By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Less than a month after a contentious snap election spurred by a major corruption scandal, Austria’s still-de facto Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his conservative, Christian-democratic People’s Party are in the midst of cautiously measuring potential new alliances, wavering between a weakened far-right Freedom Party (Kurz’s former partner, which was at the heart of the scandal and nearly drug Kurz and his team down with it) and the allure of a newly regenerated and far more liberal Green Party (which has, in the past, bumped heads with the People’s Party over sensitive issues like migration and taxes).
At this point, it is still anyone’s guess which side Kurz will choose to court in his quest to garner a coalition ally to form a stable majority in Austria’s 183-seat parliament.
But while the political leanings of Austria’s government may not be known until sometime late this year, there is one point on which all the country’s parties seem solidly united: the need to continue to expand international relations.
That is the message that Austrian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Johannes Peterlik expressed during a visit to Mexico last week to attend a bilateral political consultation conference.
Peterlik’s visit concluded with him serving as the guest of honor and keynote speaker at the annual Austrian national day reception at the home of Ambassador Franz Josef Kuglitsch and his wife Maria Kuglitsch, where he told guests that “Mexico is, without exaggeration, Austria’s most important partner in Latin America.”
During his speech, Peterlik noted that Mexico is Austria’s largest trade partner in the region, with the European nation’s exports to Mexico amounting to more than $1.4 billion annually.
And according to Mexican government figures, combined trade between the two nations totaled more than $2.1 billion in 2018.
Peterlik also pointed out that there are currently more than 100 Austrian companies with capital holdings in Mexico.
“And I am particularly proud that Austrian technology will contribute to the development of public transport in Mexico City through a cable car project,” he said.
Peterlik likewise said that Mexico and Austria are close partners in the fields of culture, education and science.
“Mexico is the only Latin American country that hosts an Austrian Cultural Form,” he said.
“And Austria is supporting Mexico ‘s vocational education and training.”
Peterlik said that there exist a number of bilateral academic exchange programs, including one signed just this year between the University of Graz and the University of Puebla.
In the multilateral field, Peterlik said that Austria and Mexico are working together to address the dangers of nuclear weapons and their humanitarian consequences.
“Both countries are active members of the Human Rights Council, supporting each other’s initiatives on important subjects, such as minorities and the fight against discrimination of women,” he said.
“At times like these, when the rules-based international order is increasingly under pressure, it is of utmost important for our countries to continue these endeavors.”
Austria was battered by massive inflation, unemployment and social instability after the Second World War, and, to make matters worse, in 1955, the country 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).
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.
It is the anniversary of the signing of the 1955 State Treaty, which established Austrian neutrality, that is celebrated each year as Austria’s national day.
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.