For decades, Vienna has been a hub of international politics. At the beginning of the year, the international community celebrated “Implementation Day”, the day on which the Iran Deal successfully closed in Vienna in the summer of 2015 took effect. It was the day which cleared the way for lifting the international economic sanctions against Iran.
Vienna also made an important contribution as the venue of talks on Syria, which equally took place in the Austrian capital this year. Meetings focused on the political stabilisation of Libya and the situation in Syria. Stable conditions are essential for the humanitarian situation in these countries and stemming the flow of refugees to Europe. The talks on Syria were in line with Austria’s long-standing tradition as a "bridge-builder". In April the Chief Executive Board Meeting of the United Nations was held. Moreover, Austria is particularly proud of being able to host the CTBTO in Vienna and of having been the venue of a special jubilee, the 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the “Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty” (CTBT). Austria will continue to make every effort to seek yet outstanding ratifications of the CTBT. In total, roughly 40 international organisations have their seats in Vienna, and like New York, Geneva and Nairobi, Vienna is one of the seats of the United Nations. Other international organisations which chose the Austrian capital as their official seat are the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In 2016 Austria held the Chair of the Mediterranean Contact Group of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It was within this framework that the Mediterranean Conference on youth radicalisation took place in Vienna in October 2016. As Austria takes on OSCE chairmanship in 2017, yet another foreign policy challenge lies ahead for Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.
The initiative “Europe starts at the local level” marked an important step taken by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the European Commission Representation in Austria. Numerous events were organised under this umbrella in 2016. By now, more than 900 persons are volunteer European local councillors. They often serve as the first point of contact about EU matters for citizens at the local level. For this purpose, they receive up-to-date information about current developments in the EU and are given the opportunity of taking part in a study visit to Brussels and the institutions where they receive first-hand information. The general assembly, which was held for the fourth time in March 2016, is an important networking event. More than 300 European local councillors attended to discuss current issues and challenges of European politics, such as migration, TTIP or food safety.
Three outstanding projects to foster an understanding and raise awareness for Europe received the Europe State Award 2016 during the European Forum Alpbach on 28 August 2016. The State Award was initiated by the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs; it is an important reflection of the recognition given to the many initiatives which contribute to an understanding of the EU and to more cohesion in Europe. It is awarded to three categories of initiatives and persons – civil society, young people and journalists reporting on Europe. We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate this year’s winners once more: the Austrian Economic Chamber and its initiative “Europe umbrella – We bring Europe to the communities”, director Jakob Brossmann for the documentary “Lampedusa in Winter” and the youth initiative europaclubs.at.
On the occasion of the EU-Anti-Trafficking Day on 18 October the conference “Human Trafficking and its Victims – new Developments” was held at Vienna’s Hofburg. Due to its location in the heart of Europe, Austria is specially concerned by human trafficking, both as a transit country and destination. Migrants and refugees are particularly at risk of falling victim to human traffickers. Due to the tremendous profits involved, human traffickers are getting ever more inventive when it comes to finding new ways and means to commit their crimes. During the conference, the Web exhibition “Human Trafficking – Slavery of the 21st Century” was presented. During Austria’s OSCE chairmanship in 2017 combatting human trafficking will be one of the focal topics.
As from 2016, the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs has extended invitations to international executives and leading figures from business, politics and administration four times a year, asking them to join ALPs –“Austrian Leadership Programs”, which are organised in cooperation with the Austrian Federation of Industries and the Austrian Economic Chamber. The program seeks to introduce leading Austrian enterprises active worldwide and personalities from business, politics, art and culture and wishes to create a viable international network of people with an affinity to Austria. Four successful ALPs rounds brought together attendees from all continents. Austrian market leaders such as Red Bull, Berndorf, Tyrolit, Swarovski, Agrana, Austrian Airlines, F. List GmbH, Schlumberger Kellerwelten, COBRA, Kapsch AG, Wienerberger, Dewetron, ERSTE Group, Raiffeisen and many more enterprises were visited.
World.Economy.Austria is yet another new initiative which the Foreign Ministry has launched to contribute to business in Austria and Austria as a business location. Austria’s success as a business location is coming under increasing pressure from growing international competition, and the new platform was created to counteract this. In the context of this initiative, ideas from other countries are collected and put up for discussion on www.erfolgsideen.at.
