BRUSSELS, Dec. 31 (Xinhuanet) -- Austria takes over the six-month rotating
presidency of the European Union (EU) on Sunday. But hopes are not high for
Vienna to revive the bloc plagued by a constitution crisis and months of
wrangling over a long-term budget.
Austria's Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik indicated that her country has
only moderate ambitions at the helm of the 25-nation bloc.
"It is not up to every presidency to invent the wheel," she told a press
conference on Dec. 19 in Brussels at a joint presentation of a work program of
Austria and Finland as EU presidencies of 2006. Finland takes over from Austria
on July 1.
Austria, as a small country, would act as a "pragmatic team player" that
would "serve" Europe, she said.
Vienna breathed a big sigh of relief over the agreement at a mid-December
EU summit on the bloc's 2007-13 budget. Neither Austria nor Finland were thought
to be able to break the deadlock should it was left unsolved during Britain's
As a result of tough negotiations between EU leaders, an agreement was
reached after London yielded more on its annual rebates from EU coffers and
Paris agreed on a non-binding clause of review of the EU's expenditure on farm
subsidies of which France is a major beneficiary.
Vienna is now left with the less challenging job of persuading the defiant
European Parliament to accept the deal.
The Austrian presidency hopes to reach agreement with the European
Parliament by March so that funding for projects that require pre-planning would
not be delayed.
Austria is seen to have little interest in reviving the ratification
process of the EU constitution.
EU leaders agreed to have a period of reflection after the constitution was
turned down in two founding members of the EU -- France and the Netherlands --
in May and June 2005. An EU summit in June 2006 is set to decide whether to end
the reflection period.
Plassnik made it clear that her country will not press for ratification of
the document. "There are no quick fixes and no instant answers," Plassnik told
the Dec. 19 press conference.
Vienna's lack of interest was in sharp contrast to the positive attitude of
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said within 24 hours after she took office
that her country still stands by the EU constitution.
"We stand by the constitution. The pause for reflection is not an excuse for
putting it aside," Merkel told reporters in Brusselson Nov. 23. She said her country
might try to revive the ratification process during its EU presidency in the
first half of 2007.
On further enlargement of the EU, another issue of controversy in EU member
states, Austria is seen to have ambivalence. On the one hand, under overwhelming
domestic pressure, the Austrian government in October made an unsuccessful
attempt to block the start of Turkey's EU accession talks. On the other hand,
Vienna iskeen to accelerate accession processes of the former Yugoslav
Austria has high stakes in southeastern Europe, with which Austria has had
traditional links as this region was territories of the former Austro-Hungarian
Austria, a pioneer investor in eastern and central Europe afterthe collapse of
the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s, is now seen to shift its trade and
political attention to the Balkans.
Total Austrian investment in southeastern Europe increased 57 percent in
2004 over the previous year. In the same period, Austrian investment in eastern
Europe rose just 17 percent.
Plassnik said enlargement to the Balkan states is a "natural focus point"
of the Austrian presidency. Austria successfully pushed for the start of
accession talks with Croatia in October. Macedonia has recently been granted EU
candidate state status. Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro are also looking for EU
Austria has announced that the foreign ministers of the EU hopefuls will be
invited to a special EU foreign ministers' meeting in March.
Vienna is also seen to be keen on accelerating the final statustalks over
Kosovo, which has been under UN administration since 1999, and overseeing a
referendum on independence for Montenegro.
Austria, together with Finland, will steer Romania and Bulgariato full EU
membership, presumably on Jan. 1, 2007.
It is unrealistic to expect Austria, where, according to a recent Euro
barometer poll, less than a third of the citizens believe EU membership is a
good thing, to bring any fundamental changes to Europe in six months time.
No substantial moves appear to be likely before 2007, when elections will have
installed new French and Dutch governments and politically ambitious Germany
is at the helm of the EU. Enditem