Werner Faymann has been the Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria since December 2008. Born in Vienna in 1960 he served in the armed forces after finishing school. He studied law in the Vienna University. Yet as a schoolboy he joined the Socialist Youth (the youth branch of the Social-Democratic Party of Austria) and was later the provincial chairman of the Socialist Youth Vienna. He worked as a consultant at the Bank of Austria, director and provincial chairman of the Viennese Tenants' counselling, and was member of the Viennese state parliament and municipal council. In 2007-2008 he was Federal Minister for Transport, Innovation and Technology. In July 2008 he chaired the Social-Democratic Party and led his party in the parliamentary election. He headed the big coalition government comprising the Social-Democratic Party of Austria and the Austrian People’s Party. Married with two daughters.
“LAND OF MOUNTAINS, LAND ON THE STREAM”
The nation of Austria has a long and colorful and sometimes painful historical record. On the threshold of the Old and New Age the Romans set foot on the land to replace the Celts, then German tribes arrived followed by the Slavs. When Charles the Great called the land Awarische Mark he did not even suspect that he offered a recognition thread for kin relationship between its ancient residents and an ethnic group in Dagestan. As the Habsburg dynasty came to reign in the XIII century, Austria, like Russia under the Rurikids some time earlier, acquired the inertia of forming a mighty centralized state. The paths of our countries numerously crossed as peoples resettled, on the battlefields, and in political gambling of monarchs of both countries between themselves and with other rulers of Europe.
The territories, population and geographical locations differ, but Austria and Russia have one common heartache. In 1918 the huge Austro-Hungarian Empire suddenly collapsed and shrank into Austria with a considerably fever number of people and smaller production potential. Our country has experienced the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of newly independent states on its ruins. In 1991-1992 the Russians searched for an historic parallel in other countries, first and foremost, in Austria that has lived through the tragedy of squeezed native space.
How painful was it for the Austrians to see a small part of the immense empire with the same name on the world map? In the times of the First Republic, as the Austrians used to say, Vienna residents ironically and sorrowfully said the capital of the country has become too big for the squeezed national territory. In the period of historic catastrophe Moscow did not know either what to do with the terminated attributes and functions of the capital of the union state.
In such a situation the issue of self-identity stands high on the agenda, i.e. a search for answers to the questions what country has emerged in the historic process and what capabilities does it have? A civil war, nostalgia over past greatness, crisis blows, and search for a way out of it gave the Austrians no chance at the time to form a national development model adequate to the first third of the XX century. The 1938 Anschluss, participation in World War Two within another country and a joint defeat, division into four occupation zones have in a brief period of time several times changed the self-conception of the people. Only ten years after the end of World War Two new national self-conception has developed.
Austria was the first prize winner of peaceful coexistence policy proposed by the Kremlin to the western world after the death of Stalin. In search for a new Austrian future all the interested parties agreed on a rare option – Swiss-like state neutrality. The country has acquired a clear perspective. In the surrounding world the Austria definition known since the X century has won the contest against ancient German Ostarrichi. If century-old literature carried the “Austrian German” notion, now its use would be challenging.
Out of numerous historic dates in millennium-old history of the country the Austrians chose the day of the adoption of the Law on the Neutrality on October 26, 1955 as their national holiday. According to the Law, Austria declared permanent neutrality and pledged to participate in no wars, to permit no foreign military bases on its territory, and accede to no military alliances.
The status proclaimed by Austria brought fruit. With a population of less than 8.5 million people the national GDP comprises 330 billion dollars, which is nearly 40 thousand dollars per capita. By this indicator Austria overtook Sweden, the UK, Italy, France, and Germany. Economic performance before the crisis was characterized by low inflation (below 2 percent) and consumer prices. Austria suffers from unemployment less than other countries of the European Union.
Notably, production in Austria is developing with a major share of state participation. The state sector accounts for a third of industrial production. The country boasts a unique system of social and economic cooperation. The Parity commission comprising employers and employees, peasants and trade unions helps design a policy to constrain the growth of prices and wages.
The headline of the comment comes from the lyrics of the Austrian national anthem. The mountains are the Alps in various geographic parts that occupy 70 percent of the national territory. The folds of the landscape may seem hardly useful for earning income. But in Austria the mountains are a highly profitable territorial asset. Tourism accounts for 6 percent of the national GDP. There are 70 thousand tourism facilities. Mountain transportation has emerged as a sub-industry in the national infrastructure. Alpine skiing has long become a national sport. Numerous mountain and snow recreations have joined it. It is likely the reason for high longevity to be envied by neighbors in Eastern Europe.
As for the Land on the Stream, it definitely refers to the Danube, the biggest river in Western Europe, as the whole of Austria is located in its basin. The name to the great river was given by the Alans, the ancestors of Russia-populating peoples. Thus, toponymy has forever united our countries in the geographical space of Europe.
Enjoying an ancient education system (the Vienna University was founded in 1367) Austria actively participates in global scientific life. Many of Austrian 2200 scientific establishments are long-standing and influential partners of Russian scientists.
Solid ties unite our countries in the economic sphere. On the one hand, Austria is a stable consumer of Russian energy carriers, first and foremost, oil and gas. That is vividly confirmed by the agreement on Austria’s accession to the South Stream mega project signed during the visit of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to Vienna in late April. On the other hand, Austria supplies to Russia tools, equipment, machines, electric appliances, and food.
The neutral status of Austria established 55 years ago made the country specifically attractive for international relations. Vienna developed into a major center of UN activities. In particular, it accommodates the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as a nuclear research laboratory under the UN auspices.
