Your Excellency, Ambassador Erika Bernhard,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
I am very pleased to be here with you this evening as we come together to celebrate the National Day of the Federal Republic of Austria. I will begin by thanking Ambassador Bernhard for her kind invitation and for organising such a pleasant reception this evening.
National Days provide us with the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on some of the most profound achievements in our countries.
On such occasions, we also take a moment to reflect on the strong and enduring bond between our two nations.
We do not need to look too deeply into ourselves, or too far into our ties with each other to identify what constitutes the strong basis of our rapport.
Indeed, since the establishment of diplomatic relations almost six decades ago, the relationship between Malta and Austria has continued to grow and flourish in the spirit of sincere friendship and mutual respect.
The strong people-to-people links between our countries continues to form the foundation of this thriving relationship.
Solid cultural interlinkages help us continue building trust, understanding and mutually beneficial relationships, be it in the artistic, educational or other sectors.
The ongoing fruitful cultural cooperation between Malta and Austria, particularly through the EUNIC cluster in Malta and the EUNIC Cluster in Austria is a clear example of the embodyment of this cooperation.
I want to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation towards the work carried out by our respective diplomatic representations which actively promote and facilitate cultural and artistic exchanges between our two countries.
I am pleased to note that Malta continues to attract a number of English language students from Austria, who choose our islands to further their linguistic capabilities.
I also note the positive developments in the tourism sector as the inward flow of tourism from Austria towards Malta has surpassed pre-pandemic levels.
I anticipate and hope that such positive developments are maintained and enhanced, for the mutual benefit of our countries.
Malta will continue to welcome all initiatives aimed at increasing the interaction and contacts between our respective stakeholders with a view to promoting increased trade flows and further exploring avenues of commercial collaboration with each other, particularly in the FinTech, IT, Education, and Manufacturing sectors.
At a political level, Malta and Austria share a remarkable list of similarities with one another.
Both our countries are united by strong democratic values, an inherent respect for human rights and the rule of law, and a long-standing commitment and yearning to promote international peace and security.
Furthermore, both our Constitutions have embedded within them a shared commitment to the principle of neutrality. The Symposium on Neutrality that we organized together last March with Ireland, is a certificate of our open channels of dialogue and exchanges on issues that are vital to our foreign policy.
At a regional level, both Malta and Austria work closely together through our active membership of the European Union, following same rules and regulations.
In this context, Malta firmly supports enlargement of the EU as an effective foreign policy tool rooted on a merit-based process of maturation and qualification. We welcome the progress registered over the last year in the EU’s enlargement process and express our sincere hope that this momentum be sustained.
In this regard, both Malta and Austria attach great importance to the Western Balkans region, as peace and stability in the region are intrinsically tied to peace and stability in the rest of the Mediterranean and Europe, as a whole. It is our belief that a credible and attainable EU accession perspective remains the key incentive and the driver of transformation in the region.
Malta will continue to acknowledge that no individual country in Europe has the strength or the resources to address the threats that we are currently facing.
As a Union of 27 members, however, our potential is beyond the sum total that all countries together can offer.
We have seen this materialising in the remarkable demonstrations of unity and resilience with which the European Union has confronted one major challenge after the other, during the last fifteen years.
More than a year ago, Russia’s illegal, unprovoked and unjustified war in Ukraine has marked a watershed moment in European and international security and stability, as well as rule of law and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.
As elected members of the United Nations Security Council, Malta has repeatedly denounced Russia’s deplorable unilateral decision and consistently called for accountability and shouldering of responsibilities for the atrocities committed, as adjudicated by competent courts.
Never before has the United Nations system – established after the disastrous experiences from two devastating world wars – faced such an existential threat to its existence, since its inception.
We witness the values and principles that are enshrined in the UN Charter being directly attacked and undermined.
Our active neutrality does not imply indifference to the tragic loss of life and the endless suffering brought about upon innocent civilian people. It is our moral duty to ensure that the language of dialogue and diplomacy ultimately prevails to bring us back to peace, stability to the region.
This war has also shown us that we can never rest on our laurels. We must not take the stability and security of our immediate neighbourhood for granted.
The same logic also applies to the Mediterranean, now more than ever.
I was deeply saddened and shocked by the reprehensible and insensate attacks on Israeli and Palestinian civilians earlier this month which claimed thousands of lives from both sides.
Israeli and Palestinian lives are equally valuable to us.
No peace can be achieved through violence. Violence only breeds further violence and makes peace even more difficult to achieve.
Serious well intentioned peace talks are the only solution.
Sadly, the Mediterranean remains a reservoir of long-standing and unresolved conflicts that continue to fester and undermine the prospect of peace and stability in the region.
We will remain committed to promoting platforms for peaceful dialogue. Conflict resolution and mediation efforts must become our collective priority, particularly during these challenging times.
As I conclude, I take this opportunity to salute another excellent year of relations between the Republic of Malta and the Federal Republic of Austria.
I am strongly convinced that the coming year will continue to register improved ties between our countries, in spite of an increasingly challenging and volatile world.
It always helps to remain hopeful and optimistic.
I now invite you to raise a toast to the President of the Federal Republic of Austria, His Excellency Alexander Van der Bellen and to the Austrian people here in Malta, wishing everyone a pleasant and joyful celebration.