BH & EU, INTERVIEWS

Economic cooperation is a confirmation of friendly relations between BiH and Austria

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Ambassador of Austria to BiH – Donatus Koeck

In Austria’s interest is that BiH moves forward to the EU and that BiH will become a full member of the European family

By: Nevena Šarenac

Portal ”Sarajevo Times” had the opportunity to talk with the Ambassador of Austria to BiH Donatus Koeck, who said that BiH can expect full and comprehensive support from Austria, as the largest investor to BiH, on its path to the EU. He noted that the economic cooperation between BIH and Austria confirms close and friendly relations between two countries. Having in mind the significance of Austrian investments to BIH, the Embassy of Austria has enabled readers of ‘Sarajevo Times’ to get the most up-to-date data that illustrate the successfulness of business cooperation of two countries. Commercial Counsellor of Austrian Embassy to BiH Sigmund Nemeti participated in the talk of our team and the ambassador Koeck, and noted that overall investments of Austria, after the Dayton Peace Agreement, to BiH are more than 1.2 billion EUR. Austrian economy has discovered BIH as a favourable destination for so-called ‘lohn jobs’ or in other words, transferring Austrian production to BIH. Ambassador and Nemeti warned that BiH must deal with the problem of complicated administration, and must make all the necessary steps in order for country to move towards the EU and in the end becoming a full member of European family. They concluded that many BiH citizens have confirmed themselves as successful entrepreneurs in Austria, and that young students from BIH are valuable brain gain to Austria.

Overall amount of investments of Austria to BIH in the period from 1994 to 2011 is more than one billion euros, which makes your country the first investor to BIH. Foreign trade exchange of the two countries has the growing trend and BIH has a significant foreign trade exchange surplus with Austria. Having in mind those facts, one can conclude that BiH has put its economic capacities to use to Austrian investors. What are the fields that investors from your country find the most appealing? According to you, what are the measures BiH must take in order to secure additional inflow of Austrian capital?

 Koeck: Economic cooperation between BiH and Austria is a very important field, which confirms close and friendly relations of two countries. Commercial Counsellor of the Embassy of Austria to BiH Sigmund Nemeti will talk for ‘Sarajevo Times’ about the effectiveness of economic  cooperation between two countries, because he is the right person who can offer more precise information and more up-to-date data which illustrate the efficacy of this cooperation.

Nemeti: We are thrilled with the fact that Austria is the top investor to BiH, and the most up-to-date data of BIH Statistics Department show that the overall Austrian investments to BIH, since signing of Dayton Peace Agreement, are 1.2 billion euros. These investments are realized in many different branches. Primarily, one needs to mention the financial sector. Apart from banks, as important financial institutions, Austrian insurance companies are also active in the area of BiH. According to data of the Austrian Statistics Department, BiH exported to Austria 387 million EUR of goods which shows that the export from BiH to Austria has risen for 12.2% in comparison to 2011. In 2012, the export from Austria to BiH was 345 million EUR, and the trade activity of exports from Austria to BiH has risen by 7.5% in comparison to 2011.

Austrian economy has discovered BiH as a favourable destination for so called ‘lohn businesses’ or in other words, transferring Austrian production to BiH, which can been seen in machine building industry, in production of steel drives in mechanical engineering. There is also a growing trend of transferring Austrian production to BiH in the field of textile industry.

Your country is known for being the central point of heavy industry in the former Yugoslavia, and machine building and steel processing is characteristically successful industry in BiH. On the basis of the excellent and long cooperation of BiH and Austria, Austrian entrepreneurs are well acquainted with the quality that BiH industry can offer, and they have very positive experiences with BiH workers.

The Office of Trade Advisor of Austrian Embassy has organised, from 13 to 15 March, a visit of business delegation of 17 Austrian companies to Northeast Bosnia. As a part of the visit, Austrian business club was organised in Tuzla, which was an informal meeting of Austrian and BIH businessmen. It is well known that the Embassy of Austria in BiH is active in promoting cooperation between your country and BIH. Can you name for ‘Sarajevo Times’ concrete activities that the Embassy has been doing in creating the image of BIH as safe location for Austrian investors?

