Behind the EU scenes Image 1


Behind the EU scenes

During an EU Council Presidency, official premises are usually to be seen only on TV. Not so at the Austria Center Vienna: the ACV invited 100 guests to take a tour on a recess day and on December 19 of this year will stage an Open House Day.

 Europe that protects" is the motto of the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2018. For the Austrians, it is the third such presidency after 2006 and 1998, but "this Council Presidency is different" said Dr. Wolfgang Renezeder of the Austrian Federal Chancellery. Dr. Renezeder, who is Deputy Head of the Executive Secretariat of the 2018 Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU, refers to major global challenges Europe is facing, such as the migration issue and Brexit. There've been a number of EU membership negotiations in the past, said Renezeder, but the Brexit process to be completed by March 2019 is a first-timer for all involved parties. Expectations on Austria accordingly are high, the more so as European elections are scheduled in 2019. At the Austria Center Vienna (ACV), Renezeder delivered his keynote to an audience of 100 customers of Austria's leading congress center with 24 auditoria, 180 meeting rooms and 22,000 sqms of exhibition space.

"Security is the No.1 priority," Renezeder emphasized. In addition to the new separate facilities on 14,000 sqms on levels -2 and +3 with twelve boardrooms, networking areas and offices, plans called for creating two entrance areas for the 28 delegations, for ministers and the media requiring accreditation – with security standards matching those in effect at airports. The first EU exit procedures also came along with an enormous organizational challenge: owing to the Brexit, the Austrian Council Presidency was brought forward by six months from the first half of 2019 to the second half of 2018.

Behind the EU scenes Image 2
The ministers of the EU Council Presidency were in recess, and so the Austria Center Vienna invited 100 guests to take an exclusive tour of the facility with a look behind the curtains.

"When that inquiry came in, we had already been very well booked," Austria Center Vienna (ACV) board member Dr. Susanne Baumann-Söllner remembered. In agreement with her customers, she found feasible solutions. "It paid off that we have been investing into facilities and technology over the past years," she explained. "The EU also decided for us owing to the brightly-lit modern facilities." In addition to the 130 EU-events, there are congresses such as the 'UEG Week 2018' hosted by the United European Gastroenterology from October 20 to 24 of this year with 13,000 attendees. "The particular challenge is the many parallel events we have scheduled," said Baumann-Söllner.

The EU Council Presidency is the largest such event the Austria Center Vienna has ever organized in its 30-year company history. She considers it "a privilege and great honor" that Europe has had its focus on Austria, Vienna and her center for the past six months. Baumann-Söllner has a special relationship to the Council Presidency; she had been assigned to the finance ministry during Austria's most recent Presidency in 2006. Other than in 2006, this is the first almost entirely paperless EU Council Presidency, and all meetings have been certified as Green Meetings according to the Austrian eco-label.

Behind the EU scenes Image 3


The Austria Center Vienna (ACV) has announced its largest construction project since its opening around 30 years ago. A new access building with skywalk and three additional entrances will make it more convenient to use the different levels for separate conferences held in parallel. A new canopy – the danubeSAIL – will also be added to the square outside the building. By the time work is completed in 2022, this area will be transformed into a public space, that adds 4,200sqm of space.

That's important to Baumann-Söllner, as she owing to the very large number of participants and their traveling here sees the meeting industry and the ACV, which was certified in 2014 as Austria's first Green Conference Center, to bear a great deal of responsibility. "Fortunately, the EU Council Presidency as host also attaches great importance to sustainability and resource conservation," said Baumann- Söllner. For catering, the Viennese chose regional and seasonal foods as well as mountain spring water from the tap; the subway system was recommended as preferred transport means.


