By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Diplomatically, Austria is an anomaly in Europe.
Although it is not the only nation in the European Union (EU) with a commitment to neutrality (Switzerland, Sweden, Malta, Finland and Ireland are also committed to international nonalignment, though in varying degrees and with varying stipulations), it is the only one that essentially had neutrality thrust upon it.
How did that come about, you ask?
Well, it’s complicated.
Back in 1955, the little landlocked country in the heart of Central Europe found itself in the middle of a political tug-of-war between the Soviet Union and three Western occupying powers (namely, the United States, Great Britain and France).
Basically, the only way that the Alpine nation could regain its sovereignty and get the occupation forces out of its territory as Cold War tensions increased was to proclaim an eternal commitment to military neutrality.
But imposed or not, Austria’s neutrality has served it well over the last six decades.
After having emerged from the Second World War so battered by massive inflation, unemployment and social instability that it depended on international handouts to feed its people, Austria (with the help of the Marshal Plan and a gung-ho, export-minded market economy) underwent a miraculous financial transformation in the years after the 1955 signing of the State Treaty (which established Austrian neutrality) that would eventually win it a ranking of the 17th-richest country on Earth, with an annual GDP of more than $440 billion a year and a per capita income of just under $50,000.
So it makes perfect sense that the people of Austria chose the Oct. 26 anniversary of the signing of that compulsory neutrality pact (and the departure of the last occupation forces) as their national day.
This year, Austrian Ambassador to Mexico Franz Josef Kuglitsch jumped the gun a little when he hosted his embassy’s annual national day reception three days early on Tuesday, Oct. 23.
But that, too, was understandable.
With a 38-member commercial, political and academic delegation – led by Styrian Regional Minister for Economy, Tourism, Europe, Science and Research Barbara Eibinger-Miedl and Austrian Federal Economic Chamber Vice President Jürgen Roth – in town for a two-day working visit to pump up bilateral ties with Mexico, Kuglitsch wanted to make sure that the celebration was also a platform for intensifying two-way cooperation even further.
As members of the visiting delegation mingled with Kuglitsch’s guests from all walks of Mexican business, political and cultural society, the ambassador reiterated the importance of the binational relationship and the key economic role that Styria (Austria’s second-largest federated state) plays in his country’s ever-increasing ties with Mexico.
Kuglitsch pointed out that Styria (also known as Bundesland) is responsible for nearly 7 percent of Austria’s $1.7 billion combined trade with Mexico, with about $114 million in sales of goods and services to Mexico each year.
He also noted that Styria is especially renowned for its advanced development in the areas of science and technology.
Later, Eibinger-Miedl said that her state is particularly interested in working with Mexico in the fields of clean energy, aeronautics and infrastructure development.
Currently, Austria exports pharmaceutical products, steel, aluminum and paper to Mexico, while Mexico sells Austria mostly machinery, electronics, auto parts and beer.
Austria is also Mexico’s 36th-largest foreign direct investor, with accumulated capital holdings of more than $200 million.
The ambassador also said that, in addition to holding talks with Mexican entrepreneurs, members of the delegation had met with high-ranking members of the Mexican government (and, presumably, representatives of the new administration of President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, due to take office on Dec. 1) to help strength bilateral relations in the political field.
“This visit is proof that, despite geographic distance, the ties that unite us with Mexico are reflected in a very diverse historic, human, economic and cultural relationship,” Kuglitsch said.
Austria currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, where it has taken a lead in promoting the region’s competitively through increased digitalization and increased security efforts.
Mexico first established diplomatic relations with the then-Austrian Empire in 1842, although those ties were temporarily severed from 1867 to 1901 due to the execution of Austrian Emperor of Mexico Maximilian of Habsburg.
In 1938, Mexico was the only country at the League of Nations to formally protest Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria.