Wien is a city of international stature in multiple ways – but too many know nothing about it.
Vienna has been a premier diplomatic capital for 200 years. From the Congress of Vienna in 1814 to the present day, no other city can compete with its consistent importance, with its well-established bridge-building role and as a seat of multilateral diplomacy.
Austria has managed the difficult transition from being a European imperial power in the 19th century to a trusted neutral diplomatic host, facilitator and mediator in the second half of the 20th century. Governments of all parties have played their part, from Chancellor Bruno Kreisky during the Cold War to the present day with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz who, as Foreign Minister, hosted important international nuclear talks on Iran and about the search for peace in Syria.
Vienna is home to a full range of bilateral embassies, diplomatic missions and representatives to the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – and more than 100 other agencies and international organizations. All this brings with it more than 17,500 accredited diplomats and thousands of locally employed support staff. Unrivalled conference facilities from the Hofburg Palace to the Austria Center, with a capacity for 20,000 delegates, make Vienna a preferred international conference center for businesses, representative bodies and organizations around the world.
With excellent travel connections, a central location, world-class public transport, amenities, culture, food and drink, it is not surprising that the city has been ranked first in quality of life in the world for nine years in a row.
All of this is hugely impressive and is a top priority for key Austrian decision-makers. There is a consensus at all political levels and with the social partners that Vienna’s international status is of massive importance for the city and the country as a whole.
So why doesn’t the world know all this? While Vienna is a global diplomatic capital, it is not an international media hub. The number of international journalists from leading broadcasters and publications is at an all-time low. Those who are here do an excellent job, often reporting on the wider region as well, and what makes the international news is extremely limited.
With the exception of reporting on the largest conferences and events often by journalists flown in, there is a huge untapped potential for coverage of developments at Vienna-based organizations and from Austrian experts and commentators in the international media across a wide range of subjects.
It’s not that the voices aren’t here: Who better to talk about the challenging East-West stand-off than former Ambassador to London and Moscow, Emil Brix, currently director of the oldest diplomatic academy in the world? Or how about discussing the challenges and opportunities for democracy in Europe with Philippe Narval, head of Austria’s Davos of ideas, the Alpbach Forum?
Why not learn about the changing face of women in business with the impressive Michaela Novak-Chaid from HP Austria, or international climate action with the organizer of the Austria R20 World Summit, Monika Langthaler? What about social enterprise, where the leading NGO, Ashoka, is headed across Europe by the Austrian Marie Ringler?
And let’s not forget the UN, whose raft of highly qualified experts includes the gifted communicator Neil Walsh of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, who is at the global front line combating cybercrime and terrorism.
These people are all Vienna-based representatives of organizations and are perfectly qualified to contribute to discussions and reporting on CNN, Bloomberg TV, the BBC, France 24, Deutsche Welle and other international broadcasters. They should be go-to commentators, just as Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl recently showed in a first-class interview with CNN. The good news is that Austria is not short of highly qualified experts, with excellent communication and foreign language skills.
The next question is how to make this come about, how to bridge the gap between Vienna’s success as a diplomatic capital and a matching media presence. The good news is that I believe the challenge is certainly not insurmountable.
Austria’s long-term role should be to remain a bridge-builder between countries, but to do that effectively it is going to have to address the gap between what happens in Vienna and what is actually reported about it.