In June, the joint “Open Austria” office was set up in Silicon Valley together with the “Außenwirtschaft Österreich” section at the Austrian Economic Chamber. It seeks to interlink Austrian companies, start-ups and science with the most important area of innovation in the digital industry.
Out of the many cultural events organised in Austria in line with Austrian international cultural policy, exemplary mention should be made of the Auslandskulturtagung (International Cultural Policy Meeting). Under the motto “NETWORKING! Around the world. Around the clock”, the meeting presented an overview of the current focuses in international cultural policy work. Especially successful projects of the past year were introduced to the public. The “Treffpunkt Auslandskultur” encounter following the meeting was an opportunity of exchanging views with the directors and staff of the Austrian cultural fora.
In October the fifth anniversary of the initiative ZUSAMMEN:ÖSTERREICH (TOGETHER:AUSTRIA) was celebrated at the Semper Depot in Vienna under the motto “Vorurteile abbauen. Motivation schaffen” (“Abolish Prejudice. Create Motivation”). Numerous “Integrations Ambassadors” and cooperation partners of ZUSAMMEN:ÖSTERREICH reported on their experiences visiting schools and their role as Integration Ambassadors, and reminisced about the past five years. The successful initiative ZUSAMMEN:ÖSTERREICH launched by Sebastian Kurz in his capacity as Minister of Integration in 2011 seeks to bring good examples of integration into the limelight. By now 350 Integration Ambassadors have joined the initiative and serve as role models due to their personal histories.
In June the Ministry for Integration organised the scientific symposium “Shifting Values? - Integration of Refugees in Austria”. In two panel discussions, experts from Austria and Germany talked about why values are needed in the integration of refugees and how these can be communicated in practice.
By way of conclusion, official visits and trips should be passed in review: Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz visited Africa accompanied by a delegation of Austrian business representatives. In South Africa he met his counterpart, Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, for a working discussion and attended the South African-Austrian Economic Forum. On the second day of his visit to South Africa Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz visited the Ntuthuko Stimulation Centre, which is supported by Austria and helps children with physical and mental disabilities to prepare for admission to one of the few educational institutions for disabled children.
Moreover, he met Austrian expatriates at a reception given by the Austrian Embassy in Pretoria and visited the Austrian Welding Academy – a project funded by the Austrian Development Agency where young welders are trained. The second leg of the trip took Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz to Kenya. In Nairobi he visited further Austrian development cooperation projects, i.e. the African Angel Bakery and the Acakoro Football Academy in the largest slums of Nairobi (Korogocho and Mathare). The programme also included the Kenyan-Austrian Economic Forum and working discussions with Minister of Energy Keter and Foreign Minister Amina Mohammed.
The Western Balkans stands for another focus of Austrian foreign policy. Austria supports Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia in their efforts to join the EU. This is why Foreign Minister Kurz travelled to all 6 countries on the Western Balkans in 6 days in February. This occasion marked the first time that he presented to the Foreign Ministers bilateral action plans to further strengthen Austrian engagement on the Western Balkans strategically. The action plans cover a broad range of areas, from economic and educational cooperation and support in the EU accession process to cooperation in culture and civil society.
Another important visit brought Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz to Iraq. The victims of IS terrorism and displacement need assistance on the ground. The Foreign Minister’s delegation visited the country to gather first-hand impressions on site, working hard upon return to successfully step up Austrian support.
Moreover, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz attended the 71st General Assembly and the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants in New York.
In the course of his visit to the South Caucasus Secretary-General Michael Linhart opened the new Austrian Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, together with Gigi Gigiadze, the Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister. Georgia is one of the priority countries of Austrian development cooperation and the country in the region which is most strongly oriented towards Europe. Under the strategic re-alignment of the Austrian network of diplomatic missions three new Austrian Embassies were inaugurated in countries of the European Union’s Easter Partnership in 2016: in Minsk, Belarus, in Chisinau, Moldova, and, as mentioned above, in Tbilisi, Georgia.
From 12 to 14 October 2016 Secretary-General Michael Linhart visited Myanmar and Thailand on the occasion of the 21st EU-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok. The ASEAN countries are important trade partners for Austria. During the first half of 2016 Austrian exports to the region increased by more than 5%. In Myanmar Secretary-General Linhart met Nobel Prize Laureate and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the Speaker of Parliament and representatives from the Foreign and Finance Ministries.