Nemeti: From 13 to 15 March, Austrian companies were in the mission of getting to know the market of Northeast Bosnia. There is an interest of Austrian companies for cooperation with BiH and for investing in BiH. The reason for that, among other things, lies in the fact that BiH has signed the free trade agreement with Austria, neighbouring countries and Turkey. BiH is already an interesting destination for investors, and that will be continued in the future.

Concerning the issues of improving business environment, one must mention complicated administration, which Austrian businessmen cannot easily understand. There are certain initiatives in some parts of BiH to simplify the process of opening of companies. If certain progress could be made in decreasing the number of administrative procedures, it would be a positive sign that foreign investors are welcome to BIH. The effort for attracting and supporting foreign investment can be seen at all levels in BiH.

Trade office of the Embassy of Austria is the representative body of Austrian economy in BiH. As such, we collect different information from BiH and we transmit them to interested Austrian businessmen. The arrival of Austrian businessmen to Northeast Bosnia is a general mission of market survey, so that the Austrian companies would get the opportunity to meet with possibilities of BIH.

In June this year, we shall organise another business mission in Banja Luka, and in September in Sarajevo. As a part of these missions, Austrian companies that have precise wishes and partners in BIH and with whom they want to make contact will come to BiH.

Trade Office of the Embassy of Austria to BIH is organising meeting of businessmen of both countries and we mediate in contacts. Austria showcase is the most complex form of the mission which is organised by Trade Department of the Embassy of Austria to BIH. This year, we plan the Austria showcase in four fields: machine building in Zenica, energy and environment in Sarajevo, construction and infrastructure in both Sarajevo and Banja Luka and education in Sarajevo.

According to estimates, there are around 135 000 people of BIH descent in Austria, which are well integrated in Austrian society. Your country is interested in BiH workers. In March, the arrival of Austrian delegation to BIH has been announced, in order to hold a meeting on implementation of ‘Red-White-Red Card’ which will allow foreign citizens to get working and residence permit. Austrians will present 25 occupations in demand and see which workers BIH market can offer to your country. How big is the influence of BIH citizens that live in your country on the economy of Austria?

Koeck: BiH Diaspora has indeed integrated well in Austrian society. Of course, young people who went to Austrian schools have integrated better than older generations, who had problems with language studying. In Austrian economy, we do have sectors where we don’t have enough qualified manpower. In that aspect we’ve implemented the so-called ‘Red-White-Red Card’ in order to enable our future associates from BIH the employment.

The influence of BIH Diaspora on the economy of Austria is primarily reflected in bilateral cooperation. People who speak one of the local languages of BIH and German and know the culture of both countries are the best initiators of Austrian investments to BiH, in other words, they are mediators in establishing business contacts. I’ll give you one example. One small company in Upper Austria that has the waste disposal technology had a young man from BiH town of Cazin as an employee who informed the boss that there is a huge problem with waste in BiH, and the result is – the company founded its branch in Bihać.

Nemeti: When it comes to the influence of BiH Diaspora on Austrian economy, I would have to say that the entrepreneur spirit of BiH citizens is something that comes to the fore in Austria. Many people of BiH descent have become successful entrepreneurs. For example, in the mission of market survey in Northeast Bosnia, most of Austrian entrepreneurs knew the local language fairly well. That confirms their connection with this country in its roots.

Having in mind that BiH workers make very good results in Austria, according to you, what needs to be done so that BiH businessmen make at least similar success in their homeland- BiH? Apart from solving administrative issues, what are other way to overcome obstacles and created more efficient business environment in BiH?

