Although the distance between Austria and Indonesia is thousands of miles away, bilateral relations have been excellent and the two countries are now seeking ways to expand relations in business, trade and investment, tourism, culture and technology.
That was the message delivered by Dr. Wolfgang Waldner, the Austrian State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, in a recent visit.
He added that at the official level, Austrian President Heinz Fischer visited Indonesia in 2010 while other Austrian ministers have been in Jakarta to strengthen bilateral relations.
We have a standing invitation for the Indonesian Economics Minister Hatta Rajasa to visit Vienna. I hope that visit will be realized in 2012. And we have been encouraging Austrian businessmen to conduct business activities in Indonesia,” Dr. Waldner told GlobeAsia.
In the economic field, Austria is looking at continuing to seek ways to promote trade in the coming years. Meanwhile, at least 30 Austrian companies have already been involved in business in Indonesia, among others in building railway bridges and hydro-electric power plants.
Trade figures show that In 2011, Austrian imports from Indonesia reached $147.5 million while Austrian exports to Indonesia reached $143.8 million.
The best way is for companies of both countries to seek investment opportunities,” said Dr. Waldner. “It is important to note however that promoting investments needs a good investment climate, reduction of bureaucracy and red tape and an investment protection treaty, on which we look forward to reaching an agreement soon.”
“Indonesia is a huge market and of course we would like increase the trade volume. Also, we need to seek new niche businesses. We are looking at green and renewable technology for example.
Austria relies for 70% of its power consumption on hydroelectric power. We have expertise in that. We export power to the European grid. We also have expertise in renewable energy such as wind and bio-mass,” Dr. Walden said.
The state secretary gave the example of the green energy city of Güssing, in the Burgenland area of Austria where the population now relies entirely on green technology.
Austria is one of only four European countries that derive more than 30% of total energy consumption from renewable energy sources. This excludes nuclear energy, which is not considered a renewable energy source.
In 1988, Güssing was one of the poorest regions of Austria. Then the city turned to biomass and municipal solid waste containing organic combustible material and transformed them into energy. Now the city is known as the first and biggest model for energy independence in the world.
Within 11 years, Güssing became self-sufficient in electricity, heating, and transportation. More than 60 new companies and over 1,500 new “green jobs” were created.
Since Güssing generates more green energy than the region itself needs, the value added to the region is over $28 million per year. As an additional bonus, greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by over 80%.
We are investing a lot of money in green technology. We have the know-how to manage extreme weather from cold or tropical heat by using solar panels and insulation. Our new embassy building in Jakarta is the showcase of such technology,” Dr. Walden said.
The new Austrian Embassy building was officially inaugurated last November. It is a landmark project which Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo described as a model of the right kind of green building technology for the capital.
The building applies a new approach to sustainable architecture in a tropical climate. To save energy and water, double-glazed windows, solar panels and a rainwater storage system have been installed.
Shaded windows, an air-tight shell and high thermal insulation mean lower temperatures inside when it’s still 30 degrees outside.
Such innovative design reduces the building’s carbon emissions by 85% compared to a standard office building and will generate 22% of its total electricity consumption using solar technology.
“The new green Austrian embassy building is a sign of our commitment to forging better relations with Indonesia, commitment to investment and commitment to green technology.”
Dr. Walden, 57, also cited excellent relations between the two countries in the field of education. He witnessed the signing of an agreement between Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Austria’s Agency for International Cooperation on Science and Research on post-graduate student exchanges.
On improved bilateral cultural ties, he said that Austria has established consulates in Bandung and Surabaya. He expected that more people-to-people exchanges will be carried out in the near future.
I think people-to-people contact is important. Austria is known as a tourist destination, a land of culture and music. More and more people from Japan, Korea and an increasing number of people from China are visiting Austria to see the country’s cultural heritage. We could work on promoting such relations,” said Dr. Walden, who has a passion for reading literature and sports.
Austria inherits a lot of cultural heritage from the Austro-Hungarian empire, he notes. “Not very many people know that Islam is an officially recognized religion in Austria. In 2012, Islam marks its 100th anniversary as an official religion in Austria.”
The two countries once enjoyed direct flights, with a service from Vienna and Medan, and Dr. Walden hopes that direct links can be resumed as a means of strengthening the exchange of tourists.
Outgoing Austrian Ambassador to Indonesia Klaus Wolfer, who will move to a new post in Turkey, said he has discussed the possibility of resuming such flights with Garuda president director Emirsyah Satar. GA