< Following is a transcript of the presentation made by Austria’s Honorary Consul Edgar Braun to the Austrian American Cultural Society of Pittsburgh on November 17, 2004 (text includes information by CG Martin Krämer, Botschaftsrat) >
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Some time has passed since I had the privilege to provide you with insights as to the situation in Austria, and I welcome this opportunity to do so again.
Austria celebrated her national holiday on 26th of October, a date that has been chosen in remembrance of this day in 1955 when the last soldier of the allied occupation force has left our homeland. Some of us may remember this jubilant day when the then Chancellor Leopold Figl called out from the balcony of Vienna’s historic Belvedere palace “Österreich ist frei”.
Now, at the end of 2004 we are looking back on a good and successful year - a year which saw Austria as a politically and socially sound and stable democracy in the heart of a united and peaceful Europe.
Today’s Austria is considered one of the wealthiest nations in the world. With a GDP per capita of U$ 34290 it ranks within the top nations of the world, ahead of larger industrial giants such as Germany, France, Great Britain or Italy. Our economy provides best know-how, highly developed technologies, a modern infrastructure and high levels of productivity.
Austria also takes full advantage of its strategic position in the center of Europe and its easy access to the growing markets of Central- and Eastern Europe.
In the last year the growth of the economy was a sound 2%, owing mostly to exports rather than consumer demands. The industrial production showed an increase of 6.1% in the year to June, combined with the second lowest unemployment rate of 4.3% in EU and an inflation of only a moderate 1.4%.
2004 was for Austria a historical year in two perspectives: First there was the 90th anniversary of the beginning of WWI which pushed our country and Europe into poverty and misery, and which finally led to the downfall and destruction of the Habsburg monarchy.
And secondly we enjoyed the accession of 10 more member states to the EU on the 1st of May. This biggest expansion in the history of the Union eliminated the last remainders of the artificial separation line, which had separated the free West from the communistic ruled East of Europe for nearly 60 years.
After a century we see Central Europe free again of customs and political barriers, which restricted trade, investments, travel, and cultural exchange. Old trenches have been filled and Austria and her neighbors, who were connected by centuries of common cultural and economic heritage, are united again.
The expansion of the European Union has moved Austria into the center of the new Europe, not only geographically or politically, but also in economic terms. Austria takes full advantage of these new opportunities. So, for instance, Austria’s investments in Slovenia of about 4 billion Dollars amount to 50% of all new investments in this country.
On July 6 Austria mourned the death of President Dr.Thomas Klestil who passed away only two days before the conclusion of his second 6-year term as the president of Austria. Austria’s sorrow was shared by dignitaries from the entire world, where the United States was represented by one of our native sons, Governor Schwarzenegger of California.
Just two days later the Federal Assembly swore the newly elected president, Dr.Heinz Fischer, a Social Democrate, into office.
In another political move Austria’s former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Dr. Benita-Ferrero Waldner, in recognition of Austria’s reputation in political affairs, was elected as the Commissar for Foreign Relations of the EU in Brussels.
As the successor of Dr. Ferraro Waldner an experienced diplomat, Dr. Ursula Plassnig was named by Chancellor Schuessel. In her opening speech before the Austrian Parliament Dr.Plassnig stressed her resolve to further continue the positive foreign and Europe politics of her predecessor, with special focus on Regional Partnerships, the ratification of the EU-Constitution and the necessary preparations for Austria’s presidency of the EU in 2006. In 2006 it will be the second time that Austria will preside over the Union and it will provide ample opportunities for our small country to further the European integration process.
This year, after long negotiations, the member states of the European Union agreed on a European Constitution. As you can imagine, it was no easy task to bring the different opinions, requests, and expectations of 25 sovereign member states, representing 450 million people, and several candidates under one hat. Consequently, the resulting document includes a number of compromises. It’s consequently not yet perfect, but it is a good beginning.
Next year, we Austrians will be aware of three anniversaries, which have significance for our country:
We will remember the end of WWII 60 years ago. In a ceremonial act during the Europe Congress in Vienna’s Imperial Castle, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Austrian State Treaty, and we will look back on 10 years of a sometimes turbulent but still prosperous membership in the EU.
Coming to the end of my presentation I want to mention Austria’s successes at this year’s Olympic Summer Games, which were one of the most successful ones in Austria’s History. Austria’s athletes won a total of seven medals (2 gold [Dornado Sailing & Triathlon], 4 silver [Swimming], and one bronze), and we are proud that our athletes demonstrated that we can also successfully compete in sports other than skiing.
And last but not least we celebrate the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to the Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek. Awarded for her, as quoted, “musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power”
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