Ms. Ambassador Isabel Rauscher, a year has already elapsed since your last interview with Nine O’Clock. How would you characterize the current level of the bilateral relations between Austria and Romania?
To sum it up in one word: excellent. The consecutive back-to-back Presidencies of the Council of the European Union ensured yet another degree of intensification in our constant bilateral contacts. The multitude of coordination meetings on ministerial and expert levels to ensure the smooth transition from one Presidency to another kept all of us – both in Austria and in Romania – extremely busy. Austria and Romania share a commitment to certain strategic goals of the European Union, such as a clear and credible European perspective for our neighbours in the Western Balkans, intensification of the Eastern Partnership and effective implementation of the goals of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region. In this sense, we commend the very successful handling of the Presidency of the Council by our host country Romania in the first half of 2019.
What is the area of bilateral cooperation that scored the most important progress since you started your mission as the Ambassador of Austria in Romania, almost two years ago?
Here again, the intensification of political contacts on all levels. Our respective Heads of State, Klaus Iohannis and Alexander van der Bellen, met repeatedly; Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz came to Bucharest literally on the last working day before Christmas last year to formally hand over the Presidency. All line ministers have been in permanent contact – and this, accordingly, filtered down to the practical, expert level.
The very generous hospitality extended to all delegations by the Romanian Presidency of the Council both in Bucharest and in so many Romanian cities also left a significant mark. It introduced often unknown aspects of the beauty of Romania to our colleagues – and I know of many for whom their Presidency-related trip ended up being a personal discovery, coupled with the statement “I will be back!”
What are in your opinion, the most important elements that give substance to the bilateral relationship?
Any bilateral relationship is by necessity based on trust between partners. This does not preclude differences of – or variations in – opinions on strategic goals, geographically-motivated priorities or domestic demands. In my diplomatic contacts here, I have experienced much openness for constructive exchanges as well as a genuine readiness to find pragmatic and practical solutions to slightly more challenging matters. The very fact that Austria and Romania are like-minded partners on so many subjects both within the European Union and in the multilateral sphere naturally provides a solid basis for the trust I have mentioned.
One of the most successful initiatives of bilateral cooperation in European affairs is the one envisaging the EU Strategy for Danube Region. What are the main achievements in this field so far, which have turned into benefits not only for Romania and Austria, but also for the whole region?
At the 8th Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR) held in Bucharest in June during the Romanian Presidency of the EUSDR, I was very impressed by the sheer variety of presentations of concrete projects, i.e. what is going on “on the ground”, below the political radar but with telling effect, clear results, added-value and ensuing benefits for everyone concerned. Obviously, the aim is to revitalize the age-old use of Europe’s longest river and put it to its natural use as an instrument of cohesion between the many parts of Europe that were politically divided for decades. The EU Strategy for the Danube Region continues to be one of the promising avenues for cooperation between our countries and prosperity for the wider region.
What should Romania and Austria, but also other countries in this geographical area do to strengthen their cooperation and dialogue in order to deal with the challenges the European Union is facing at the moment?
As Austrians, we feel very strongly that in order to effectively confront global challenges, we need to project credibility and uphold the multilateral rules-based order. Only then can the European Union protect its interests and fulfil its international role. In our view, there simply is no alternative. Multilateralism “à la carte” would not solve any of the complex global challenges we face. Both of our countries depend on negotiated solutions to address global problems. We need pragmatic and flexible approaches that respect basic values such as human rights and the rule of law.
Promoting effective multilateralism is one of the pillars of Austria’s foreign policy and one of the many areas where the interests of Romania and Austria converge.
Austria has constantly been a promoter of the development of the dual education system in Romania. How does the future look like in this field?
The Austrian economy would not have been able to prosper without the very successful system of vocational training instituted in my country which provides the basic supply of a highly-skilled and well-trained workforce.
The lack of such a large workforce is currently proving to be an obstacle to further investments or expansions of investments in Romania. We, therefore, support all efforts to develop a system of dual education that corresponds to current and future needs of the Romanian economy and are more than willing to share our experience and expertise in this regard.
Photo credit: Dragos Toader