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13 September 2019

Building a Greater Europe

The Vienna Summit – October 1993


The 1st Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe was held in Vienna on 8 and 9 October 1993, at the joint initiative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Austrian chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. After the major upheavals on our continent between 1989 and 1991, the Council of Europe found a leading political role in bringing the ex-communist countries into the family of democratic European states. The Vienna Summit traced the outlines for a new Europe, putting an end to the political divide and ideology of the past. It laid the foundations for a Greater Europe stretching from Reykjavik to Vladivostok. Ambassador Hans Winkler, as Permanent Representative of Austria to the Council of Europe, was the kingpin in the preparation of the summit and he tells us his story.

Vienna, 8-9 October 1993. The two half-day summit was the result of nearly a year of organisation right down to the smallest practical details, and difficult and sometimes slow-moving political negotiations. After all, it was the first time that such a large-scale and high-profile event had had to be planned, prepared and organised in the Council of Europe framework.
When I arrived in Strasbourg in January 1992 as Permanent Representative of Austria to the Council of Europe, the holding, let alone organisation, of such a summit had not even been visible on the horizon. Although the first mention of the need for such an event was as early as 1976 – in a speech by the Austrian Federal Chancellor Bruno Kreisky – and was brought up again in May 1992 by French President François Mitterrand in connection with his idea of creating a “Confédération européenne”, the official decision by the Committee of Ministers on bringing together for the first time the Council of Europe member states at the highest political level was taken only in November 1992.
In the 1990s, summits of international organisations were nothing rare or extraordinary, at least in Europe. No month passed by without heads of states and governments coming together, agreeing on political guidelines and priorities to give impetus for the future work of the Organisation they were part of. This also led to a certain fatigue of summits among the public and the media, and accordingly, to high expectations as regards the results of such a conference, which then of course affected the popularity of the participating governments and the electoral choices of their citizens. No wonder it was difficult to convince politicians in the Council of Europe family about the pertinence of such an extraordinary event.
Nevertheless, we were all aware that the major political events in Europe between 1989 and 1992 – the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the communist regimes, the birth of new states from the ashes of the Soviet Union and the tragic developments in former Yugoslavia which were about to unfold – had driven up the political role of the Council of Europe and the need for an international forum involving those European states that were not part of the European Union in the political dialogue. We could also guess that the Europe of 26 that we had known would soon face a rapid enlargement due to these events. Hence, the holding of such a summit gained more and more support as the debate in the Committee of Ministers went ahead.
As for the potential host of the conference, Austria came naturally into play as the holder of the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers from May to November 1993. After the Austrian Government officially decided to offer hosting the summit meeting, it was felt that to closely link the agenda of the summit with the priorities of its chairmanship was the best way forward. It was therefore logical to concentrate on these priorities, focusing mainly on human rights-specific topics. It would have been unrealistic, however, to think that the summit would gain the expected attention and support from European leaders solely with the reform of the European Convention on Human Rights and the question of national minorities on its agenda. Among the other points to be discussed were the reaching out of the Council of Europe to new areas of activities in view of the fundamental change of the situation in Europe, and possible follow-up mechanisms at the highest political level under the auspices of the Council.
The political negotiations on the content of the debate were in no way easy. The discussions on the agenda and the Final Declaration were held in the frame of an ad hoc working party under the control of the Committee of Ministers, which I was chairing as Permanent Representative of the host country. Apart from the intensive preparation in subsidiary working groups, we maintained political contacts at different levels with the member states which had specific interest in one or other topic of the summit. The Parliamentary Assembly also played a key role in the preparation phase and in giving impulse to the negotiations. In its Resolution 99 (1993), for instance, the Assembly underlined the importance of the summit for the strengthening of the political role of the Council of Europe and requested to adopt concrete decisions regarding the protection of minorities and the reform of the supervisory mechanism of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Striving for concrete achievements, comprehensible for all citizens
Despite all these efforts, some member countries remained sceptical about the summit meeting and its agenda. Especially the British and German Governments questioned the necessity of discussing these topics at the highest political level. The breakthrough in this respect came on 2 February 1993 when Helmut Kohl, Federal Chancellor of Germany, spoke at the session of the Parliamentary Assembly. In his speech, deviating from the written text which had not contained any reference to the summit, he explicitly expressed his support for the summit, under the condition that the conference should not be just another high-level gathering but one that should strive for concrete achievements, comprehensible for all citizens.

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Upon graduation from the University of Vienna and the Diplomatic Academy of Austria, Hans Winkler began his career in the Austrian foreign ministry in 1970. He held various positions in his country’s diplomatic missions, was the Permanent Representative of Austria to the Council of Europe in 1990s, and in 1996 he became head of the Department for North and South America in the Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Between 1999 and 2005 he was head of the Office of International Law and, additionally, from 2002 its Deputy Secretary General. In July 2005 he was appointed Secretary of State in the Ministry for European and International Affairs, a position which he held until December 2008. In April 2009 he was appointed Director of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna.