Europe

Austria country profile

Map of Austria

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.

The political consensus, which has seen the Social Democrats and the conservative People's Party share power for much of the post-war period, has come under strain in recent years with the rise of the nationalist Freedom Party.

FACTS

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

LEADERS

President: Alexander van der Bellen

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Alexander 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: Brigitte Bierlein

Image copyright Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images
Image caption Ms Bierlein will serve until elections expected no later than September

President of the Constitutional Court Brigitte Bierlein was sworn in as chancellor of a government of technocrats, which will hold office until snap elections, expected by September.

She took over after the coalition government collapsed in May 2019, when centre-right Chancellor Sebastian Kurz sacked his far-right Freedom Party ministers.

Tension between Mr Kurz and his coalition partners had increased steadily since the government was formed in December 2017, and the Freedom Party's "Ibizagate" scandal in May 2019 prompted the chancellor to end the coalition.

Ms Bierlein is a career judge and prosecutor, who was appointed president of the Constitutional Court on Chancellor Kurz's recommendation in February 2018.

She is Austria's first female chancellor.

MEDIA

Image copyright Getty 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.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Austria's modern history:

1918 - End of the Hapsburg empire.

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

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The 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 copyright Getty Images
Image caption View 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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