Austria Remains the Second Largest Foreign Investor in Bulgaria

E. Mr. Roland Hauser was born on June 22, 1957 in the city of Innsbruck. He received a solid university education. He studied History, Roman History and Philosophy at the University of Innsbruck, then graduated the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna.

At the beginning of his career he was a professor of History and French. Then he held a number of posts in the Austrian Foreign Ministry.

As a diplomat H. E. Mr. Roland Hauser has a long-standing experience. He has worked in the diplomatic missions of his country in Beijing and Riyadh. From 2000 to 2004 he was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Austria in Kuwait, accredited to Qatar and Bahrain. In the period 2005 – 2009  he was ambassador in Kenya, and from 2012 to 2014 he was ambassador in the State of Qatar, based in Vienna. For some time he was Permanent Representative of Austria in the United Nations Environment Programme /UNEP/ and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme /Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, Congo, Comoros and Seychelles/.

E. Mr. Roland Hauser is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Austria to Bulgaria from September 2014

- Your Excellency, what does the victory of Alexander Van der Bellen in the presidential election mean for Austria and for Europe?

- As in Bulgaria, the Austrian constitution is grounded on the principle that the federal president represents the country abroad. According to various surveys, for many voters this was the main reason to vote for Alexander Van der Bellen. Unlike his competitor, he emphatically declared FOR the European Union. In most international comments the victory of Van der Bellen is seen as a triumph over the national-populist camp, which is gaining more and more supporters in many European countries. In most of the congratulations from abroad, addressed to the newly elected president, the victory was assessed as positive for the image of Austria, but also as a cheerful signal for the EU.

- What can we expect in the future from the political life in your country, when in the battle for the presidency, the two traditional parties remained on the periphery with only 11% votes for their candidates?

- For the first time in the history of Austria none of the two candidates who reached the second round, were from the ruling party. As in other countries, we see some political apathy and feelings against the political status quo, which was very clearly felt in the results of the first round of the elections. Yet from those results one could not make unambiguous predictions for the future political development in Austria. It can be foreseen, however, that after the next elections, the formation of a majority in the parliament and the negotiations to form a government will be difficult.

- Austria is a traditional and important trade and economic partner of Bulgaria. What was the outcome of our partnership in trade and investment in 2016?

-It is still too early to speak about these specific figures. What is certain is that Bulgaria is developing relatively well, with economic growth of 3%. This was beneficial for the Austrian companies in Bulgaria as well. The export of Austria to Bulgaria in the first half of 2016 grew by 6.5% and totaled 332 million euros. The import from Bulgaria increased by 13.7% and reached € 222 million. Austria remains the second largest foreign investor in Bulgaria.

- A year ago your foreign minister Sebastian Kurtz said that there are  around 600 Austrian companies in Bulgaria. What is the total investment in them?

- A lot of the Austrian companies that you have in mind have been operating in Bulgaria for a long time. The amounts of investment over the years have been different. It could be stated with certainty that the largest volume of investment here was in the years immediately before and after the accession of Bulgaria to the EU. In recent years, the investments remain at a lower level.

- How many Bulgarians work in Austrian companies?

- There is no reliable statistics on this issue. But the fact is that mainly Bulgarians work in all enterprises and companies. Meanwhile, a major problem for the Austrian companies in Bulgaria is the shortage of qualified staff. The companies are trying to cope with the problem with measures to promote the dual study.

- Is there a potential for expansion of the investments and in which areas?

- The expansion of investments depends on the framework conditions in Bulgaria. Bulgaria continues to be attractive for investment - in terms of economic growth, low corporate taxes and location. An important factor, of course, is the investment climate, which is formed by the rule of law, the predictability of the legal frameworks and the benign way of sending workers and employees on a business trip to Bulgaria. There is still a lot to be desired.

- To what extent, in comparison with other European countries, is migration an issue for your country and how the authorities deal with it?

- Austria is affected by the migration crisis to a great degree. In 2015 about one million migrants came to our country and almost 90,000 people sought sanctuary, which as a share based on the total population puts us in second place in Europe after Sweden and is almost twice bigger than it is in Germany. In 2016, although the numbers decreased, till the end of November 40,000 applications for asylum were submitted, so the migration wave continues to be a major burden for my country. In the beginning of the year in order to reduce the refugee pressure, the government decided to put a limit to the asylum applications - up to the year 2019 a maximum of 127,000 requests will be considered. The aim of this decision is to ensure protection and assistance in Austria to those who actually need it, but economic migrants will be returned. Both Bulgarian and Austrian governments think that the problems of migration can only be solved at EU level where a very important role has the protection of the external borders of the EU.

- Austria is in the trio of the temporary EU presidencies, in which are also Estonia and Bulgaria. How do the consultations on the priorities go on?

- The consultations between Estonia, Bulgaria and Austria – the trio for the presidency of the EU for the period July 2017 - December 2018, has started both on political and expert level and go on very positively. The aim is, on the one hand to establish a common program for a year and a half, and on the other to identify specific priorities for each of the presiding countries. The programme will be most probably adopted in early 2017 in close cooperation with the European Commission and European Council President.

- More and more Austrians to come to Bulgaria and more Bulgarians go to Austria. What attracts your countrymen to our country and our countrymen to your country?

- Annually about 200,000 Austrian tourists visit Bulgaria. Most of them come in the summer months to the Black Sea coast. But more and more Austrians discover Bulgaria as a very interesting country for cultural tourism. For the Bulgarians Vienna is particularly attractive because of the rich cultural life and notoriously cozy atmosphere.

- The contacts and cultural ties between our countries have deep historical roots. How do they develop in the new conditions?

-The contacts between our countries are particularly intense at all levels. The visits at the state level are part of the relationship. For example, the President Rosen Plevneliev visited Austria at least once each year of his mandate. In addition there are regular visits of ministers. The relations in the field of culture and economy also develop very intensively.

- How you and your family feel in Bulgaria? What impresses you the most?

- Before my arrival in Bulgaria, little more than two years ago, I did not know the country and from the beginning I was very impressed in many ways. My wife and I feel very well here and enjoy the beautiful scenery, the countless - but unfortunately unknown abroad, cultural and historical treasures. And, of course, the hospitality of the Bulgarians.

The material is provided by "Standard" newspaper -

Photo courtesy of the Embassy of Austria in Bulgaria.