“Her Imperial Highness … expressed the desire for
continued friendship between our two nations and peoples”

From milestone to milestone

Ambassador of Austria to Japan Hubert Heiss


January 2020 The Interview / Text by Andrew Howitt  / Photos by Michael Holmes

Last year was an important milestone in diplomatic ties between Austria and Japan as they celebrated 150 years of bilateral relations, holding numerous events in both countries to mark the occasion. Ambassador of Austria to Japan Dr Hubert Heiss spoke with Eurobiz Japan about some important high-level visits that took place during this special year, as well as areas of focus for the embassy in this Olympic year.

Could you tell me about the visit of Japan’s Princess Kako to Austria in September?

Her Imperial Highness stayed for four days in Vienna and had some politically important visits with Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen and Federal Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein. On these occasions, the princess conveyed the best wishes of His Majesty the Emperor and expressed the desire for continued friendship between our two nations and peoples.

She also visited a number of sites with special connections to Japan, such as the Japanese School, which was established in 1978; the Institute for Japanese Studies at the University of Vienna; and the Japanese Garden of Schönbrunn Castle. She also attended a few events that had been organised especially for her, including a performance by the Vienna Boys’ Choir, a demonstration at the Spanish Riding School and ballet at the Vienna State Opera.

With her noble and charming personality, she made a great impression on the general public and the media in Austria.

What did President Van der Bellen do during his visit to Japan in October?

He was invited to attend the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito on 22 October. The president was particularly impressed by the sober, solemn and spiritual nature of the proceedings, as well as the millennia-long traditions behind them.

While he was here, he also opened an exhibition called “The Habsburg Dynasty: 600 Years of Imperial Collections” at the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo — part of the 150th anniversary celebrations — and visited the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine complex in Kamakura, where he was welcomed and escorted around the grounds by the chief priest.

President Van der Bellen also gave a keynote speech at the Austria Connect Japan business forum, which takes place every two years, and opened the Vienna products exhibition. He then met with the Japanese government advisor on alternative energy sources, Mr Shigeru Muraki, and visited the Smart Energy Networks Park in Tamachi, Tokyo.

What are your goals for the embassy in 2020?

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games are very much at the centre of our attention at the Austrian Embassy, as they are for the whole world. A very prominent location in Shibuya has been chosen for the Austria House pavilion, which will host all sorts of activities and events for the public during the Games.

We also appreciate the support of Japanese host cities for Austrian athletes, including Hanamaki in Iwate Prefecture, Saijo in Ehime Prefecture, Azumino in Nagano Prefecture and Fuchu in Tokyo Prefecture. They all have long-standing relationships with Austria — through their partner city cooperations with Austrian towns — some of which date back several decades. The Games will provide a magnificent backdrop for highlighting Austrian excellence, not only in the field of sports but also in culture, science and technology. Austria is ready to contribute to this global celebration of peace and international encounters, hosted here in Japan.

How are you seeing the EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) benefitting Austria and Austrian businesses?

Among the main beneficiaries are certainly Japanese consumers, who now have access to Austrian wine, fruit juice and other foodstuffs either free of import duties or at reduced rates. In addition, our important wood exports to Japan are becoming more competitive, thus lowering prices for construction and housing in Japan.

We also consider the EPA to be a welcome framework to present Austria as a destination for investments. We have specialised lawyers, tax accountants and forwarding agents for all of Europe, our national airline serves cities throughout central and eastern Europe, and we have one of the most business-friendly corporate tax environments. This makes Austria an excellent location for international businesses. On top of that, Vienna has been ranked the most liveable city in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit 10 years in a row.

Could you tell me about the strategic partnership agreement that was signed between Kyoto University and the University of Vienna?

The agreement was signed on 8 October, and it elevates the institutions’ partnership to a new level. It serves to expand cooperation and foster further academic exchange. A number of collaborations are already in place in a variety of fields, for example in comparative social politics, computer science and knowledge engineering, cognitive biology, Asian studies, materials science and materials chemistry. Future collaboration may include activities such as joint seminars, mobility fellowships and mutual research and teaching visits.

Although Austria is now in a time of transition, what are your hopes for the country?

Since June of last year, we have had an unusual situation in Austria. We have had a caretaker government, which consisted of many experts and former judges, that was well received by the population, but it imposed restrictions on itself and said it would not make any major decisions.

Following an election in late September in which the People’s Party and the Greens were successful, intensive negotiations took place between the two parties to form a new coalition government. This was politically challenging, since these parties come from very different starting points in many crucial areas, such as immigration, climate change and business environment.

During the last days of 2019, we had a breakthrough in the negotiations. The negotiators were smart enough not to seek compromises on all topics. Instead, they decided that each side should have its say in their respective core competences: the Greens in areas such as climate change, environment, transport, energy, and transparency, and the People´s Party in areas such as the economy and the budget, foreign and European affairs, and homeland security. This type of cooperation is an absolute novelty in Austria — and possibly in Europe and the rest of the world.

I am glad that we now have a government capable of acting with a stable majority in parliament. This is also of great importance with regard to Austria’s participation in the decisions that are being made at the European level. 

“The Games will provide a magnificent backdrop for highlighting Austrian excellence”