 Koeck: First of all, complicated administrative procedures must be improved and simplified. It is very important to establish central places at the municipal level for informing and offering the support to potential investors. In that manner, active heads of municipalities can significantly contribute attracting foreign investments and make their realization easier. Austria can have good cooperation with BIH local communities and the Diaspora has the key role in that. Recently I’ve visited Teslić, and citizens of that town were searching a partner with a similar municipality in Austria. Then they realized that the Austrian town of Wolfurt has a significant population whose origins are from Teslić, and so those two towns have established cooperation in the field of sports and culture and there is a good chance for establishing business cooperation. Local communities are those who establish all types of cooperation. It usually happens that a richer Austrian local community finds ways to additionally support its local partner in BiH. Among other things, there are partnerships among schools, students’ exchanges and exchanges of teaching staff. It is important to note two factors: we need to know more about each other and to use positive experiences and lessons learned.

When we talk about relations between BiH and Austria, it is necessary to mention the cooperation in the field of education. Competent ministry of your country and numerous Austrian organisations give scholarships to BiH students. According to some studies, there are around 2 500 BIH student studying at Austrian universities. Do you agree with the statement that BIH students are the most successful ambassadors of BIH? How much, does young BiH Diaspora in Austra affect the improvement of BIH image?

Koeck: I completely agree with statement that BiH students, who study at Austrian universities are the best ambassadors of BIH, but I would add that they are also Austrian ambassadors. There are very few examples that one of former Bosnian students in Austria talks about negative experiences in Austria. After studies, they speak German fluently. Also, during their studies they adopt Austrian working mentality. Young BiH citizens, who live and work in Austria are as successful and valuable as any Austrian or European citizen. In that sense, people from BiH are a valuable brain gain to Austria. The wish is, that more and more young people, who studied in Austria, return to BiH, however, they need to have the opportunity to get a job. It must not happen that they have to pay a certain amount of money in order to get a job. I do not say that there isn’t any corruption in Austria, but it certainly is not like the endemic one in BiH. Through corruption, great amounts of money are being lost, and that is one of obstacles for investments. The task of the politics and active civil society is to successively remove the problem of corruption. In that manner, it is necessary to have independent judiciary which can efficiently fight against this plight. The Diaspora plays the key role in creating the image of BiH. They prove that in their search for knowledge and as a workforce are comparable with any European citizen. Their competency in the sense of knowing the languages that are spoken in BIH and Austria confirms the role of the bridge which they spontaneously become.

In BiH, even today, traces of forty years of common Austrian-BIH history are visible. It can especially be seen in infrastructure, education and culture. How do you rate cultural cooperation of BiH and Austria? Does the Embassy of Austria plan to support this year’s music, literature, art and film projects?

Koeck: Austria and BiH have intensive cultural cooperation. Austrian lectors for German language work at three universities, in Sarajevo, Mostar and Banja Luka. Also there are three Austrian libraries in Sarajevo, Tuzla and Banja Luka. Embassy of Austria in BIH has the possibility, based on the budget for cooperation in the field of culture, to support many projects. There is a possibility that, as a part of these projects, we bring Austrian artists and scientists to BIH. We cooperate with numerous festivals in BIH, primarily with festival ‘Sarajevo Winter’. Also, Sarajevo Film Festival is a partner with International Film Festival Innsbruck. We try to support and improve cultural cooperation with our local partners. Next year, 100 years since the beginning of the First World War will be marked, as well as 30 years since Sarajevo Winter Olympic Games. In that sense, we are preparing a series of projects, and the most significant one is the concert of Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on 28 June 2014 in rebuiltNational and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Vijećnica) in Sarajevo.

The second significant project is so-called summer university, which will be realized in Sarajevo by universities of Sarajevo and Graz, and students from the entire Europe will participate in this project. There is also a project of exhibition of Franz Ferdinand who was born in Graz and died in Sarajevo. Also, inter-disciplinary project is also interesting, where Germanists and historians from the entire Europe will discuss how the 1914 catastrophe, or WW I, happened.

