Energy is the ubiquitous and yet most unnoticed power that enables us to live in a comfortable home, enjoy mobility and do successful business. The decisions we take with regard to the way we produce, transport and consume energy have far-reaching effects and relate to numerous burning questions, such as:
- Will we succeed in our efforts of protecting our climate?
- Will we be able to supply affordable energy to our people and industries so that they can contribute to social cohesion and prosperity?
- Are our energy relations a hotbed of international tension or the basis of international cooperation?
- How effective and sustainable will be our support granted to our development partners?
It is all about providing energy in a safe, affordable and sustainable manner. And we need to find a balance between these objectives and positive interaction.
The Austrian Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs promotes these objectives at various levels and in many bodies where energy and international relations overlap. This is mainly the case in issues of energy security and reliable supply. Other aspects are handled by other ministries, in particular the Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management.
What are the areas and modes of action of the Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs regarding energy?
The Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs fosters close relations with neighbouring states, producer and transit countries and global stakeholders, both on the EU level and in its bilateral and multilateral relations. Energy is a complex, interdisciplinary matter. The Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs strives for intensive exchange with the other departments and ministries involved in the energy sector and focuses mainly on aspects of reliable supply and the international interdependency of energy-political decisions.
Austria's bilateral relations are the suitable forum for voicing issues of mutual interest, for establishing cooperation projects and raising concerns. One of the focal areas is, for example, cooperation in the development of a fully integrated Central and Eastern European gas market with the Baumgarten gas hub in Lower Austria at its centre. It is also important that Austria makes its concerns about its “no to nuclear energy” policy heard regularly. A well-established forum in this respect is the system of bilateral meetings of nuclear experts that are regularly organised by the Foreign Ministry. These meetings are rooted in the bilateral Nuclear Information Agreements that Austria has concluded with 11 partner states; they enable a structured exchange of information on a technical level, among others with regard to radiation protection, early warning systems and emergency response planning.
On the EU level, the Austrian Foreign Ministry advocates strong energy external relations. This requires internal coordination and coherence to ensure that decisions on energy policies of individual member states are not contrary to the European position. Besides, in certain situations a common European stance may be more effective than a national approach, for example in negotiations with major energy producers or in the strategic dialogue with other global players. The fora that the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs uses for this purpose are the EU Foreign Affairs Council, the Political and Security Committee, the Strategic Group for International Energy Cooperation, the EU Energy Minister Council and the Council Working Parties for Energy and Atomic Questions.
Multilateral fora are perfect venues for the exchange about global energy issues – they act as centres of competence, platforms for the exchange of best practices, hubs for the development of control and regulation systems and they provide multi-faceted impetus. 10 multinational organisations have their seats in Austria. They cover a wide range of energy issues: The Energy Community, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) , the International Peace Institute (IPI), the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC),the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All). The presence of these organisations illustrates that Austria is a central hub in the international energy dialogue and the Foreign Ministry strives to strengthen Austria's role in this context further. The Vienna Energy Forum – where the Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs is one of the organisers – facilitates regular exchange about global energy supply and is yet another opportunity for Vienna to present itself as a modern conference city.