European Forum Wachau: Building a Resilient, Green, and Competitive Europe

PeopleOther ♦ Published: June 25, 2023; 16:42 ♦ (Vindobona)

The event under the general theme "Building a Resilient, Green and Competitive Europe" takes place for the 27th time. This year, the Europa Forum Wachau invited top-class guests to discuss the most important European issues. Among others also the topic of illegal migration, the war in Ukraine, and the Euro-integration of the Western Balkan states.

The venue of the Europa Forum Wachau is the Göttweig Abbey in Lower Austria / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / Carsten Steger/ CC BY-SA 4.0 (

In the run-up to this year's event, Governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner emphasized the importance of the EU and its need to develop in the right direction. She pleaded for an EU of peace, freedom, and competitiveness, instead of a union of commandments and prohibitions. The Europe Forum Wachau and Europe-wide efforts should help to create an "alliance of the sensible" and to shape a Europe that faces the major challenges with common sense and keeps the concerns of the citizens in mind.

On the first day of the Europe Forum, the focus was on healthcare and telemedicine in the morning and hydrogen and its potential applications in the afternoon.

The 27th Europe Forum was opened by President Martin Eichtinger in the presence of Serbian Justice Minister Maja Popović. In his speech, Eichtinger emphasized the cooperation between European countries and praised the impetus that comes from regions like Lower Austria. He underlined the importance of the EU and the diversity that provides the strength and creativity to cope with existential crises. He said that the Europa Forum Wachau stands for the commitment of Lower Austria as the heartland of the EU.

In her speech, Maja Popović emphasized the importance of a modern judiciary as a basis for economic investment and legal frameworks to promote integration into the EU.

In a video message, European Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager spoke about building a resilient, green, and competitive Europe as well as the next steps in digital regulation, especially in telemedicine and smart mobility.

President of the Economic Chamber Harald Mahrer emphasized the need for education, science, and research as the basis for economic competitiveness. Close cooperation with the business community is necessary to find innovative solutions, he said.

Another item on the program was devoted to the topic of "Invest in Health". This year, the focus was on telemedicine, its possible applications, and the financing of a modern healthcare system. Representatives of the Austrian Health Insurance Fund and UMIT TIROL spoke about the transformation of the healthcare system and the importance of health for the well-being and quality of life of the population.

The President of the Europa-Forum Wachau, Martin Eichtinger, summed up the exciting discussions in the morning on the topics of health, education, and economy and showed the direction in which Europe could go in the future.

The day's other program included discussion forums on the topic of mobility and the "Economic Salon". Governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner and Federal Ministers Alexander Schallenberg, Martin Polaschek, and Karoline Edtstadler continued the Europe Forum Wachau with their opening speeches and round tables.

Italian Prime Minister Meloni at the Europe Forum

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Bulgarian President Rumen Radev accepted the invitation of the Federal Chancellor - the heads of state and government, respectively, to attend the Wachau European Forum. "The meeting in Wachau is an expression of friendly relations between Austria and Italy," says a statement from the Chancellor.

The timing of the meeting was "well chosen, especially because of the European Council at the end of June", as the opportunity will also be used by the two heads of government for coordination, especially about the common positions in the fight against illegal migration, Nehammer said.

Austria and Italy, as well as Bulgaria, are close allies in the fight against illegal migration, he said, adding that they had joined other partner countries in exerting pressure in advance to put the issue on the summit agenda. "The asylum system in Europe has failed, which is why we are jointly calling for a reform of the system, especially concerning external border management and cooperation with third countries," the chancellor stressed.

Bringing the Western Balkans closer to the EU

On the sidelines of the European Forum Wachau, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, together with his counterparts from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Croatia, presented the "Göttweig Declaration". This declaration was issued by the "Friends of the Western Balkans" and calls for a gradual and accelerated integration of the region into the European Union. Schallenberg also stressed the importance of an exchange with Bosnian civil society and participated in a panel discussion on EU enlargement.

The Friends of the Western Balkans group, launched by Foreign Minister Schallenberg, aims to advance the enlargement process for Southeastern Europe. It is time to put our money where our mouth is, 20 years after the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Thessaloniki, Schallenberg said. With the Goettweig Declaration, Schallenberg and his counterparts from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Croatia want to lend weight to this goal. Italy, Slovenia, and Greece are also part of this Austrian initiative.

The Göttweig Declaration calls for accelerated integration of the Western Balkan states through concrete implementation steps. These states should be more closely integrated into European policies and bodies even before their accession. Especially against the background of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, it is in the interest of the EU to exchange more closely with its Western Balkan partners on foreign and security issues. Problems that arise in Southeastern Europe have a direct impact on us.

Furthermore, to promote the Euro-Atlantic integration process at the civil society level, the State Department, together with the U.S. Department of State, organized workshops for political, civil society, and diaspora representatives from the Western Balkan countries. The first workshop, which focused on Bosnia and Herzegovina, aimed to develop concrete proposals and recommendations for the country's European path. On the second day of the workshop, Foreign Minister Schallenberg and the U.S. Special Representative for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, emphasized the important role of the Bosnian diaspora in Austria as a bridge between Bosnia and the EU.

Exchanges between different population groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina and new approaches to cooperation are more important than ever to bind the country to the Western value system in the long term and to advance the reform process. The joint initiative of Austria and the U.S. offers the next generation a platform for their visions of the future, Schallenberg said, pleased with the successful launch of the project. During a panel discussion at the Europa Forum Wachau, Foreign Minister Schallenberg stressed that the EU must not lose sight of the states of Southeastern Europe despite all the attention it pays to Ukraine. If the EU sends a signal to its eastern neighbors, it must also assume its geopolitical responsibility toward Southeastern Europe.

The workshop at the Europa Forum Wachau marks the beginning of a long-term dialogue. The State Department and the U.S. Department of State are supporting the young generation in Bosnia to actively shape their future. The Bosnian diaspora in Austria plays an important role as a bridge between the two countries. The goal of the workshop was to jointly develop concrete proposals and recommendations for Bosnia and Herzegovina's European path.

European Forum Wachau