Interview with HE Alexander Schallenberg, Austria’s Federal Minister of European and International Affairs.
Q: In 1965, the Organization decided to move its headquarters from Geneva, Switzerland, to Vienna, Austria. This year marks 55 years since this milestone, what is your reflection in this regard? What does it mean for Vienna to have OPEC in the city?
A: Over the years OPEC has become a key player in the worldwide energy dialogue by ensuring a balance of interests between producer and consumer countries and thus contributing significantly to energy security for both private individuals and the economy. As one of the most important organisations in the energy sector, OPEC has indeed made a lasting contribution to Vienna's international visibility.
Q: Over the last 55 years, the relationship between OPEC and its host country, Austria, has become deeper and richer. In your opinion, what are the key factors behind this successful partnership?
A: The presence of OPEC as one of more than 40 international organisations in Vienna is a very valuable asset for Austria, both economically as well as culturally, by enriching the diversity of the city. Also, the organisations themselves profit from this stimulating international environment. Vienna as a hub for expertise and future-oriented cooperation on energy issues provides an important platform to OPEC for exchange and innovation with like-minded partners. I am confident that these excellent relations will continue to grow over the next decades.
Q: How do you view the relations between OPEC’s 13 Member Countries and Austria?
A: Our longstanding relations with all OPEC Member Countries build on the Vienna-based headquarter and I am committed to continuing and deepening these relations. For example, within the last year, I have met with my counterparts from Libya, IR Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia to discuss matters of mutual interest bilaterally and to further our cooperation. I am very much looking forward to continuing this fruitful dialogue.
Q: How do you think your fellow Austrians view the fact that OPEC is headquartered in Vienna?
A: In Austria, we are proud of the city’s reputation as a venue for dialogue and multilateral diplomacy and thus, [we] welcome and support the presence of OPEC and other international organisations. It is important to further raise awareness about the benefits of hosting these organisations and thus, it is our common task to bring the important work of all of these international organisations closer to the public.
Q. Vienna is currently home to the headquarters and offices of 11 international organisations and NGOs that focus on a wide range of energy issues and have joined to form the Vienna Energy Club. Vienna thus fulfils an important function as an international energy hub that provides highly relevant impetus to facilitate global energy policy-making. In this context, how has the country benefited from having OPEC here?
A: Since 2009, the Vienna Energy Club, with OPEC as one of its most active members, has established itself as a successful network addressing key energy questions. With 60 years of experience, OPEC is a well-established member of the global energy community and provides the forum with valuable expertise. In addition, OPEC is also a highly valued participant in the biennial Vienna Energy Forum, which assembles organisations and individuals from all around the world to discuss practical solutions to sustainable development challenges. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Forum’s 7th session had to be postponed to 2021. We are looking forward to hosting it again next year.
Q: Vienna is known for its excellent living standards, as well as being home to many international organisations. How did the city achieve this respected and prominent global position? And how does it intend to maintain it?
A: Austria, over the past decades, has consolidated its reputation as a reliable partner. A key focus of Austria’s foreign policy is to strengthen this position and to provide the perfect environment for the work of international organisations. As part of this, Austria constantly strives to strengthen its legal framework to provide the best possible support to organisations wishing to establish a permanent seat here. Last but not least, Vienna is characterized by its high quality of life, which makes the city attractive for working and living.
Q: Are there any special future plans for Vienna in terms of its role as an international energy centre and centre for dialogue that you would like to share with us?
A: Energy is a key driver for our economies, however the way we use energy is also intrinsically interlinked with climate policy issues. Thus, we recognise the need to work towards a timely energy transition and pay great attention to energy-related matters. This also applies to our approach to Vienna-based organisations like OPEC. We want the energy-related organisations here to interact more intensely with sister organisations worldwide in order to find and help implement solutions to our energy and climate problems. The upcoming ratification by Austria of the IRENA statute will more firmly anchor the energy cooperation that already exists between the International Renewable Energy Agency and the energy hub Vienna, including its prominent member OPEC.
Q: As the Minister in charge of international affairs and Austrian diplomacy, how do you see the relationship between OPEC and its host country growing in the years ahead?
A: Multilateralism and international dialogue are at the heart of our foreign policy. We recognise that only by working together we will be able to face global challenges successfully. One of today’s big challenges is energy security. This is why we will continue to put all our efforts into providing a good working environment and making Vienna a second home for one of the key organisations in the global architecture for energy governance and dialogue.
Q: The global outbreak of COVID-19 has put countries on unprecedented high alert and led to the imposition of regulations and measures to combat it. Austria, during these difficult times, has set an example regarding the successful management of this predicament. What are the key factors behind Austria’s notable success?
A: Our key to success was that we reacted decisively by undertaking confinement measures very early on. We based our crisis response mechanism combined with travel restrictions, on the exchange with other countries that have handled the crisis comparatively well. These restrictive measures have shown their effects in a comparatively low number of COVID-19 cases. However, all these measures were only successful because the population adhered significantly to the temporary restrictions. This is of course also true for all Austrian-based international organisations and their staff.