Interview with H.E. Mr. GERHARD REIWEGER, Austria’s Ambassador to Romania.
What is the significance of October 26 for Austria? How is the national day celebrated nowadays?
On our national day we celebrate that Austria, in 1955, regained its full independence and sovereignty after World War II. October 26 is the day when the Austrian Parliament decided upon our status of permanent neutrality. This year we celebrate not only 60 years of our independence but also 60 years of our membership in the United Nations Organization- which we joined together with Romania – and we remember the happy fact that we joined the European Union 20 years ago, which eventually led to an even closer partnership with Romania.
How do you assess the bilateral relations on political and economic level at this moment? Are there any upcoming official visits to be mentioned in this respect?
Through our historic ties and close economic cooperation we have a strong foundation for our bilateral relations, which we want to develop in all possible fields. This ranges from cultural cooperation to professional education, from police cooperation to our joint efforts in the framework of the Danube Strategy. An interesting long-term project is the preparation for the EU presidency in 2019, which will see Romania and Austria in the same Troika.
As far as official visits are concerned, we recently had a visit by the Austrian Justice Minister in a multilateral framework and we are exploring the possibility of a visit by the Austrian Federal President next spring.
Austria is one of the main economic partners if Romania, ranking second among the foreign investors here. What are the signals you have from Austrian investors making business here? What attracts them the most when choosing to invest in our country and what are the things they dislike about the local market?
Romania is the largest market in South East Europe and a region where Austrian investors are particularly active. There are close to 7.000 companies with Austrian capital registered in Romania, they have invested 11.4 bn. Euro in Romania overall. This clearly shows that Austrian investors recognize Romania’s potential. With growth rates above the European average, Romania has seen sustainable growth the last couple of years. Some investors choose Romania to offer their services and products for the domestic market, some are export-oriented and use the competitive advantages of producing in Romania with lower factor costs. Prolonging this positive trend will require a stable regulatory environment, transparent decision-making by the authorities and trust in the justice system.
The Austrian-Romania ties on cultural and research topics are also very fruitful. There is also a cooperation Agreement on science, education, youth and sports signed in February 2014. What actions have been running under this agreement and what do you have in store for the next year?
Among our bilateral projects in this field I would like to highlight the following: We started cooperation projects in the field of professional training with the Colegiul Economic Kiri?escu in Bucharest and the Colegiul Economic Madgearu in Ploiesti this year. For next year our biggest project is the plan to establish an Austrian school that aims at providing first class education also to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Europe’s unity is seriously challenged these days once with the immigrants’ crisis. Romania initially said it opposed the mandatory migrant quotas, then it draw back. How Austria is standing on that? What is your opinion about a possible solution on this crisis? Is Europe ready to integrate the immigrants, as there are various types: war refugees, economic immigrants, etc….
The refugee situation provides a big challenge also to Austria. Austria is among the countries that have taken in the greatest number of asylum seekers per capita. The integration of refugees and other immigrants will be one of the biggest challenges that Europe faces in the foreseeable future. It can only be mastered by close cooperation of all EU member states. Personally I am quite hopeful – and actually convinced- that our Union will not only master this crisis but will eventually be strengthened by it.
Another major topic for Romania that was integrated in the migrant wave’s issue somehow now is Schengen admission. How does Austria see this? The debate on Romania and Bulgaria’s Schengen bids was put on hold at the last JHA Council. Is Romania ready to join Schengen or should it wait, as other countries like Germany, the Netherlands or Finland think?
Austria’s position of Romania’s and Bulgaria’s full integration into the Schengen system has been clear for quite a long time: Both countries have fulfilled the formal criteria for this integration and Austria supports – as the next step – the opening of the borders at airports and sea ports.
A sustained anti-corruption campaign has been kicked off in Romania for about two years. Many top politicians were prosecuted, indicted or still under investigation in high-sounding corruption cases. Did this campaign made Romania more visible in Austria, abroad in general, as “the right thing to do”?
The investigation of high-level corruption cases by the justice system is certainly the right thing to do and will be perceived as such also in Austria.
Have you managed to visit Romania anywhere near since you came here? What assets do you think our country should capitalize to move forward? And what holds it back, obstructing it to get more prosperous?
I have travelled a large part of the country, both in my official function and privately. I am always fascinated by the beauty of the landscapes and the cultural treasures that the country offers. I think that the touristic potential is far from being fully used. In general, raising living standards in the countries that have been less prosperous so far is an important goal for the European Union and the road forward is sketched out by the economic programs and projects that Romania has agreed upon with the EU institutions and will be funded jointly.