Central European Security Conference

Starting shot for deeper cooperation in Central Europe

Central Europe has been growing together again since 1989. The Central European countries now want to deepen their cooperation even further, especially with a focus on security and migration. This was the tenor of the “First Central European Security Conference” on May 15 in the Park Hyatt Hotel in Vienna, which was attended by several ministers and numerous diplomats from Central European countries. The organizers spoke of a “starting shot”: In future, the conference initiated by Austria is to take place annually in order to strengthen cross-border cooperation in Central Europe and to create security awareness for Central Europe.

“There are problems that affect our continent and that cannot be solved by large European countries alone,” emphasized National Council member Markus Tschank, referring to the migration crisis in 2015 and 2016. There is a need for greater Central European integration and coordination in the security area, which must grow complementary to the Franco-German axis, as “a noticeable reinforcing pillar for Europe and the Union”. Tschank is President of the Institute for Security Policy, which organized this conference, which took place on the initiative of the Foreign and Defense Ministries. The Order of St. George, the Pan-European Movement Austria, SECI (Southeast European Cooperation Initiative) and the University of Vienna acted as partners.

“There is potential upwards”

First cooperation efforts in Central Europe should be deepened, said Tschank. “There is potential upwards.” The member of the National Council is convinced that in future Europe will integrate itself in terms of security policy in such a way “that its primary task does not have to consist in increasingly deeply integrated bureaucratic structures, but in increasingly developed security services for its citizens.

Defense Minister Mario Kunasek also has high hopes for the cooperation in the region, who sent the participants a video message since he himself was in Croatia: “The region of Central Europe has proven over the centuries how unity can work through diversity.” forward-looking and joint measures are required for the security of citizens in Central Europe. The Central European Security Conference closes “a long overdue gap”. The words of Infrastructure Minister Norbert Hofer were also optimistic: “I am firmly convinced that this is a strong start for a close connection to cooperation in the sense of strengthening what is important to us, namely peace, freedom and prosperity in Austria Central Europe and in the European Union.”

Formed by the House of Habsburg to this day

Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl defined Central Europe as “the space in which the history of the Habsburg monarchy unfolded”. A “multi-layered and at the same time shared culture of life” is characteristic of this space. This can be seen, for example, in the fact that – here, Kneissl quoted the journalist Wolfgang Broer – “a Ladin and a Friulian, a Croat and a Slovene, a Moravian and a Bavarian, a Slovak and a Trieste are assigned to an imaginary center that is not in London, Paris or Moscow is to be located ”. Today the countries of Central Europe are close friends and partners of Austria in its work “for a stronger EU in the areas of security and defense”. Kneissl also quoted SKKH Otto von Habsburg: “The further we move the limits of freedom to the east, the safer the center becomes.”

Participants in the subsequent panel discussion included the Deputy Grand Master of the Order of St. George and special ambassador of Hungary, SKKH Georg von Habsburg. “Central Europe was not pushed together, but grew organically,” he emphasized. Even today one can learn from the Habsburg Monarchy: “Only in the Austro-Hungarian army were there military bishops, military imams and military rabbis who prayed together for the success of the army.” This has not been forgotten in the Southeastern European countries. Now it is of primary interest – especially with a view to our security – to bring the south-east European states “to the EU as quickly as possible.”

The shock effect of the refugee crisis

The autumn of 2015 left a lasting impression, as the discussion participants from Austria’s neighboring countries made clear. It was agreed that an uncontrolled influx as it was then should not be allowed to repeat itself. The Minister of the Interior of Slovenia Vesna Györkös Žnidar became very clear: “Scenarios like 2015 and 2016 are unacceptable.” The EU’s measures against illegal immigration are still inadequate. “This situation endangers the foundations of the EU.” When more than 1.5 million migrants came to the EU via a Western Balkans route, it became clear that “the EU as a whole is not up to this challenge.” However, Žnidar praised the “excellent cooperation “During this time with the then Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner.

The Minister for the Bulgarian EU Council Presidency Lilyana Pavlova found similar words: “Two years ago there was chaos.” Countries that bordered the crisis regions felt abandoned. That has to change. “Otherwise the next crisis will come and we are not prepared again.” And: “We no longer want to discuss, we want to act.”

Erhard Busek, special coordinator of the SECI (Southeast European Cooperation Initiative), criticized the EU on this point: “There is no mechanism in the EU to deal with this problem.” The instruments were missing. Developing them will of course cost more money, which the states would then have to be willing to pay.

