Rome, 8 March 2005 - Minister for Foreign Affairs Ursula Plassnik today made her first official visit to Italy, meeting for talks with her Italian counterpart Gianfranco Fini and Minister for Europe Rocco Buttiglione.
"Italy and Austria share a very close and friendly relationship as partners in the European Union" emphasized Plassnik, pointing to the regular exchange of visits at the political level.
The Foreign Minister expressed her satisfaction that South Tyrol, once a divisive factor, has now become a uniting element in the bilateral relations between Austria and Italy and emphasized that the positive development of South Tyrol's autonomy remains a key concern of Austrian foreign policy. "Good relations with Rome also form the basis for a constructive dialogue with Italy with respect to South Tyrol. South Tyrol is an important element of our bilateral relations", explained Plassnik.
On the subject of trans-Alpine transit traffic, Plassnik said that Austria and Italy plan to jointly advocate the construction of the Brenner Base Tunnel in the European Union. "The building of the tunnel is an essential prerequisite for shifting freight traffic onto the railways", stressed the Foreign Minister, adding that the tunnel would also play an important role in freeing the people and environment of South Tyrol from the burden of road-based transit traffic.
Turning to the Western Balkans, Plassnik said that the European prospect was an "engine for reform" in the region. "The stability and development of South-East Europe is of special concern to Austria and Italy. That is why our two countries are supporting the rapprochement of all states in this region to the European Union", said the Foreign Minister.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs also took the opportunity to inform Foreign Minister Fini about the status of preparations for the Austrian EU Presidency in the first half of 2006.