Your Excellency, this is the second occasion for you to celebrate Austria’s National Day here in Bucharest. How would you assess this first year spent in Romania as Austria’s Ambassador? What is your main achievement so far you are very proud of?
The first year of a diplomatic assignment is always a year of learning. It is a fascinating opportunity to get to know a new country, find out how things work, meet many interesting people and make new friends. In addition to taking care of topical political and economic issues, one of my priorities shall consist of continuing and enhancing our contacts to the regional centres of this country. And in saying this I am referring not only to Austria’s traditional relations to cities and regions in the Western part of the country but we also made good progress in the preparations for the opening of a new honorary consulate in Eastern Romania. I was particularly happy that we were able to arrange – in close cooperation with our friends at the Romanian Embassy in Vienna – a visit by President Iohannis to Austria, which we hope will only be the first step in intensifying bilateral contacts at the highest political level. Another important achievement was the actual start of two cooperation projects in the field of professional training.
What message do you want to address this year on the occasion of Austria’s National Day?
This year we have the happy occasion to commemorate 60 years of the re-establishment of our full independence and state sovereignty after World War II, as well as 60 years of our membership in the UNO, which we joined in 1955 together with Romania. We also celebrate 20 years of our membership in the EU, which has led to an even closer partnership with Romania. As far as our bilateral relations are concerned, I shall address our excellent and most promising cooperation in the field of professional training. I shall be glad to use the opportunity to give public recognition to our partner schools in setting up dual training programs along the Austrian apprenticeship model, and I shall hand out a diploma of merit to a group of students who have won a prize at a nation-wide training firm competition.
How would you characterize the current level of the bilateral relations between Austria and Romania and what areas should be improved, in your opinion?
The bilateral relations between Austria and Romania are built on a strong foundation that has its origin in a common history and close cultural ties and is complemented and supported nowadays by strong economic cooperation and exchange. Our Embassy’s varied and multi-faceted cultural program meets with a lot of interest and we are working on intensifying university cooperation and student exchange.
What are the main objectives you’ve assumed to fulfill during your mandate here?
In addition to the objectives already addressed, I would like to single out two projects that I consider of great significance. One is the creation of an Austrian school which will be open also to children from disadvantaged families. And the second issue is the promotion of the concept of “corporate social responsibility”, which we started to discuss at a conference at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and which we would like to continue together with our partners from the business community in Romania.
What should countries in our region, Romania and Austria included, do to strengthen their cooperation and dialogue in order to deal with the challenges the European Union is facing at the moment?
The European Union at the moment is facing serious challenges both with regard to the economic and financial situation and the on-going refugee and migration crisis. I am convinced, though, – like many others – that these crises will lead to a deepening of the European integration as member states realize that the global challenges can be best met by standing together and showing European solidarity. As far as Austria and Romania are concerned we have started to look ahead to being partners in the EU presidency Troika of 2019, which will be a further incentive to increase bilateral consultations, cooperation and possibly joint training efforts.
One of the most successful examples of bilateral cooperation in European affairs field is the one envisaging the EU Strategy for Danube Region. How does the future look like in this field, with such involved and ambitious partners in this project, like Austria and Romania?
Austria and Romania will continue to be in the forefront when it comes to moving the Danube strategy forward. The new programming period for EU structural funds will provide the financial means and there are some special facilities available for cross-border projects. As far as our Embassy is concerned, we are trying to contribute in particular to the development of projects in the priority area of Culture and Tourism.
Austrian investors are present in a significant number in Romania’s economy. To what extent, in your opinion, Romania can be further attractive to Austrian investors under the current economic conditions, with very encouraging signs of economic growth?
Romania presently has one of the highest growth rates among EU member states, which certainly is an important incentive for investors from Austria. Business representatives always emphasize the importance of a stable regulatory framework as well as simple and transparent administrative procedures.
How can Austria support further Romania’s efforts to modernize its economy, tourism and infrastructure?
The primary support for modernizing Romania’s economy comes by way of EU structural funds. This assistance can, however, be complemented by an exchange of ideas and bilateral cooperation in the areas of strategic planning, professional training and administration reform. Austria stands ready to contribute to and cooperate with any initiatives in these or other relevant fields.
Austria and Romania share common regional interests and are very close of each other, not only geographically, but also because of the human bridge consisting of the Austrian community living in Romania and the Romanian community living in Austria. How do you think this human factor can further consolidate the special friendship linking the two countries?
The importance of these links cannot be valued highly enough, as they are of paramount significance for the relations between our two countries. Public perception plays an ever increasing role in political and economic decision making and the image of a country is shaped to a large degree by people to people contacts. In this context I would like to thank the Austrian-Romanian societies in Bukarest and Vienna, all business clubs and cultural organizations like the Austrian Libraries in Romania for their valuable contributions to promoting understanding and friendship between our two nations.