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Agenda: Alpine Republic takes centre stage as beacon of integration and hope

It's not every day that Austrian foreign policy hits the headlines but it has happened with the appointment of the European Union's youngest foreign minister, aged just 27.

Sebastian Kurz is already being touted as a future Chancellor of the Alpine Republic and as the great hope for his mainstream conservative Austrian People's Party.

Unlike many older colleagues Kurz has been able to secure a positive high-media profile, confound his critics who highlighted his relative inexperience and to do so championing a policy area considered political suicide: integration.

For decades, Austrian political debate has often been overshadowed by poisonous populist rhetoric against immigration, foreigners and a growth in islamophobia. Freedom Party leaders such as Jörg Haider and Karl-Heinz Strache built careers and significant political support by articulating fears about immigrants, criminality and extremism.

The idea that any mainstream politician from the governing Social Democrats or their grand coalition allies in the People's Party would grasp the issue of integration and be rewarded for it politically would have been seen as naive until recently. That is, until Kurz was appointed in 2011 as a junior minister with responsibility for integration.

In a whirlwind of initiatives, the then 24 year-old launched a national campaign heavily focused on the young, highlighting the opportunities for all in Austria.

Personally visiting schools with high profile "new Austrian" sportspeople such as football internationalist Ivica Vastic, who was born in Croatia, he set a new tone, lauding the contribution of immigrants and emphasising the potential for all through education and training.

Integration ambassadors have been appointed from the worlds of sport, business and public sector, and partnered with the biggest employers and national institutions to reach across society with a positive and inclusive message for those with a "migration background" and to all others for whom this is good news in Austria. Effectively using social media, there is a wide range of filmed testimonials by Austrians of all colours and faiths explaining that education, hard work and language proficiency has paid off for them and encouraging others to follow their example.

With the fresh international face of Sebastian Kurz, Austria has an opportunity in 2014 to communicate the modern realities of the Alpine Republic. The nation is one of the wealthiest in the industrialised world, has extremely low relative unemployment, enjoys excellent public services and a welfare system the envy of pretty much everywhere except Scandinavia.

Meanwhile, Vienna continues to be a diplomatic centre with relevance way beyond its actual size. The Austrian capital has long been a place for high-level diplomacy.

From the Congress of Vienna to the groundbreaking meeting between US President John F Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, Vienna has been a key location for bi-lateral and multilateral diplomacy.

The city is home to a host of international organisations from the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the oil producers organisation OPEC and many others.

Vienna is not just a diplomatic centre but is also the key regional gateway into the neighbouring countries of central and Eastern Europe.

Curiously, this experience and the bridge building status, forged especially during the Cold War as a neutral state between East and West has been little noticed or reported internationally in the digital broadcasting age.

Sebastian Kurz has a huge opportunity to literally embody and represent a new, visible and modern profile for his country.

His undoubted communication skills should be used to the maximum to project the realities of 21st century Austria, a nation that is multicultural, internationally engaged and a force for good.

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