important member of the Western alliance, remained keen to establish and maintain separate and independent lines of communications not only to the Soviet Union but also to some Eastern European countries that had managed to maintain a certain degree of national identity such as POLAND under Gomulka and later Gierek or, under somewhat different auspices, the Romania of the early Ceausescu.
It was therefore quite natural that two such countries like Austria and France would team up together to try to overcome, by various means the divisions of Europe symbolized by the Iron Curtain.
The decision was made in a meeting between Bruno KREISKY , Austria’s dominating statesmen in these years and Jacques CHIRAC , at that time one of the rising stars of French politics and already in the role of Prime Minister.
Austria and France therefore created the Centre as a common tool to overcome divisions in Europe ,achieving rapprochement between countries long separated by ideological and cultural confrontation.
Not atypically it was chiefly Hungary and Poland that in these years responded positively to these approaches which were mostly limited to the economic field and the effort to encourage exchanges between economies working under different systems and ,in the case of Eastern countries, subjected to the needs of the Soviet market.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 a the mission of the Centre was greatly extended as it was now able to work with all transition economies of the East ,from the Baltics to the Black Sea Its new mission was twofold:
Helping countries that long been forced to practice the Soviet model of a centrally planned economy to move to a market economy Western style and at the same time establish links with the institutions of European economic integration with a view to join them at a later stage.
The Centre thus became one of the European agencies preparing the advance of Eastern and Central European countries towards today’s EU ,organizing numerous conferences, workshops and other events to bring the essence of European integration, most importantly the ever growing acquis communautaire to these countries.
In this work close cooperation with the European Commission in Brussels and other European institutions was the order of the day.
In the end the Centre has certainly helped to speed the progress of these countries to the EU, covering in its work a great variety of subjects from agriculture to issues of security, from environmental affairs to the fight against corruption, organized crime and other road blocks towards full integration.
In working together in this field Austria and France also developed a new model of European cooperation, pooling, in a quite unusual fashion the resources of a small and a big member of the European family: this always impressed our partners which were more used to see , in this European family confrontation rather than cooperation between large and small countries, both groups often teaming up to work against each other.
It was also quite usual to see two or more large countries working together, the Franco –German couple being perhaps the most famous example ,but Austria and France working together for now more than a quarter century certainly have set a good example.
While the accession of many countries of East/Central Europe to the EU in 2004 has somewhat changes our agenda in this new part of the Union, with which cooperation continues on many levels, we have also found new challenges and tasks to which the Centre is now devoting much of its efforts and resources.
One of the major challenges Europe faces today is certainly the region now described as the Western Balkans.
Jacques DELORS , in one of his visionary outlooks on the future progress of European integration and its ability to incorporate the various parts of Europe once spoke of the “orphans of Europe”, those left behind by massive thrusts of history and political action.
If many of these “orphans of Europe”can today be found, located in the countries and regions of former Yugoslavia ,or, indeed the socalled Western Balkans the reasons are manifold and diverse, but can all be traced back to major failures, but also major neglect on the part of Europe itself.
For too long, for too many years Europe,and indeed the West has failed to develop decisive strategies for this region and let things float in an unacceptable manner. It was only after a series of crises and human tragedies of tremendous dimensions that Europe, and indeed the West
Decided to act and invest itself on a number of crisis spots, Kosovo chief among them.
Over these years of unbridled, uncontrolled crisis, in which some of the most sinister waves of evil and destruction ,national chauvinism, ethnic cleansing and others were unleashed ,much was destroyed- not only human lives and material values but also many possible models of reconstruction and stabilization of the region.
Kosovo, like many other parts of old Yugoslavia were therefor thrown back to something resembling Zero hours, to something entirely new and untried.
And indeed, something resembling the fall of the Berlin wall, the total collapse of an old system has happened in your region, forcing Europe and to some extent the world, to embark on a new beginning ,looking for new avenues for the future.
It is obvious therefore that for an organisation like the CFA that, as I said earlier, has dedicated much energy to furnish its own contribution to the rebuilding of Europe, to the creation of new structure ,it was obvious therefore that our Centre as well is aiming to explore such avenues for the future of Kosovo in a united Europe.
In this effort we were building on previous experiences made in the course of the previous enlargement process of the EU ,an experience that has told us that economic and social factors are the main contributors to regional and indeed continental stability and that the building of a stable political framework depends to a large extent, exclusively perhaps on the existence of a stable economic and social framework.