“Arrogance towards Eastern and Central Europe”

Busek also sharply criticized the current “arrogance of Western Europe towards Eastern and Central Europe”. He also disagreed with the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on some issues, but he was right with his accusation that “the EU violated Schengen in 2015 when migration took place without any record of the people.” Likewise Busek criticized the fact that Central and Eastern Europeans are in the minority in the leadership of the EU. The former communist countries have a different history, but one can clarify the differences “in personal conversation and in the dispute, but unfortunately this dispute takes place far too little.”

The still “little knowledge about Central Europe” in the population is “an education and a media problem.” In the area of infrastructure, a lot can be done. “In the Habsburg Monarchy, the train from Vienna to Krakow took four hours. Today there are eight. ”In the past, you could also travel from Vienna to Trieste by train.

Europe must do more

No participant doubted that a new wave of migrants would soon be approaching Europe. “The question is not whether it will come, but when it will come,” emphasized Georg von Habsburg. One does not know how the situation of Christians in Egypt will develop. A changed political situation there could immediately trigger a new wave of refugees. Habsburg also wants the EU to be much more active: “When I think back to the economic crisis and Greece: Back then, an EU summit took place every two weeks. I would like the EU to deal just as intensively with the issue of migration.”

Specific suggestions were also discussed during the discussion. The Bulgarian Minister Lilyana Povlova presented a new mechanism developed by Bulgaria during the Council Presidency within the EU, which the European states have yet to agree on. “The Bulgarian approach is geared towards prevention through new branch offices.” With the help of new financial resources and technical support, this mechanism can be used to be proactive, inform and act in good time if another wave of refugees hits Europe. The budget for external border protection and for Frontex is also to be massively increased. Povlova hopes an agreement will be reached before the end of the Bulgarian presidency. Then the Austrian Presidency could pick up on this. Povlova praised the excellent cooperation with Austria, which has set similar priorities for its EU presidency. “We need a Europe that protects.” And: “United we are strong.

Regional cooperation, external border protection, asylum

The Slovenian Minister Vesna Györkös Žnidar also made it clear: “We need regional cooperation. National measures alone are not enough. ”In addition,“ effective external border protection ”is essential, without which Schengen cannot function. To this day, the external borders of the EU are “insufficiently protected”. In addition, “the asylum system should not be used as a migration route to the EU”. Migrants should be stopped at the external borders. Once they set foot on European soil, it would be extremely difficult to get rid of them. There are now tens of thousands of people “who do not meet the conditions for legal residence in the country. You wander from one country to the next. This is a serious challenge to our security. The EU must find an answer to this.”

“We have a long way to go”, underlined the Croatian Deputy Minister for Defense Policy Petar Mihatov. New Balkan routes are currently being developed. One must be vigilant. Mihatov also said: “We should act now instead of waiting until things get out of control.” So far, Europe has not been very well positioned in the area of security: “For a long time, defense was primarily in the hands of NATO.” Now there is a rethinking. Mihatov sees positive developments here. In the future, an effective division of labor between NATO and the EU is conceivable. It is important to know what to expect from the EU and what can be expected from NATO.

Europe’s geopolitical position in the world

Markus Tschank hopes that the Central European cooperation can also compensate for the current shortcomings of the EU: Since the mechanisms in the EU are currently lacking to master the challenges of migration, the small states in Central Europe would have to “move together, create their own platforms and develop their own mechanisms. That is the only alternative to fill this gap.”

At the same time, Tschank also sees the EU as a whole being challenged to strengthen Europe’s position in the world geopolitically: “The days of automatism with the USA are over,” he said, referring to President Trump’s new US foreign policy (“America first “). “Europe is now more on its own.” Infrastructure Minister Hofer also stated: “The importance of the EU is becoming more and more important for us. As individual member countries, we cannot survive in this global competition between the superpowers in my view.”

Foreign Minister Kneissl, among others, underlined that a Central Europe that works well together can and should also strengthen Europe. She referred to the new book by Erhard Busek and Emil Brix “Central Europe revisited: Why Europe’s future is decided in Central Europe”. & Nbsp; & nbsp; The central thesis is: “Central Europe is the future of Europe”. Kneissl stated: “If we take this thesis as the basis of our discussion, then we are not only responsible for our own safety. Central Europe needs Europe and Europe needs Central Europe.”