Lunch chat with Eva Nowotny, Austrian ambassador to the US, also covers EU constitution, immigration, and the country's recent parliamentary elections.
None of the European countries has ever defined itself as an immigration country like the United States has.
The Center for European and Eurasian Studies organized an Oct. 10, 2006, visit to UCLA by Austria's ambassador to the United States, Eva Nowotny. Her husband Thomas Novotny, who is a professor of political science, and Martin Weiss, the Austrian Consul General in Los Angeles, joined the ambassador in a lunch and conversation with four UCLA faculty members who have interests in central and eastern Europe. UCLA Dean of Humanities Timothy Stowell, a linguist; CEES Director Gail Kligman, a sociologist; Robert Spich of the UCLA Anderson School of Management; and Professor of History and Political Psychology Peter Loewenberg, who is also dean of training at the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute, posed questions to Ambassador Nowotny on expansion and governance of the European Union, immigration, and other topics. A historian by training, Nowotny was an assistant professor at the University of Vienna from 1969 to 1973, the year she entered her country's foreign service.
During the first half of 2006, Austria held the rotating EU presidency, giving Nowotny a pivotal role not only in Austrian but also in European foreign affairs. From the perspective of Austria—which joined the EU in 1995, decades after some neighbors had commenced official economic cooperation—one benefit of membership was the ability to "articulate ourselves on issues where as a country alone it would be meaningless," Nowotny explained.
Going forward, key unresolved issues for Europe are the extent of its frontiers and the fate of the EU constitution, Nowotny said. The long-running debate about Turkey's candidacy "has really put the question" of Europe's shape and identity "very bluntly on the table." Even setting aside differences on religion and human rights, the sheer size of Turkey is an issue, she said, noting that the country contains more small farms than the rest of the 25-member union (expected to add Romania and Bulgaria in 2007). How would this affect agricultural policy, she asked.
The rejection of the EU constitution by French and Dutch voters in 2005 raises significant technical questions, Nowotny said, including the process by which any amended charter would be ratified in nations, such as Austria, that have approved the document. She said that Austria would be looking to Germany for leadership on the issue after Jan. 1, when it assumes the EU presidency. German Chancellor Angela Merkel Oct. 11 announced that her country would seek to revive the constitution with an eye to its adoption by mid-2009, when European parliamentary elections are set.
On immigration, Nowotny pointed to low birth rates in much of Europe and the need for immigration to sustain "the economy, social systems, and the tax base."
"None of the European countries has ever defined itself as an immigration country like the United States has," she said.
Nowotny and UCLA faculty members also discussed possible governing coalitions in Austria following closely fought Oct. 1 elections, in which the center-left Social Democrats won a narrow victory. With negotiations just underway, a grand coalition is widely viewed as a likely outcome. Nowotny said that a coalition of the three rightist parties, with their strong rivalries, would be unstable.