Klagenfurt, 9 September 2006 - At this year’s Meeting of Austrians residing abroad Ursula Plassnik cordially welcomed Austria’s expatriates as "Austrians living in the world". In her speech in Klagenfurt, the Foreign Minister defended Austria as a cosmopolitan country: "In the past two decades we have moved from Europe’s periphery to its centre. Our national borders no longer divide us from other countries - on the contrary, they are open for human, cultural and economic contacts," said Plassnik, who borrowed Egon Matzner’s words to call for "an Austria open to the world and a world open to Austria".
Austria’s yes to the European Union on 12 June 1994 could be seen and felt everywhere in the country. "Today’s young people grow up in another world without a dividing Iron Curtain. This is beneficial not only to Austrian business but also to Austrian society, which is more cosmopolitan and internationally oriented than ever. A dynamic export industry is particularly important for smaller countries like Austria. With an increase in exports of 12.7% in the first half of 2006, we are the European export champions," continued Plassnik.
"As a Carinthian, Carinthia’s openness is of special concern to me, and that also includes languages. I have difficulty understanding Province Governor Haider when he calls for monolingualism, particularly in view of the fact that the Province Governor himself has done a great deal for minorities. Monolingualism as an idea is a form of self-mutilation. Polyphony and multilingualism are and will remain an enrichment. One third of all Carinthian children are brought up speaking two languages - and that is the way into the future," said Plassnik.
"But Austria is also the home of many immigrants. In the same way as Austria’s expatriates take a part of Austria into the world, these people have brought a part of the world to Austria. These people have been an enrichment for Austria and will continue to be so in the future," said Plassnik.
"For me, the most important part of Austrian foreign policy is taking care of the concerns of Austrians both at home and abroad. The Austrian embassies are universal authorities which are responsible for any type of question, concern or application," said Plassnik. In this connection she expressed her thanks to all the employees of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs who do everything possible to fulfill these comprehensive requirements and carry out the many complex tasks, often in difficult conditions, such as the evacuation of 380 Austrians from Lebanon. Plassnik also thanked all the European partners for their excellent cooperation in evacuating Austrian and other European citizens. Likewise, several Foreign Ministers had already sent letters in which they expressed their thanks for Austria’s support.
Referring to the forthcoming end of the parliamentary term, Plassnik mentioned two legal initiatives which had brought improvements for Austrians living abroad. In amending the Act on Austrian Citizenship, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs had successfully advocated simplifications for Austrian expatriates. Another improvement was the recent amendment of the Austrian Expatriate Fund Act, which is used to assist Austrian expatriates in need of such support. This fund can now also be used by "people who are Austrians at heart" and who are in financial distress, e.g. by Austrian women who had to give up their Austrian citizenship because of marriage and who find themselves in financial distress after a divorce. "Supporting these Austrians is a special concern of mine and I am pleased that it was possible to include them thanks to the reform of the Expatriate Fund Act," stated Plassnik.
Another concern of Plassnik’s is a simplified procedure for Austrians wishing to cast their vote abroad: "Austria is a European leader as far as e-government is concerned. We will therefore try to work out a procedure enabling Austrian expatriates to cast their vote abroad in a simplified manner through the introduction of e-voting," continued the Foreign Minister.
"I should like to thank all Austrian expatriates for showing the world a cosmopolitan Austria. I also express my thanks to the President of the World Association of Austrians Abroad, Gustav Chlestil, and his team, for the work they do with great charm and consistency. And I also congratulate Mr. Friedrich von Thun on receiving today’s "Austrian Expatriate of the Year" award", concluded Plassnik.
Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Tel.: ++43 (0) 50 1150-3262, 4549, 4550
Fax: ++43 (0) 50 1159-213