On our national days we usually celebrate a historic event that defined the relation of our country to the rest of the world. In the case of Austria, we commemorate the re-establishment of our nation as a fully independent country after WW II. This went hand in hand with Austria’s declaration of permanent neutrality on Oct. 26, 1955.
The same year, Austria joined the United Nations Organization, with Romania being in the same group of applicant countries. Since then Austria has not only been an active member of the UN but also became a seat of the United Nations and many other international organizations.
Austria is particularly proud to be the host country to the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, a regional organization whose role is becoming of increasing importance in the face of rising tensions on our continent. In 2017, Austria will exercise the chairmanship of the OSCE and has defined as priorities for this chairmanship conflict management and conflict solution, the fight against radicalism and extremism, as well as confidence building. We shall need the assistance of all the member states of the OSCE for these important tasks and we are happy to know that we will be able to count upon the strong support of Romania to meet the present challenges to security in Europe.
Another area of utmost importance for the future of Europe is the further development of the EU after the decision by the United Kingdom to leave our Union. It is clear that the EU cannot simply revert to business as usual after the British referendum. However, drawn-out reform talks or treaty negotiations are not a good option since European citizens expect a timely reaction. The European Union needs to focus on the key challenges of our time, such as migration and foreign and security policy. At their summit in Bratislava, the 27 member states have already defined the goals for the coming months. These goals include the complete control of the Union’s external borders, maintaining internal and external security, but also the further development of the internal market. More opportunities for young Europeans need to be created and to my mind measures to ensure the social cohesion of the European Union should also be high on the list of priorities.
In 2018, Austria, for the third time, will assume the EU presidency and will then hand the chair over to Romania, which has already started to prepare for her first presidency. Since it is to be expected that the “Brexit”-negotiations will reach decisive moments under the Austrian and Romanian presidencies, as of now a close cooperation between our two countries will be called for in order to shoulder this huge responsibility.
On a bilateral level, Romania and Austria have excellent relations in many different fields. Economic cooperation is intensifying and cultural exchange is growing. Let me mention only some recent projects that I find most promising:
Romania has declared the reform of vocational education a priority in order to give young people better qualifications and easier access to the job market, while at the same time alleviating the shortage of skilled labour that exists in some important business sectors. Austria has gladly offered and will continue to offer its expertise and experience in the field of dual education, which combines practical training as an apprentice in a company with theoretic learning in a vocational school. For some professions like bakers, welders or sales staff Austrian companies have already started to set up training schedules together with Romanian partner schools in Ploiești , Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca.
As to our cooperation in the field of culture the Cultural Forum at the Austrian Embassy continues to organize a variety of events in different parts of the country. This year, e.g., we were particularly glad to support the academic and cultural events that were organized in the city of Timisoara under the motto of “300 Years of Light” on the occasion of the takeover of the city and the region of the Banat by Austrian forces under the command of Prince Eugene in 1716.
Austria also took over the chairmanship of the EU National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC ) network in Romania and put a special effort into enhancing cooperation among the cultural institutes of EU member states.
Finally, I would like to mention a recent cooperation project of the University of Vienna with the University of Bucharest, whose purpose was to identify ways to promote intercultural and interreligious dialogue. The conference on “Religious Education between Radicalism and Tolerance”, which closed on Oct. 23, brought together researchers from Romania, Austria and 12 other countries with the aim to identify key elements of a European understanding of Islam and to discuss best practices as to religious education at public schools. It is to be hoped that a better understanding of religion and its role in democratic societies can contribute to a peaceful future of our continent.