Hannes Richter

The EU – U.S. Summit in Vienna

Hannes Richter

“When America and Europe work together, we can accomplish big deals. The world needs us to work together because there are a lot of challenges,” said President Bush at a joint press conference at the EU-U.S. Summit in Vienna, hosted by Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel. “Even if we have different approaches on some issues, that should not overshadow the depth and the quality of our relations,” added Mr. Schüssel.

EU-U.S. Summit, Vienna, Conference Hall. Hopi Media.

The yearly EU-U.S. Summits, initiated in the early 1990s, are taking place alternately in Washington and the EU country holding the rotating six-month Presidency. They provide an excellent opportunity to examine transatlantic relations and to seek ways to enhance cooperation. This year’s Vienna Summit ended with a joint declaration in which both sides committed themselves to further strengthening their strategic partnership. Efforts will be made to improve cooperation in the promotion of peace, human rights and democracy in the world. Other global challenges requiring greater strategic cooperation include security, energy, energy security, climate change and sustainable development.

Apart from the joint declaration signed in Vienna, two progress reports were issued at the Vienna Summit, one on key economic areas, the other on political and security issues. These reports summarized the accomplishments of EU-U.S. cooperation since the last summit. The full text of the Vienna Summit Declaration and the two Progress Reports are available on the Austrian Presidency website at: http://www.eu2006.at/de/The_Council_Presidency/EU-USSummit/Documentation/index.html

Asked by the press about opinion polls indicating that a majority of Europeans see the United States as the greatest threat to world stability, both President Bush and Chancellor Schüssel gave statements worth repeating.

President Bush: “It’s absurd. We are actively working with our partners to spread peace and democracy in the world. If the American foreign policy, particularly the international war on terrorism, is not appreciated by a large section of the public, perhaps it is due to the fact that for Europe, 9/11 was a moment. For us, it was a change of thinking. I know that the more we move on from September 11, the more people will forget the lessons we should take from it. I’m not going to forget them. I’m not governing by polls. I just do what I think is right.”

Chancellor Schüssel: “…I think we should be fair from the other side of the Atlantic. We should understand what September 11 meant to the American people. It was a shock. For the first time, a real shock. A society’s values were attacked - American values, international values, European values in the home country of the President and all Americans. And we should not be naïve. We Europeans were also attacked. We had bomb attacks in Madrid. Hundreds of people were killed. We had bomb attacks in the London subway, and buses were blown up. We have detected terrorists who tried to shoot down an Israeli plane. So we should not be naïve.”

During the Summit, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and European Union Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner signed an agreement extending transatlantic educational cooperation in higher education and vocational training for eight more years: Educational exchanges will be promoted, the Fulbright-Schumann exchange program will be strengthened, and collaboration between universities and vocational institutions will be encouraged.

(from left) EUR Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Austrian FM Ursula Plassnik, Vice Chancellor Hubert Gorbach, Austrian Ambassador Eva Nowotny and U.S. Ambassador Susan McCaw. Hopi Media.

In recent years several U.S. Presidents have paid visits to Austria, although not in an official or bilateral capacity. The most spectacular visit was the meeting between President John F. Kennedy and USSR Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev in 1961. It was the first encounter of the young U.S. President with a Soviet leader during a time of heightened East-West tensions.

Eighteen years later, in 1979,  there was another summit between the superpowers. President Jimmy Carter and Soviet President and Party Leader Leonid Brezhnev met for the signing of the second Agreement on Strategic Arms Limitation (SALT II). After visits by Presidents Richard Nixon (1972, 1974) and Gerald Ford (1975), the father of the current President, George Herbert Walker Bush, paid an official visit to Austria in 1983  in his capacity as U.S. Vice President.

(from left) Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, U.S. President George W. Bush, Austrian President Heinz Fischer and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Hopi Media.

Austria was thus very happy that President Bush combined his stay in Vienna for the EU - U.S. Summit with a bilateral visit to Austria, during which he held comprehensive talks with Federal President Heinz Fischer and Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel. In addition to the political discussions, President Bush enjoyed a lively forum with a group of Austrian students and a concert by the Vienna Boys Choir.