Bregenz, 8 September 2007 - "In the past years, the Foreign Ministry has become a modern service provider for citizens, business and politics," stated State Secretary Hans Winkler at this year’s meeting of Austrians abroad that is being held in Bregenz. "Austrians living abroad are valuable ambassadors of our country, our culture and our traditions. We are constantly working to improve the framework conditions for Austrians abroad. The main focus is on optimal service by the Austrian representations abroad, both in cases of crises and catastrophes as well as in the exercise of democratic rights," continued the State Secretary. In this context Winkler referred to the 2007 law on electoral reform which will bring a number of improvements in future elections, not least thanks to Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik’s personal commitment. "For me, exercising the right to vote is a central and precious achievement of modern democracy. I would even call it the key pillar of our democracy," said Winkler, who also expressed the hope that in the next election this reform would be reflected in a higher voter turnout by Austrians abroad. To be able to participate in elections in Austria, Austrians living abroad have so far had to have their vote witnessed by a notary public or another Austrian citizen. "Now the voting procedure is simpler and closer to the citizen. In the future it will be sufficient to apply for the ballot card, fill it in and mail it back to Austria. This will allow genuine postal voting for which no witnesses will be required," emphasised Winkler.
"The personal security of Austrians abroad has always been of special concern to us. Time and again it has been demonstrated how important it is to have precautions in place for crises and catastrophes," said Winkler, who highlighted numerous measures which have resulted in improved rescue capability and communication in the event of crises. "In addition to the constant adjustment of the crisis plans of the Austrian embassies, technical, organisational and staff infrastructure has been further developed in Vienna. This includes more efficient crisis hotlines as well as the recruitment of a task force consisting of voluntary, specially trained employees who may be dispatched to a crisis region whenever necessary," continued Winkler. The State Secretary also provided information about the new guide for Austrians abroad (www.aoe-ratgeber.at). "Life abroad involves many questions and bureaucratic hurdles, particularly at the beginning. The new internet guide is designed to help Austrians all over the world to remain in contact with their home country more easily," concluded the State Secretary.
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