Roland Hauser: There Is Still Room to Improve Bulgaria's Business Environment

Diplomatic Channel |Author: Angel Petrov | February 6, 2017, Monday // 10:22|  views

Photo courtesy of Roland Hauser

There are practically no areas where we don’t enjoy dense and excellent cooperation, but this does not mean there is no room for deepening relations, Austria's Ambassador to Bulgaria, H.E. Roland Hauser, has told Novinite.

Mr Hauser is among the nominees in our annual Personality in the News poll where voting will continue until February 20.
He has served as Austria's Ambassador to Bulgaria since September 2015.

His previous postings include ambassadorial missions to Gulf countries (Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain) and Kenya (2005-2009, also accredited to Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Seychelles, Comoros and DR Congo); He has also served as First Secretary to the Austrian Embassy in Beijing, Consellor and DCM at the embassy in Riyadh, and has held several other positions at the Austrian Foreign Ministry throughout his career that began back in 1986.

Your Excellency, which are the key bilateral issues between Bulgaria and Austria your Embassy is working on at the moment?

First of all, due to the very close relation between Austria and Bulgaria, we are permanently working on numerous projects, so to speak. In the political field, I would first refer to the preparations for our European Union Presidencies, both of us, which I would say are very high on the agenda. In commerce, we are very happy that the relations are very dense and also successful, but not all Austrian companies working in Bulgaria work without problems, so one of the main tasks of the embassy as well is to support companies to overcome difficulties they are facing in the country. And then I also should come to the cultural field, where we always have a variety of projects besides our two flagship projects which are the Vienna Ball and the Austrian Music Weeks. We are also working on a couple of interesting projects, for example a special archaeological exhibition of the famous Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum in Sofia. We also installed last year in Plovdiv the Austrian Cultural Pavilion also in view of the European Capital of Culture in Plovdiv 2019. We want to present a lot of art and exciting events in the cultural field.

You mentioned problems for Austrian companies in Bulgaria. Could you refer to some of them specifically?

First I have to say you may know that Austria is one of the biggest investors here, actually the second-biggest statistically. Austrian companies employ more than 70000 people in their Bulgarian subsidiaries, which is one of the highest numbers in any particular country worldwide. However, not all of its investments are a success story for various reasons. So the main problem would refer to let’s say questions of rule of law, also when it comes to protection of investments, then I would say very important is the matter of public procurement. Sometimes companies would like to see some more transparency. And let's say in general as well the business environment. Also, the competition environment is not as transparent and fair for Austrian companies.

In your view, has this environment improved since you set foot here two-and-a-half years ago?

It's just a coincidence that with my arrival there was the new government and I have to say that the government made quite some efforts to improve the environment. There were some positive steps in the field of judicial reform, but there is still room for improvement, a lot of things still have to be done but there have been a number of positive efforts and steps in the right direction to improve the business environment.

Are there areas between Bulgaria and Austria where there is much potential but it has not still been tapped on?

There are practically no areas where we don’t enjoy dense and excellent cooperation, but this does not mean there is no room for deepening relations. First, in the area of science where we have some sort of cooperation, but there is still room for improvement. For example, in archaeology there are some Austrians working here, I mean due to the rich cultural heritage as a country but much more can be done in this field. We also have a sort of cooperation in dual education I think which is very important for the country and where Austria could share some experiences.

You have repeatedly mentioned the close cooperation between Bulgaria and Austria. It is true that the two countries had diplomatic ties for quite a while, almost 130 years...

I must say that at that time the Austrian-Hungarian empire was the first big power [after Russia] which recognized the independence of Bulgaria from the Ottoman occupation. Immediately after 1879, when the first firs Austrian diplomatic agent arrived. From the very beginning we were here. This is the reason our embassy is in such a prime location.

Maybe it was precisely because of these long relations that it struck me to read that your defense minister said Austria couldn't comply with the request from Bulgaria on border assistance with Serbia because relations weren't advanced enough.

First, let me emphasize that the Austrian government does appreciate the efforts of Bulgaria to protect the external borders of the EU. Austria and Bulgaria share similar interests when it comes to face the migration and refugee crises. It is in this context, that the Austrian Ministers of Interior and Defense came last year to Sofia and discussed with their counterparts how to assist Bulgaria on border security.

Exactly on this statement I have to clarify. This was a statement clarifying that the Austrian legislation at this time as a neutral country could not send soldiers abroad. It is only possible under a mandate of the UN or the EU. But he suggested in the meantime to change legislation to send soldiers abroad for support on a bilateral basis. But apart from that, I have to say there is a very close cooperation between Austria and Bulgaria when it comes to the migration crisis for example. Last year we had two ministers - of interior and defense - last year and they discussed with their then counterparts of the time how Austria could support Bulgaria in protecting their borders which are at the same time the external borders of the EU. The Austrian government does appreciate the efforts of Bulgaria in protecting these borders.

Meanwhile we have identified a number of concrete projects of cooperation and they are very close to being realized when Austria could give some support to Bulgaria in the question of border management and border security.

Austria will take over the rotating EU presidency soon, immediately after Bulgaria in the second half of 2018. But unlike Bulgaria is experience in this process. In what way are Bulgaria and Austria cooperating on this and how are they helpful to each other.

Due to the UK's decision to leave the EU Presidency, Austria joined the trio together with Bulgaria, so it is all the more important to coordinate, first the so-called trio program - the program of the three presidencies, Estonia, Bulgaria and Austria - and we had already a number of meetings on a political level and also on an expert level under this trio program.
Furthermore, on a bilateral level with Bulgaria, it is also very important to coordinate the national priorities, to coordinate the swift handover of all the files and dossiers from Bulgaria to Austria. In a month, an Austrian delegation will come to Sofia. We expect as well that as you have a new foreign minister, the FMs will meet to discuss this.

On the other hand, as you rightly mentioned, Austria is a bit more experienced, for us it will be the third time. I am quite sure that we and our authorities will be happy to share our experiences and if it is wished so to give our advice on organizational questions, because it is a huge event to organize all these meetings and ministers coming so Austria will help out to give some advice.

Our former President Mr Plevneliev had very close ties to Austria, highlighting business ties and paying many visits. Does Austria have any expectations in particular of the new head of state?

Coming back to President Plevneliev, he was a very close friend of Austria. He visited Austria at least once per year, and last year it was two times. We had a very close relationship. We hope that with the new President, Mr Radev, at the level of heads of state, we can keep this excellent relationship. It is a good coincidence that, as we speak, Austria has a new President and Bulgaria has one as well. So I am quite optimistic that excellent cooperation at this level will also continue in the figure between these new political leaders.

If you were to describe Bulgaria in three words, what would these be?

"Three words” is very short. I could give three words but then an additional adjective to each. So for me it is culture, nature and hospitality. The fascinating culture, beautiful nature and great hospitality.

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Tags: Austria, Bulgaria, Roland Hauser


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