55 years after the signing of the State Treaty for the Re-establishment of an Independent and Democratic Austria and the adoption of the Constitutional Law on the Neutrality comprise a brief period in the two thousand-year old history of the country, however several generations of Austrians lived in the 55 years. They prudently used the benefits of peace and neutrality, created a new society and re-built the country, which in many spheres offers an example of living standards and economic prosperity and works as a balancing factor in Europe and the world.
NEUTRAL STATUS IS INVARIABLE
– Mr. Federal Chancellor! The 55th anniversary of the signing of the State Treaty for the Re-establishment of an Independent and Democratic Austria and the adoption of the Constitutional Law on the Neutrality of the country is coming close. How do you view the role of the documents in more than half a century-long history and the process of establishing the modern Republic of Austria that began in 1955?
– The State Treaty is the basic document of the Republic of Austria that was re-established from the ruins of World War Two. In the past decades Austria has been always aware of the commitments of the Republic stipulated in the Law
on the Neutrality.
– How does the neutrality proclaimed by Austria in 1955 manifest itself today?
– The changes that occurred after the collapse of regimes in Central and Eastern Europe marked an imprint on neutrality policy. However, changes in the neutral status were out of the question. After Austria joined the European Union the neutrality remains a key notion for national self-comprehension in our country.
CRISIS WILL BE OVER
WHEN UNEMPLOYMENT DECREASES
– During your visit to Russia last November you said the crisis added troubles and it is important to prevent its possible repetition. Which measures did the Austrian government take to counter the consequences of the global economic crisis?
– As Federal Chancellor I have numerously criticized extravagated financial speculations. I call to introduce a pan-European tax on financial transactions and to create European controlling mechanisms. Europe should not allow rating agencies to impose their financial and economic policy.
The Austrian federal government designed a program that offers a number of concrete measures for the labor, education, ecology, research, and health markets and for consolidation of state finances. Our joint efforts and steps should meet the interests of ordinary workers and enterprises, employees and employers. It is always important to act quickly and decisively, which justified itself in the time of the economic crisis. Austria pays specific attention to the operations of nearly 300 thousand small and medium-sized businesses. Austria occupies the second place in Europe by low unemployment rate. Unemployment among the young is not so dramatic as in other European regions where it exceeded 40-50 percent during the crisis. I always stress that even one jobless person anyway adds one unemployed above the admissible level. The crisis will be over when unemployment decreases.
After the crisis ended the situation in the banking sphere somewhat improved. Banks have to contribute to financial consolidation. The government has already decided to impose a banking tax.
- Mr. Federal Chancellor, how does international cooperation help in overcoming the crisis?
- The significance of international cooperation is specifically clear in the fight against the economic crisis. Independent efforts of states are definitely necessary, but they need international coordination.
- What does cooperation with Russia mean for Austria today? Which guidelines of Austrian-Russian relations do you believe to be most promising?
- As you know, last November I had meetings in Moscow with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. We talked mostly about the energy policy and bilateral economic relations, in particular, the participation of Austrian companies in preparations for Winter Olympics in Sochi. Energy issues remain a clear priority for us and the whole European Union while Russia is our major partner
in the sphere.
- Mr. Federal Chancellor, during the visit to Moscow you said the list of problems between our countries is much smaller than the list of unifying issues. Which problems cause most concern and demand priority attention?
- Naturally, our main task is to secure energy supplies in Austria. Russia has been our long-standing and reliable partner in the energy sphere which is confirmed by long-term supply agreements. During my visit to Moscow in November 2009 I clearly stated that Nabucco gas pipeline project is no competitor to South Stream and Nord Stream projects. I believe we have to continue dialogue on the issue and search for joint solutions.
- Most Russian-Austrian cooperation is related to the energy sector. Austrian companies have been long and fruitfully cooperating with Gazprom. Which prospects do you see in the sphere? What is the Austrian position regarding the South Stream project?
- As I have already said, Russia and Austria are linked by old traditions of economic relations, specifically in the energy sector. Naturally, Austria is interested in the South Stream project. However details of our participation have to be discussed. I want to stress once again the Austrian government considers the gas pipeline project not as competing, but as complementing Nabucco.
PROFITING FROM EXPERIENCE
- Mr. Federal Chancellor, you are representing the big coalition in the government. What is it and what does it give to the country from the point of view of stability and possibility for political parties to cooperate?
- The current coalition government provides for cooperation of two most influential political parties in Austria. It is only this government that can cope with the economic crisis. We have made correct steps and succeeded to preserve jobs, which is confirmed by all economic experts.
– In 2014 Russia will host Winter Olympic Games. Austria has a major experience in holding such international competitions. What does the Austrian experience say about preparations and holding of world-level sport events and, specifically, about post-Olympic use of sport facilities? What provides world prestige to Austria in Alpine skiing?
– Cooperation with existing international sport and economic structures already at the preparatory stage, as is the case with Sochi, is of major significance. The use of international know-how in the construction of sport facilities is as important as their further use concept and its implementation. Austria has always succeeded in entwining sport facilities with existing tourist infrastructure.
Regular highest achievements of Austrian athletes are explained by their major personal effort and good infrastructure in the country. I am very glad about it and I always congratulate my compatriots with sport successes. When I as the Federal Chancellor have an opportunity to attend sport events, such as the night slalom in Schladming, which is well known abroad, including Russia, I always do it with pleasure. It is also contributing that all Austrians are fond of Alpine skiing like many people in Russia, as far as I know, like to play ice hockey or skate.
Interviewed by Yevgeny KOSOV,Valentin ALEXANDROV
VIP-Premier expresses sincere gratitude to Director General of RT-Machine-building Company Viktor Baunov (Moscow), Paul Hofinger and Walter Gaas (Vienna) for assistance in arranging the interview with the Federal Chancellor of Austria.