TIME TO WALTZ

Azerbaijan 2012 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Heinz Fischer, the President of Austria, on the development of Austrian-Azerbaijani relations in terms of business, trade, and culture.

Heinz Fischer
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Heinz Fischer is currently serving his second term as the Federal President of the Republic of Austria, holding office since 2004. He has been a member of the Austrian National Assembly since 1963, and held the position of President from 1990 to 2002. He has also served as Chairman of the Social Democratic Group, Vice-Chairman of the Austrian Social Democratic Party, and Federal Minister of Science and Research. In addition to his experience in the field, Dr. Fischer pursued an academic career as a political science professor at the University of Innsbruck.

You have stated Austria's aim to develop new bilateral relations with Azerbaijan. What factors will be driving this potential for expansion?

Azerbaijan is already Austria's most important trading partner in the region, but there is always room for improvement. I am thinking of natural gas in particular. The Nabucco pipeline project would give Azerbaijan direct access to the European market and allow it to achieve full market value for its gas. On the other hand, Austria offers many options to potential investors from Azerbaijan. We have the lowest unemployment rate in the EU and a highly skilled labor force. Vienna is ranked number one in the world for its quality of life, and is the headquarters of many companies that are active in Central Europe.

How significant was your visit to Azerbaijan in 2011 in order to boost bilateral relations?

It was the first visit of an Austrian President to Azerbaijan. I was accompanied by a large business delegation, and I recall clearly that HE President Aliyev praised a number of Austrian companies, which are already operating successfully in Azerbaijan. The business forum held in Baku during my visit helped to establish new business contacts. However, our relations should not be reduced to economic questions. We are also attaching great importance to the strengthening of cultural relations. Over the last four years, a number of agreements have been concluded between our Ministries of Culture, universities, and national libraries as well.

How would you assess the state of relations between both countries and its evolution over the years?

Excellent! In 2012 we are celebrating 20 years of friendly diplomatic relations. The opening of an Austrian Embassy in Baku in 2010 and my visit are clear signs. I am looking forward to the return visit by HE President Aliyev, which is planned for 2012. The conclusion of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on education will give further impetus to our bilateral relations.

What is the geostrategic situation of Azerbaijan within Austria's international focus?

Azerbaijan is strategically placed in its region and is an important player there. The South Caucasus region is of strategic importance. This goes beyond the interest in energy cooperation. We value the contribution of Azerbaijan to regional stability and its insights into developments in neighboring countries.

The Austrian-Azerbaijani Chamber of Commerce (ATAZ) is planning to stage the “Central European & Azerbaijani Investment and Trade Summit" in Vienna in 2012. How would you assess the role of ATAZ in developing relations between both countries?

I welcome all efforts aimed at further intensifying our relationship. The role ATAZ is playing is particularly important. The planned investment and trade summit will underline the role of Vienna as a hub for doing business in Central Europe.

What are your future expectations in terms of Austria-Azerbaijan relations, especially on the expansion of trade?

I have already mentioned the importance of gas and energy. But there are many other fields, such as tourism, health care, and ICT, where promising prospects exist. Another area is agriculture, where agreed fields of cooperation are agricultural engineering, the cultivation of plants, and animal husbandry, as well as the early detection of diseases. On the local level, the city of Vienna envisages a number of economic and cultural projects as a follow-up to a visit to Baku. All in all, I am confident that we are on the right track.