There have always been very close links between Austria and Liechtenstein, not least because the Princely Family, which is one of the oldest aristocratic families in Europe, has its roots in the region south of Vienna. In addition, the two states are connected by over 40 treaties, an open border as well as the EEA. In this interview, the Liechtenstein Ambassador in Vienna, Her Serene Highness Maria-Pia Kothbauer, Princess of Liechtenstein, speaks about the neighbourly relations, past highlights and the future challenges of her work.
Your Serene Highness, you have been Liechtensteins resident Ambassador in Vienna since December 1997. How do you view Liechtenstein from the perspective of the Austrian capital?
As a good and reliable partner and friend of Austria. As a country that shares the same interests and values, and with which cooperation is extremely multifaceted. As a country that has successfully mastered the challenges of recent years, and has initiated the necessary reforms. And as a country that has managed, despite the global economic crisis, to remain debt-free.
The responsibilities of the Liechtenstein Embassy in Vienna encompass four fields. It acts as the Embassy of the Principality of Liechtenstein in Austria and the Czech Republic, and is moreover the permanent representative at the OSCE and United Nations in Vienna.
How do you keep track of all these different tasks?
It is indeed something of a challenge, but there are positive aspects. The advantage is that one quickly learns to prioritise, and one remains versatile. We have an excellent team in Vienna, and that certainly helps too. Over the years we have been able to build up expertise in our fields of responsibility, together with a very wide-ranging network of contacts upon which we are able to draw, when necessary.
What is your assessment of the current relationship between Austria and Liechtenstein? Which areas in particular need to be addressed?
The relations are excellent, have grown and developed over many years, are amicable, close and resilient. We are bound together by over 40 treaties, an open border and the EEA. Liechtenstein is a valued employer for many Austrians. In the fields of taxes and regional transport, there are in-depth discussions at the expert level.
You have now been Ambassador in Vienna for eighteen years. When you look back: what event would you describe as your personal highlight?
There have been a number of highlights: the opening of the Liechtenstein Embassy in the year 1998, the state visits associated with the restoration of the two Liechtenstein Palaces in Vienna in the years 2004 and 2013, as well as the positive conclusion of the negotiations concerning the restoration of diplomatic relations with the Czech Republic in the year 2009, which were conducted over a three-year period in Vienna. For an ambassador, though, these highlights are not the main source of satisfaction. Instead, what really matters is the sense that one has helped to strengthen relations between two countries, and that our country is seen positively in Austria, even during difficult moments. This was the case in particular in conjunction with certain financial market issues. Negative highlights are the crisis in Ukraine, and the general security situation in Europe, which occupies us at the OSCE and is hindering the ability of Europe to cooperate.
Despite all the efforts that have been made, Liechtenstein is still terra incognita for many people in Austria. How would you explain Liechtenstein to an Austrian, in just one sentence?
One of Austrias eight neighbours, closely related to Vorarlberg in terms of landscape and character, a German-speaking constitutional hereditary monarchy with a highly-developed system of direct democracy, economically liberal, business-friendly and innovative, simultaneously urban and rural, debt-free, a country with a very high quality of life.
Liechtenstein is going through a period of structural change. Where do you see the risks and where are the opportunities?
By and large, the inhabitants of Liechtenstein are selfcritical and pragmatic. This is a good starting position for structural change and innovation. The opportunities lie in the fact that we take steps earlier than other people, and are consequently able to find ample space in hard-fought markets. While the business side is certainly an important factor, I think it is also worth remembering that we remain as broad-based as possible, and in future provide space for professions in the arts to flourish in our country. In the social field, we need to ensure that social cohesion is preserved.
What insider tips would you recommend to someone from Vienna visiting Liechtenstein for the first time?A hike through Schellenberg, a visit to the Russian Memorial, and then cheese gnocchi at the Löwen in Hinterschellenberg at the little border crossing between Austria and Liechtenstein.
How important are the following values for you?
Freedom: One must use and defend it.
Money: Gives one the opportunity to get things done.
Privacy: I dont think about this very much.
Honesty: A very admirable character trait, and a daily challenge.
Family: I am really happy that I have one. Politics: Have always interested me.
Sport: I lack Churchills self-assurance. I always have a bad conscience when I think about sport.
Quality of life: My current experiences.
Liechtenstein: In great shape.
Interview: Patrik Schädler