Austria and the European Union
- Paul LuifPaul LuifÖsterreichisches Institut für Internationale Politik, Universität Wien
Austria was occupied at the end of World War II by the four Allies, but in contrast to Germany the four powers left in 1955—the condition being its declaration of permanent neutrality, on which the Soviet Union had insisted.
In the first half of the 1950s, relations with the new-founded European Coal and Steel Community were being discussed in Austria, because the organization encompassed Austria’s two most important trading partners at that time, West Germany and Italy. But after the uprising in October-November 1956 in neighboring Hungary, Austria started to stress more its neutrality, excluding European Economic Community (EEC) membership. Instead, it joined other European countries to create a less integrated economic entity, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1960.
Not until the mid-1980s did debate about membership in the now European Community (EC) start again. Economic problems and a narrower interpretation of neutrality led to Austria’s application for EC (later European Union) membership in July 1989. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the application of other EFTA countries, Austria finally acceded to the EU on January 1, 1995 (along with Finland and Sweden). The political system and its economy adjusted relatively smoothly to the challenges of EU membership; the “social partnership,” while losing some of its power, could maintain its influence on Austrian politics. Eastern enlargement of the EU brought further economic advantages for Austria.
As one of the smaller EU countries and a non-NATO member, Austria has a somewhat unique position in the EU. Environmental policy and supporting EU membership of the Balkan countries are among the important “niches” for Austrian EU activities. But the country has no close partners in the EU, because it is not participating in the “Visegrad” cooperation of the other Central European EU members. This difficulty clearly showed during the “sanctions” period of the EU-14 against the new Austrian government in 2000.