Kuwait will always remain etched in the memory of Austrian Ambassador His Excellency Ulrich Frank as it was here he was elevated and posted as an ambassador to this country. In an exclusive interview with The Times it was amply clear that the soft spoken diplomat, with just 19 years of diplomatic experience behind him, has acquired a great insight both in world politics and economics.
“I started my diplomatic career in 1994 and my first posting was in Geneva, Switzerland,” he recalled. After that Ambassador Frank also served a stint in Austria and in his country’s missions in Brazil and New York, before taking up his posting as an Ambassador to Kuwait.
“Kuwait was my first posting as Ambassador and also to this region,” he said with a tinge of joy. After taking charge just over a year ago, Ambassador Frank soon found the country and people of Kuwait “extremely friendly and hospitable” and it did not take him long to settle down with his wife and daughter.
“We have excellent political and economic relations with Kuwait dating back to 1979 when Austria opened its mission in Kuwait,” he pointed out while stating that the last high level visit between the two nations was in 2009, when the Austrian president visited Kuwait.
On economic relations he said that Austria has been an importer of crude oil from Kuwait and recently extended this contract for another year. “We import around 10,000 barrels of oil a day from Kuwait, and our exports to Kuwait are diverse mainly industrial machinery, vehicles, footwear, fruit juices, and fashion accessories,” he explained.
Austria is situated in the heart of Europe and its capital Vienna is the third headquarters of the United Nations Secretariat, alongside New York and Geneva. The Secretariat of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is also located in the city and is the sole office of the Organization.
The Vienna International Centre, is the seat of the United Nations Office at Vienna (UNOV), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Provisional Technical Secretariat (PTS) of the Organization for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and other units belonging to the UN system, such as the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Austria has a lot of international flavor as a result of these global organizations operating out of the country. The country is famed for its scenic beauty and diversity, for a wide array of cultural highlights, tasty cuisine, as well as unmatched hospitality and charm.
“Upto September this year we have issued around 10,000 visas for Kuwaiti citizens alone,” Ambassador Frank pointed out adding that since the past five years there has been a steady growth in visitors from Kuwait.
Dotted with majestic mountains, tranquil lakes, deep forests, undulating meadows, charming villages which cling fiercely to their architectural traditions and cities, Austria still reflects the artistic grandeur of the old Austro Hungarian Empire.
The Zell am See-Kaprun region is renowned for being especially family-friendly and thousands of Kuwaiti and GCC citizens visit this region particularly in the summer months. The region is also among the most beautiful winter sport areas in Austria and boasts 138 kilometres of ski slopes.
Austria has a very vibrant tourism industry and the capital Vienna is repeatedly ranked No. 1 on Mercer’s Quality of Living Index, an enviable record by any standard.
The country is also blessed with art and culture, tradition and modernity, great cuisine and hospitality. Throughout the world Austria is recognized for its rich cultural past and present. Culture shapes the image of Austria in the world. This wealth of artistic achievements is represented in its architectural monuments.
World renowned choirs Vienna Boys Choir and orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic, act as ambassadors for Austria. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart occupies a place of his own as a composer, while the music of Franz Schubert also enjoys great popularity.
Kuwait and Austria have had many cultural exchanges in the past and Ambassador Frank is now busy planning an exhibition by a famous Austrian painter in mid December this year. The exhibition will showcase Austrian art at the Central Babtain Library.
“In February next year we are planning a musical concert which will be held under the patronage of the Dar Al Athar Al Islamiya,” he disclosed.
Austria has a productive and highly competitive manufacturing sector, which accounts for the country's favorable trade balance. In a country with generally good secondary schools and effectively free higher education, the economy enjoys a well-educated workforce. Austria also has an excellent medical system, ranked among the world’s best.
Austria is a wealthy country, both publicly and privately, with comfortable levels of household income and a sustained and relatively high level of private savings, with private wealth nearly six times higher than public debt.
Ambassador Frank pointed out that there were around 100 Austrian nationals living in Kuwait including families. “Most of them work in the oil related sector,” he noted.
Ambassador Frank was unaware of the private investment from Kuwaitis in Austria, but added that there were a few Austrian companies being represented in Kuwait and was actively doing business here.