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Speeches

W. Fasslabend: Address to World Summit 2013

PhotoAustria has probably experienced the most changes in the last century that one could imagine. Austria used to be one of the great European powers. For hundreds of years it had a strong influence on the whole situation in Europe. With the end of World War I, this empire fell apart and Austria became a small state that could hardly exist on its own. In addition, we had a civil war between two parties in Austria, followed by occupation by Hitler. What followed World War II was occupation by the Russian, American, French, and British troops until 1955.

Since then, we have been independent. We still are a neutral state and a member of the European Union. Our medium-sized country has one of the highest quality of life of any country in the world ­ -- a high economic standard, no jobless people, and a very high standard of security. It has everything you could wish for.

But the issue should be, what can Europe do in order to contribute effectively to peace, security, and good development on the continent and maybe also beyond? To give a very simple answer, I would say to keep the European Union successful, now and for the future, and to keep this model open for other countries and maybe also transfer it to other continents. We should try to find out how Europe can develop more strength, will, and strategy to project peaceful politics across its own borders and even the borders of the continent.

If you analyze it, you really have to say that this combination or integration of independent states became probably the biggest successful peace story one could imagine. In the last 500 years, there was not one single period longer than 30 or 40 years in which there was not a big war between the big powers -- ­between the French and German, Spanish and British, Turkish and Polish, etc., there always was a fight. The coalitions changed, but in every case the wars were catastrophic for the people. The two World Wars within 25 years were more or less wars between European powers.

After World War II, we got a vision of not only cooperating but of integrating -- becoming a real union. This was the program of success not only for the countries of Western Europe but also, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, for Central and Eastern European countries.

I was born and brought up only 500 meters from the former Iron Curtain. In my childhood there was hardly any night when I could not hear the barking dogs that followed the refugees, people from the other side who tried to flee their own countries. You could hear the shooting of the border soldiers. Now, not only I but hundreds of thousands of people all over Europe can cross the border each day in order to work on the other side. Companies can offer their services across borders. On weekends, when I get into my car and drive across the border to drink coffee in a neighboring country, I do not need a passport; I do not need a different currency. This is one of the biggest successes you can imagine. We have to try to preserve it and expand it. It’s a complicated solution, I have to say, but a very successful one.

But the European Union is not the whole of Europe. There is Russia; Eastern European countries such as Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova; and the south Caucasian republics such as Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. There will certainly be no war between the European Union and Russia, because there are so many interdependencies between both sides and also no prospect of one side overcoming the other side.

We have to build up more trust, because there is still quite some distrust between both sides. I do not blame just one side for this situation. The decisive point for peace and security in Europe will be the handling of the in-between countries --  Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and the south Caucasian republics. Will they have the chance to choose freely whether they want to join the European Union or whether they will be forced, more or less, into another sphere of influence? Whether this is Russia or anybody else I do not want to analyze at this moment. The free choice for those countries will be the decisive factor for managing peace, security, and good development. Regarding good development, compare the situations of Poland and Ukraine. Twenty-five years ago, they had about the same status, and if you look at them at this moment, you can see the success of European Union: Poland managed to increase its GDP per capita from 2,000 euros to 13,000 euros within only one and a half decades.

We also have to look beyond the borders of Europe, especially to the Middle East and the northern part of Africa, where we have strong interests. We have to recognize that there is not one single solution. The situation of countries of the Arab Spring is different from the Middle East and Sahel Africa.

On the one hand, you have the awakening at the end of the post-colonial period. This is, for me, the Arab Spring. From the European side, we have to strengthen those countries and assist them. Even if we may not like a particular government, we can help them establish democratic structures, parties, systems, and economies. I think we should do it very intensively. We should try to play the role of a frank and objective mediator in the Middle East.

We should strive at the same time to assist the countries from Senegal and Guinea across the whole of northern Africa to Somalia, perhaps including Mali, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, and so on. We should help them overcome the differences between the two worlds: the Muslim, Arab north and the black, sub-Saharan, African, mostly Christian south. It is of foremost interest to help them not only overcome this divide but also strengthen the system of their states. Otherwise, there will be one conflict after the other. I see a wide range of situations.

It is beyond my scope to try to analyze all the individual cases, but what we can learn is that mere cooperation and association are probably not enough. When conditions are ready, people should go one step beyond, to integration. The process may be quite long, because for integration you need fairly homogeneous conditions. If the process of integration is long, you have to have patience in order to achieve it. Peace, security, and good development will honor the attitude of those who exercise patience.