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Austria Declares Intent To Join ESO

At a press conference yesterday at the University of Vienna's Observatory, the Austrian Science Minister Johannes Hahn announced the decision by the Austrian Government to seek membership of ESO from 1 July this year.

Said Minister Hahn: "With membership of ESO, Austria's scientists will receive direct access to the world's leading infrastructure in astronomy. This strengthens Austria as a place for research and provides an opportunity for young researchers to continue their work from here. With this move, Austria takes an important step in the reinforcement of Europe's science and research infrastructure."

The decision constitutes a major breakthrough for Austrian scientists who have argued for membership of ESO for many years. Seeking membership in ESO also marks a step towards the further development of the European Research and Innovation Area, an important element of Europe's so-called Lisbon Strategy.

"ESO welcomes the Austrian bid to join our organisation. I salute the Austrian Government for taking this important step and look forward to working closely with our Austrian friends and colleagues in the years to come," commented the ESO Director General, Tim de Zeeuw.

For Austrian astronomers, ESO membership means not only unrestricted access to ESO's world-leading observational facilities including the world's most advanced optical telescope, the Very Large Telescope, and full participation in the quasi-global ALMA project, but also the possibility to participate on a par with their European colleagues in the future projects of ESO, including the realisation of ESO's Extremely Large Telescope project (E-ELT), which is currently in the design phase.

All these projects require some of the most advanced technologies in key areas such as optics, detectors, lightweight structures, etc. Austrian participation in ESO opens the door for Austrian industry and major research institutes of the country to take part in the development of such technologies with their associated potential for industrial spin off.

The main centres for astronomical research in Austria are at the Universities of Graz, Innsbruck and Vienna. Furthermore scientists in the area of mathematics, applied physics and computer sciences already expressed their interest to contribute to the development of advanced technologies required by ESO's future projects.

The Austrian bid for ESO membership will be formally considered by the ESO Council at its next meeting on 3-4 June and is subject also to subsequent ratification by the Austrian Parliament.

Henri Boffin | alfa
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