Dr. Susanne Baumann-Söllner, board member of the Austria Center Vienna (ACV), on the EU Council Presidency, the significance of the feelgood factor for successful negotiations, and the Open House Day.

tw: You've been hosting the EU Council Presidency 2018 at the Austria Center Vienna since July of this year. Which occasion in the past period did you find most impressive?
Dr. Susanne Baumann-Söllner: I think the opening session of the Council Presidency was particularly exciting. At this first high-level political conference with the EU-Commission and the Austrian government attending, I was proud and satisfied to register that the many years of planning, preparatory work and coordination input by the entire team were crowned with success. That delighted all of us and input fresh energy for mastering the many more challenges the Council Presidency brings with it. To what extent will the EC Council Presidency have positive effects on Austria as convention destination and on your congress center? The approximately 300 events are not staged in Vienna alone, but in the other Austrian federate states as well. This gives guests traveling here from all over Europe an exciting insight into our country's diversity and hospitality. I'm convinced that this positive image which we project all over the world will also have lasting effects on Austria's tourism and meeting industry. Vienna has of course an outstanding, historic reputation as congress venue. This year's Council Presidency very opportunely calls this back to mind.

In addition to the scheduled conferences planned in advance, the idea to organize an EU-Africa Summit came up only during on-going sessions. How much lead time did you actually have and how complex was it to get this project rolling?
As host to the Council Presidency, we are of course aware that owing to the high degree of content relevancy, we might be required to accommodate and react to new requirements and conditions also at short notice and that this might imply setting up new schedules. As congress center, we are used to reacting flexibly to customer needs, and of course we are delighted to have been chosen as venue for this gilt-edged summit.

You've decided to close out the Austrian Council Presidency with an Open House Day. What's the underlying idea and why is it so important to you?
From my own experience in the past months, I know well that it's something special to be able to see from close up the facilities you usually set eyes on only in TV news. And we want Viennese citizens to be able to share in this experience! This means that all those interested may walk into the building through the VIP entrance, they can have their picture taken at the plenary-hall table and tour all rooms which had previously been subject to maximum security measures. In a nutshell: they can feel like a minister for a day! By doing this, we on one hand help getting people interested in politics, on the other we can present our center in its Sunday best.

In the first six months of 2019, the EU Council Presidency will go to Romania, while Finland will have the presidency in the second half of that year. From host to host – do you have any particular advice to give?
Something we attached great importance to in the advances to the presidency was the feelgood factor for attendees in form of brightly-lit rooms, warm colors and light-colored furniture as well as a focus on individualized networking opportunities. Feeling good at an unfamiliar place is ultimately what inspires efficient working and it's a positive sentiment people take with them when they return home. The high quality of all offered services and amenities, be it technology, security or catering, is particularly important for an event such as the Council Presidency. We provided everything from one source to really be able to guarantee maximum quality of the entire package. And that's something I can very much recommend to the upcoming hosts! 

The subway will certainly also be taken by most of 6,000 attendees at the signature event to be staged in context with the EU Council Presidency, the 'Imagine Digital – Connect Europe' (ICT 2018), the largest research and technology conference with exhibition co-hosted by the European Commission from December 4 thru 6. There are on one hand scheduled conferences, and on the other new formats brought forth by on-going sessions, for example the EU-Africa Summit on December 18, 2018 on politico-economic issues such as innovation and digitalization. Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, Chairperson of the African Union, is expected to show in Vienna as are the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. On the following day, the Austrians will close off their EU Council Presidency with an Open Door Day, an occasion the ACV member of the board Baumann-Söllner looks forward to: "We'll open our center to all interested Viennese citizens!"  KERSTIN WÜNSCH


Ein Europa, das schützt

Österreich rückt die Sicherheit und den Kampf gegen illegale Migration, Sicherung des Wohlstands und der Wettbewerbsfähigkeit durch Digitalisierung sowie Stabilität in der Nachbarschaft ins Zentrum seines EU-Ratsvorsitzes mit dem Motto: „Ein Europa, das schützt“. Den Zugang, den Österreich wählt, um dieses Ziel zu erreichen, ist eine Verstärkung des Subsidiaritätsprinzips. Die Europäische Union soll auf die großen Fragen fokussieren, die einer gemeinsamen Lösung bedürfen, und sich in kleinen Fragen zurücknehmen, in denen die Mitgliedstaaten oder Regionen selbst besser entscheiden können. Das soll dem Motto der EU „In Vielfalt geeint“ Rechnung tragen.
"With our Open House Day we help getting people interested in politics."

Dr. Susanne Baumann-Söllner, board member of the Austria Center Vienna