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Austria country profile

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Austria was a major power in Central Europe for centuries in various state guises, until the fall of its Habsburg dynasty after the First World War.

But its position at the geographical heart of Europe, and its neutral status during the Cold War between NATO and the Soviet bloc, maintained the much-reduced country's strategic significance.

Austria is now a member of the European Union, but an enduring legacy of its decades of post-war neutrality can be seen in the large number of international organisations that call its capital Vienna their home.

These include the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Opec, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

For much of the post-war period, so-called "grand coalition" governments of left and right wing parties have ruled Austria, although the Social Democrats led by Bruno Kreisky ruled alone in the 1970s. Most recently, the centre right Austrian People's Party led by Sebastian Kurz ruled in coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, but this coalition collapsed in May 2019 after a scandal involving the leader of the Freedom Party Heinz-Christian Strache.

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Republic of Austria

Capital: Vienna

  • Population 8.7 million

  • Area 83,871 sq km (32,383 sq miles)

  • Major language German

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 80 years (men), 84 years (women)

  • Currency euro

Getty Images

President: Alexander van der Bellen

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionAlexander van der Bellen's victory over far-right candidate made headlines across Europe

Alexander van der Bellen was elected in the December 2016 re-run of a highly polarised election earlier that year, defeating Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party.

Mr Van der Bellen - a Green Party politician running as an independent - had won a extremely narrow victory in the initial run-off vote against Mr Hofer in May, but the result was annulled because of vote-counting irregularities.

The possibility of Mr Hofer becoming the first far-right European head of state in recent history attracted major international media interest in the contest for the largely ceremonial post.

Chancellor: Sebastian Kurz

image copyrightGetty Images

Conservative People's Party leader Sebastian Kurz formed a coalition government with the Green Party in January 2020, in the wake of snap elections the previous September.

This was his second government, as he had ruled in a controversial coalition with the far-right Freedom Party from December 2017 until May 2019, when he sacked his coalition partners over the Ibiza Affair influence-peddling scandal.

President of the Constitutional Court Brigitte Bierlein served as interim chancellor while elections were held.

Mr Kurz was Austria's youngest chancellor on first taking office, aged 31.

He had earlier served as foreign minister in two coalition governments of the Social Democratic and People's parties in 2013-2017.

image copyrightGetty Images

Austria's public broadcaster, Oesterreichischer Rundfunk (ORF), has long-dominated the airwaves. It faces competition from private TV and radio broadcasters.

Cable or satellite TV is available in most Austrian homes and is often used to watch German stations, some of which tailor their output for local viewers.

A daily newspaper is a must for many Austrians. National and regional titles contest fiercely for readers.

Some key dates in Austria's modern history:

1918 - End of the Hapsburg empire.

1919 - Treaty of St Germain defines Austria's boundaries.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe Austrian Alps are a popular visitor destination

1920 - New constitution creates Republic of Austria.

1934 - Government crushes Socialist uprising, backed by the army. All political parties abolished except the Fatherland Front.

1936 - Austria acknowledges itself "a German state".

1938 - The Anschluss (union): Austria incorporated into Germany by Hitler. Austria now called the Ostmark (Eastern March).

1945 - Soviet troops liberate Vienna. Austria occupied by Soviet, British, US and French forces.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionView of Salzburg, birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

1946-47 - Denazification laws passed. Reconstruction begins.

1955 - Treaty signed by Britain, France, US and Soviet Union establishes an independent but neutral Austria. Austria joins the United Nations.

1995 - Austria joins the European Union.

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