Music also has significant role. Many BiH citizens study at Music academies in Austria, and there are many great talents among them. One conductor from Sarajevo works in the Vienna State Opera. He, of course, speaks both Bosnian and German language and he always comes to Sarajevo to cooperate with local Opera. Cultural cooperation, apart from education and economic cooperation, is a very important aspect of bilateral cooperation of BiH and Austria.

Without the basic financial support of the country, institutions of culture cannot function properly. Culture is the identity of a country. The example of Austria shows that the live cultural activity, which is generously supported by public funds, can strongly contribute to successful tourist offer and secure significant income from the field of tourism. Today it is almost impossible to realize cultural projects without the support of economy, or without private sponsorship.

On one occasion you said that Austria is oriented on exchange and friendly relations with all partners in the Balkans. Can regional cooperation be the key mechanism for faster integration of the Balkans country to the EU?

Koeck: Regional cooperation is definitively the key mechanism for European integration. BiH always suffered when Belgrade and Zagreb wanted to divide the country, which historically happened twice. Currently the situation concerning regional cooperation is very good. That cooperation is an incentive for establishing better cooperation among people in all fields, especially economy. For example, BiH has enormous potential in wine producing. If the production of wine in the entire Herzegovina would connect and cooperate in the sense of market offer, they would, with the help of Croatia, Slovenia and Austria, make a significant success at the European market. Austria connected wine-producers of one region, who wanted to market their goods, which is a form of regional cooperation. That experience could most certainly be applied to BiH. One needs to consider the economic region of the Drina River (BiH, Serbia, Montenegro) because if those countries would make a joint cooperation in the field of energy, they could make significant results in the field of export. Primarily, export to Italy, where the electric energy is needed.

What degree of support can BiH expect from Austria, as the largest foreign investor, on its path to the EU?

Koeck: BiH can expect full and comprehensive support of Austria on its path to the EU. It is in the interest of Austrian businessmen, as the largest investors to BIH, to have your country implement European standards and harmonize legislation with European legislation as soon as possible, in order to enable doing business according to European principles. In the interest of Austria is that BiH moves towards the EU and in the end becomes the full member of the European family. Austria has positive experiences with its neighbours (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia) who in 2004 joined the EU. After that year, economic cooperation of Austria with those countries have significantly improved, and the trade balance has tripled or quadrupled. The progress on the European path and accession to the EU serves as a catapult in the sense of incentive for better and more successful economic cooperation.

The accession of BiH to the EU would mean that companies from this country would have the access to market of 500 million people. When BiH becomes full member of the European family, BiH companies will be able to form their own departments anywhere in the EU.Benefits of the accession to the EU are also the freedom of movement, and at a later stage usage of the same currency (Euro), which is vital for the economy.

BiH must compensate all the things that were missed and do all things which are not yet done. The priority is the implementation of the ruling of the European Court of Human rights in the case of ‘Sejdić and Finci’. Otherwise, the results of BiH general elections 2014 will not be recognised. Also, BiH cannot make progress towards the EU without the functioning coordination mechanism. If those two conditions are fulfilled, Stabilisation and Association Agreement could come into force, and BiH could submit its application for accession to the EU.

Ambassador Koeck, you’ve been living in BiH for four years. What are your personal experiences with this country?

Koeck: Although I am a guest in BiH for almost four years, I haven’t managed to learn the local language. I’ve met here many hospitable people. Also, I do understand that wounds from the 90ies war of the last century are still visible. I honestly hope that with active participation of civil society a pressure will be exerted on political leaders to do what is necessary in order for the country to move forward to the EU and become its member.

BiH politicians must learn that the compromise is a positive thing. The EU itself is based on the fact that its 27, soon 28 member states are joined together and through compromise they direct themselves towards the joint goal. In BiH the responsibility lies in local politicians. They should learn from positive examples of young successful people, of the Diaspora, and active and successful heads of municipalities in BiH. Sometimes I am frustrated with the political elite in BIH. When that happens, I visit some up-country heads of municipalities, I visit schools and universities of BiH and then again I get the strength and the conviction in positive things in BiH.

 

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