Ambassador Isabel Rauscher, your first year of mandate in Romania has already come to an end. If you were to take stock of this period, how would you sum-up the experience so far?
Nearly a year! I can hardly believe it myself – so much has happened in this past year, so many impressions, encounters and discoveries. How would I sum them up? A country rich in diversity and stunning landscapes. At the same time, a country of contrasts. One part of the population vibrant, entrepreneurial and full of initiative – the other feeling left behind by the advances of modernity.
On a personal level, it has been – and still is – a joy to discover the extremely varied cultural and artistic scene. And another eye-opener: the intellectual debates taking place in this centennial year of Romania’s modern existence, encompassing the whole spectrum of self-definition, Romania’s place in Europe and on the global stage.
What is the domain of bilateral cooperation that registered the most important progress since you took office?
Clearly, an increase in high-level political contacts. This year alone, our Presidents have met twice already, in Ruse in May and during the Summit of the Three Seas Initiative last month. A follow-up to the Ruse Presidential Summit (Bulgaria-Austria-Romania) will be held in Vienna at the end of the month, i.e. our President will be hosting his Romanian and Bulgarian counterparts on 30th October. Both our Foreign Minister and the Minister for Interior have paid visits to Romania, the Minister Delegate for European Affairs a number of visits to Austria and there is continued close coordination between Austrian and Romanian senior officials on all aspects of the EU-agenda, given our consecutive Presidencies of the Council of the European Union.
How would you describe your cooperation and dialogue with Romanian officials, on topics of major interest for the bilateral relationship but also for common Europe?
Cooperation and dialogue are excellent, not only on the central, Bucharest-based level, but also with the different regions. I have found it most rewarding to meet – and work with – a number of impressive personalities truly dedicated to their mandate all over the country.
Clearly, interests are shaped by geographical position, historical experiences and cultural influences. Bringing together these different interests in a way that they complement each other is one of our paramount tasks.
Three months have already elapsed since Austria took over the chairmanship of the Council of the EU, and, in less than three months, it will pass the relay baton to Romania, which will hold for the first time such huge responsibility. What were the main challenges encountered by your country so far from the point of view of its priorities set out at the beginning of the semester?
Austria holds the Presidency of the Council at a time when the Union is facing three major challenges: Brexit – or the negotiations on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework – in other words on the Union’s budget after 2020, and finalizing as many EU legislative proposals as possible during the last full Presidency prior to the European Parliament elections next year.
All of these challenges are complex and Member States’ interests vary significantly at times. The key effort, therefore, lies in bringing about consensus.
What is Austria’s opinion on the biggest challenges for post-Brexit Europe and what must do the “EU -27” to deal with them?
In recent years, the EU has had to deal with several crises that have shaken citizens’ confidence in the European Union as a Union that guarantees peace and security. Security both in a classical sense as well as with regard to economic well-being.
The way the Union – or rather, we as Member States – handles the challenges outlined previously will shape the future of Europe. One of the crucial elements in designing this future will be to re-establish the confidence of citizens in the European Union.
How is going on the dialogue of the Austrian Government with the Government in Bucharest on the main files of concern for EU that will need more focus and solutions after 1st of January 2019, during Romania’s six-month term at the helm of the EU Council?
Romanian officials are “shadowing” the activities and day-to-day work of the Austrian Presidency. It is in our interest to see our Romanian colleagues involved in all details of the Presidency’s task in order to take over seamlessly as of 1 January 2019.
Regular meetings between Ministers and officials on all levels are held in Bucharest, in Vienna and in the margins of EU-ministerial meetings. And don’t forget: following the EU’s seating arrangement, there is ample and welcome room for discussion on a permanent basis – our delegations sit next to one another at all meetings!
What is the main message you’d like to convey to the Austrians living in Romania, on the occasion of the National Day?
Austrians living in Romania do so – and have come here – for a variety of reasons. Many have moved here for good and tied their personal lives to Romania, others are here for a few years for professional reasons. All of them have a role to play in contributing to the development not only of the Romanian economy but also of its society – of a young democracy and a country facing numerous challenges in rebuilding its infrastructure, in so many senses of the word.
I have every reason to be proud of the contribution made by Austrians in and to Romania on a daily basis – be it towards economic growth, the establishment of a dual education system, in the environmental field and in the area of charity / social services for those elements of society most in need.