Dr. Elisabeth Sickl
Federal Minister of Social and Intergenerational Affairs
to the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly
The World Summit for Social Development and beyond: achieving social
development for all in a globalizing world."
June 28th, 2000
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At the outset, let me join the previous speakers in congratulating you, Mr. President, on your election to the chair of the General Assembly.
The review and appraisal of the past five years shows an ambivalent picture of social development with regard to the targets set in Copenhagen in 1995: despite considerable progress made in some countries, there is still an enormous overall deficit in meeting the objectives of Copenhagen. One of the most important achievements of the Summit of Copenhagen was to confirm social development as one of the three columns of sustainable development and to place people at the centre of policy-making. Now, five years after the Copenhagen Summit, we realise how many efforts are still needed until inequality will be replaced by solidarity, as the Secretary General puts it in his excellent report to this Special Session.
When fighting poverty we need to improve opportunities of social participation and eliminate inequalities. Elimination of inequalities requires the enhancement of systems of social protection, and in doing so, special attention has to be given to the most vulnerable groups of society. Together with its EU partners, Austria is currently in the process of modernising its social protection system.
At this point, I would like to stress that Austria fully supports the statement made by the Portuguese Council presidency on behalf of the European Union.
Successful integration policies should be measured according to the degree of social protection and integration into the labour market offered to women, the young, the elderly and the handicapped.
Fundamental social rights have to be granted without discrimination on the basis of origin and sex. They must include access to education and training, to the labour market, to health care, to appropriate housing, to care centres for children and the elderly.
This is a particular challenge for policy makers at all levels.
It is unacceptable that specific groups of people are threatened by social marginalisation already at an early age. In this context, the link between lacking or insufficient education as well as training and the lack of opportunities offered by society is likely to become even more apparent in the future. The objective to guarantee all young people adequate training and to give disadvantaged young people a second chance by supportive measures such as informal education and training will increasingly become a major concern and challenge in policymaking. Access to gainful employment for all employable adults has to be granted by means of life-long learning including vocational retraining. Elderly people should be empowered to participate in social life as long as they wish to, including through the participation in voluntary activities. In this context we look forward to the outcome of the International Year of Volunteers.
I consider myself privileged to be able to say that Austria is a country with an very low level of youth unemployment. Also for the elderly the social network is tightly knit. Still, we will have to continue working with great sensitivity towards reconciling conflicting interests between the generations.
Currently a heated debate is going on in Austria on how to secure the pension system in the long run. I am personally committed to a reform concept which will convince our young generation of the stability and sustainability of our pension system.
For families, social security is closely connected with the support they receive from the government while their children are in the infant stage. Moreover, it is highly important that the conditions in the labour market are becoming more familyfriendly, so as to enable mothers and fathers to combine and enjoy both spheres of life. Hence, the Austrian government will offer parents a real freedom of choice by introducing a childcare allowance as an adequate framework making it possible to attain both a satisfactory family and professional life.
Participation and solidarity constitute important pillars of the Copenhagen commitments. Solidarity at the national level, also through participation in a transparent and democratic governance, has to be matched by solidarity across borders. In the last 45 years Austria - with a population of eight million people - has given temporary harbour to more than two million refugees and has granted 650,000 persons a permanent right to stay. Based on the number of inhabitants, this was more than in any other country of the European Union. To give you one concrete example: In the framework of a humanitarian initiative called _Neighbour in Need" the Austrian population donated a total amount of non-tax-deductible USD 120 million to the victims of the war in the former Yugoslavia.
Against this background, Austria welcomes the enlargement of the European Union as a chance for a peaceful and democratic Europe. But we also look far beyond the European borders.
Austria is committed to the international development goal of cutting by half the number of people living in extreme poverty by the year 2015. Indeed, combating poverty is the first priority of the Austrian development co-operation. And we are convinced that the struggle against poverty is both necessary and possible. It is necessary because economic growth and the much hoped for "trickle-down effect" resulting from it are usually not sufficient to make the poor pass the poverty line quickly and irreversibly. Targeted measures are therefore required that will reach these people directly and contribute to their empowerment. Secondly, the fight against poverty is possible.
The means and strategies for a successful fight against poverty are available and will, if properly applied, lead to the expected positive results.
The additional benefit of a systematic struggle against poverty will be the preventive effect on violent conflicts, refugee flows and migration. At the same time the costs arising to the international community will be considerably cut. Austria pursues a comprehensive strategy aiming at the eradication of the deeply rooted causes of poverty and underdevelopment in compliance with the relevant debt relief agreements.
From the Austrian perspective, the effectiveness of all measures depends heavily on the co-operation of donors, the coherence of the measures taken as well as the implementation of the principle of ownership and partnership. Decisions regarding the pace and orientation of the development process have to be taken by the governments together with the people in the developing countries, because sustainable development and poverty reduction can only be effective where the affected persons and their organisations are in the driver's seat.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab