The discussion on investment cooperation included the prospects of developing a tourism cluster in the North Caucasus and the partnership between the two states in the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The two leaders also exchanged views on regional and international issues, including the Russia-EU partnership and the situation in the Middle East and North Africa.
The main outcome of the talks was the signing by the two heads of state of the Declaration on Partnership for Modernisation between Russia and Austria.
Other documents signed in the presence of Mr Medvedev and Mr Heinz included the Agreement in the Field of Competition Policy between the Federal Antimonopoly Service of the Russian Federation and the Austrian Federal Competition Authority, the Agreement between the Government of Russia and the Government of Austria on Scientific and Technical Cooperation, and a Programme of Action for the Development of Russian-Austrian Cooperation for Economic Modernisation.
Following the talks, Dmitry Medvedev and Heinz Fischer made statements for the press and answered journalists’ questions.
Press statement and answers to journalists’ questions following Russian-Austrian talks
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to say that I am absolutely satisfied with the talks I had with my colleague, President Heinz Fischer, and that they fully reflect the partnership existing between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Austria.
During our talks we certainly touched on all the issues of cooperation between our countries, from economic issues to with some humanitarian matters.
As far as economic cooperation is concerned, in my view, it is quite advanced. In just the recent years, we have seen the emergence of new large-scale projects; our turnover has recovered from the crisis and is already showing good figures that are truly good and quite strong for the level of cooperation between our nations. Still, this does not mean that we are absolutely pleased with everything. We have expressed our desires to develop trade ties, to diversify trade, for optimal balance. I think that this would fully respond to the interests of our states.
We spoke about investment cooperation, which is also progressing quite actively, and we have recently seen new interesting areas of investment cooperation – incidentally, one of these areas of cooperation is tourism. I am referring to the North Caucasus, as well as other places. Granted, I admit that we see the development of tourist opportunities in the North Caucasus and forming a new mountain sports cluster there as an absolute priority for a variety of reasons, including our preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics and for the Football World Cup, which will be held in Russia. We very much count on the experience of our Austrian colleagues, who have held sporting events like this several times in their homeland. We expect that the companies participating in preparations and infrastructure development will also be successful, that this cooperation will be entirely mutually beneficial and will ultimately offer all the conditions for arranging an interesting sports events.
”A very serious and important area of our cooperation is in energy sector. We discussed implementing a major project like the South Stream gas pipeline. I hope this project will continue to progress just as successfully and that all the necessary decisions will be made.“
A very serious and important area of our cooperation is in energy sector. No doubt, Mr President and I gave this issue heightened attention and heard reports from our ministers. We discussed implementing a major project like the South Stream gas pipeline; recently, it has gained significant momentum, the related documents have been signed, including for the segment concerning Austria. I hope this project will continue to progress just as successfully and that all the necessary decisions will be made. We are also counting on it to receive the status of a priority project on a European Union scale, because the situation in the world demonstrates the importance of having stable gas and oil supplies, as well as the Russian Federation’s capabilities in ensuring them. In spite of the difficulties in the world, in spite of the crisis that is still affecting many nations, we are nevertheless meeting our obligations fully, accurately and thoroughly, and intend to continue doing so in the future.
I would like to note that our gas supply cooperation with the Republic of Austria began in 1968, and in this sense, we have a very solid base and hope that this will continue. But it does not mean that we must get caught up in hydrocarbon supplies alone. This is a very important direction in our cooperation, but it is not the only one.
We very much count on using the Austrian Republic’s experience in using alternative energy sources. A Declaration on Partnership for Modernisation in this area was just signed. I believe that alternative energy and energy efficiency are among our top priorities. In this regard, we hope that together with our Austrian partners and with Austrian companies, we will form an alliance as productive as we have with some of our other European partners. It would benefit our states, our economies, and ultimately, our peoples.
We also envisage development of major transport projects, including a project for building cross-border broad-gauge railways with participation by four countries, with a significant part of that project being implemented on Austrian territory. We have to fix some problems that still remain, but I think this is a very promising project which includes the possibility of shaping a respective logistical centre on the Danube.
Without any doubt, we must continue cooperating in the humanitarian sector. I expressed my gratitude to my colleague Mr Fischer for the attention given to the events of our common history, including some of its difficult periods, such as taking care of the burial sites of our soldiers – there are nearly 60 thousand of them in Austria. This is very serious help, and we appreciate the attention our partners give to this matter. This is a perfect example of the proper behaviour in these kinds of situations.
Of course, Mr President and I did not limit ourselves to bilateral relations and spoke about international issues, because the situation in the world, and particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, remains very tense. In addition, we spoke about the better use of the United Nations’ potential. We believe that at this point, despite the problems that remain, it’s still possible to find a way out of the current deadlocks. I am referring to the situation in Libya, which in my view can be settled only by peaceful means with both sides refraining from using military force, and the situation in the Middle East. It is true that the dramatic events of this year in the Middle East and North Africa can help the development of those nations, but at the same time, they may cause additional problems internationally, as well as aggravate the situation on their continents. Still, it is very important to use the new window of opportunity which is available as a result. So we talked about settling the Middle East issues and the importance of having more meetings and conferences.
That was our agenda. I am very pleased that Mr President and I were witnessed the signing of some very important documents, including our joint Declaration, just now.
Question: Which areas of science and innovative technologies do you think will see cooperation between Russia and Austria, given the agreements signed today? And do you see an opportunity to use the subsequent results practically to modernise Russia?
Dmitry Medvedev: We really believe that cooperation in modernisation is absolutely a mutually beneficial issue, so today, we spoke during our talks in the expanded format about what directions it could take. I recognise that high technologies in energy and transport are indeed exceptionally important for our country, and as I already said in my opening remarks, we have fairly advanced relations on issues of energy efficiency with a number of European Union member states.
”Energy efficiency, transport and logistics are, without any doubt, the very areas of modernisation where Russian and Austrian firms can find one another and where cooperation can be mutually beneficial.“
We would very much like to have the same kind of relations with our partners from Austria, especially since our partners have some very good experience in building alternative energy facilities of so-called “green” energy and a “green” economy. In this sense, we are ready to learn about them very thoroughly, sign the necessary agreements and cooperate within the framework of those agreements. So energy efficiency, transport and logistics are, without any doubt, the very areas of modernisation where Russian and Austrian firms can find one another and where cooperation can be mutually beneficial. But at the same time, I certainly do not rule out scientific cooperation and cooperation in education – indeed, I would very much like to see more of it – because, after all, that is the preliminary phase for beginning to work on innovations.
We invite our partners to participate in the implementation of major Russian projects such as technological clusters, and accordingly, perhaps the largest that is currently being implemented at the corresponding innovation centre that will be located in Skolkovo. So there is a whole range of opportunities for our partners on the table. We would be very happy if they choose to participate.
Question: Modernisation is a central issue in the Russian President’s policy, but it is impossible without foreign investments. How much of a barrier is corruption and the unreliable legal system? My question is, what can be done at a governmental level to overcome these two main barriers?
Dmitry Medvedev: We recognise these problems, and as I spoke about this openly, and can say it again here, we certainly are not always pleased with the way the situation unfolds in the investment sphere. In my view, the goal of offering a normal investment climate in our economy is currently a number-one priority. Everything else concerning the economy can be put on the back burner, because if we have a normal investment climate, we will have a normal driver of growth and we will have good indicators. Russia has everything else it needs.
But in order for the investment climate to be normal and adequate, it is imperative to truly resolve the problems, and there are several such problems. You listed corruption and shortcomings in the legal system. I would also add administrative procedures which, unfortunately, often do not stand up to scrutiny and cause many problems for Russian businesses and our foreign partners.
”The goal of offering a normal investment climate in our economy is currently a number-one priority. Everything else concerning the economy can be put on the back burner, because if we have a normal investment climate, we will have a normal driver of growth and we will have good indicators. Russia has everything else it needs.“
To deal with corruption, our country has been implementing a whole programme aimed at countering this type of criminal activity. I cannot say that I am entirely satisfied with the way it is going, but nevertheless, in recent years, we have been able to design a reasonable legal framework and make a few things for everyone who is concerned, a customary practice. First of all, civil servants must report their income and, accordingly, be subject to close attention from the tax authorities, understand the full measure of responsibility that is imposed on them. Law enforcement agencies must learn to correctly apply the legislation concerning corruption. Currently, this may be one of the most important problems. That is precisely why I am reforming the law enforcement agencies, including the police.
Our legislation certainly needs to be optimised. But this does not mean that we have no legislation at the moment. In my view, the problem does not lie in the laws themselves, especially since, being objective, we must admit that we have similar legal systems with regard to regulating property relations; Russia and Austria’s civil legislation and commercial law are practically identical.
The problem does not lie in the quality of the laws but in the way they are applied – both by administrative and judicial bodies. And improving the legal culture, improving the enforcement of legislation is, without a doubt, also one of our greatest priorities.
Finally, I mentioned administrative procedures. We are trying to change them and doing everything to make them less cumbersome. But some of them still remain very complicated. In this regard, I count on implementing electronic service facilities, electronic administrative procedures, the opportunity for electronic communication and electronic document processing to reduce this problem and, in this sense, make our nation one of the best-prepared and developed states on the European continent.
If we meet certain conditions, I believe that we will be able to overcome these problems.
Question: Mr President, can we hope that following the 2012 presidential election in Russia, you will be President Fischer’s direct partner and will be able to personally visit Austria?
Dmitry Medvedev: It’s too bad you weren’t present at yesterday’s news conference. I spent about two hours and twenty minutes on this topic. (Laughter.) I hope that you have access to the materials from my conversation with journalists yesterday. I explained in quite some detail my position on the right timing for relevant decisions to be voiced. Since you are asking whether you can ‘hope’, you absolutely, most certainly can hope. (Laughter.)