U.S. Department of State 
Background Notes: Austria, 1997
Bureau of Public Affairs 

Official Name:  
Republic of Austria



Area: 83,857 sq.km. (32,377 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Maine.
Cities: Capital-Vienna (pop.1.7 million). Other cities-Graz, Linz, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt.
Terrain: Alpine (64%); northern highlands which form part of the Bohemian Massif (10%); lowlands to the east (26%).
Climate: Continental temperate.


Nationality: Noun and adjective-Austrian(s).
Population (1995): 8 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.3% 
Ethnic groups: Germans 98%, Croats, Slovenes; other recognized minorities include Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Roma.
Religion: Roman Catholic 85%, Protestant 8.0, Muslim and other 7.0.
Language: German 92%.
Education: Years compulsory-9. Attendance-99%. Literacy-98%.
Health: Infant Mortality Rate-5.4/1,000. Life expectancy-74 yrs. men, 80 yrs. women.
Work force (3.4 million): Industry and commerce-35%. Agriculture and forestry-7%.


Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Constitution: 1920 (reinstated December 1945).
Branches: Executive-Federal President (Chief of State), Chancellor (head of government), Cabinet. Legislative-bicameral Federal Assembly (Parliament). Judicial-Constitutional Court, Administrative Court, Supreme Court.
Political parties: Social Democratic Party, People's Party, Freedom Movement, Liberal Forum, Greens (environmental party).
Suffrage: Universal over 19.
Administrative subdivisions: Nine Laender (federal provinces).
Defense (est.): 0.9% of GDP.
Flag: Three horizontal bands-red, white, and red; flag may also have the national emblem (a black eagle centered in the white band).


GDP (1996):  $228.1 billion.
Per capita income (1996):  $28,280.
Natural resources: Iron ore, crude oil, natural gas, timber, tungsten, magnesite, lignite, cement.
Agriculture (2.7% of 1996 GDP): Livestock, forest products, grains, sugar beets, potatoes.
Industry (34% of 1996 GDP): Iron and steel, chemicals, capital equipment, consumer goods.
Services: 63% of 1990 GDP.
Trade (1996): Exports-$55.8 billion: Iron and steel products, timber, paper, textiles, electro- technical machinery, chemical products. Imports-$67.3 billion: Machinery, vehicles, chemicals, iron and steel, metal goods, fuels, raw materials, foodstuffs. Principal partners-European Union, Hungary, United States.


Austrians are a homogeneous people-92% are native German speakers. Only two numerically significant minority groups exist-30,000 Slovenes in Carinthia (south-central Austria) and about  60,000 Croats in Burgenland (on the Hungarian border). The Slovenes form a closely knit community. Their rights as well as those of the Croats are protected by law and generally respected in practice.

The present boundaries of Austria, once the center of the Habsburg Empire that constituted the second-largest state in Europe, were established in accordance with the Treaty of St. Germain in 1919. Some Austrians, particularly near Vienna, still have relatives in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.

About 85% of all Austrians are Roman Catholic. The church abstains from political activity; however, lay Catholic organizations are aligned with the conservative People's Party. The Social Democratic Party long ago shed its anti-clerical stance. Small Lutheran minorities are located mainly in Vienna, Carinthia, and Burgenland.


The Austro-Hungarian Empire played a decisive role in Central European history. It occupied  strategic territory containing the southeastern routes to Western Europe and the north-south routes between Germany and Italy. Although present-day Austria is only a tiny remnant of the old empire, it retains this unique position.

Soon after the Republic of Austria was created at the end of World War I, it faced the strains of catastrophic inflation and of redesigning a government meant to rule a great empire into one that would govern only 6 million citizens. In the early 1930s, worldwide depression and unemployment added to these strains and shattered traditional Austrian society. Resultant economic and political conditions led in 1933 to a dictatorship under Engelbert Dollfuss. In February 1934, civil war broke out, and the Socialist Party was outlawed. In July, a coup d'etat by the National Socialists failed, but Dollfuss was assassinated by Nazis. In March 1938, Austria was incorporated into the German Reich, a development commonly known as the "Anschluss'' (annexation).

At the Moscow conference in 1943, the Allies declared their intention to liberate Austria and reconstitute it as a free and independent state. In April 1945, both Eastern- and Western-front Allied forces liberated the country. Subsequently, Austria was divided into zones of occupation similar to those in Germany. 

Under the 1945 Potsdam agreements, the Soviets took control of German assets in their zone of occupation. These included  7% of Austria's manufacturing plants, 95% of its oil resources, and about 80% of its refinery capacity. The properties were returned to Austria under the Austrian State Treaty. This treaty, signed in Vienna on May 15, 1955,  came into effect on July 27, and, under its provisions, all occupation forces were withdrawn by October 25, 1955. Austria became free and independent for the 
first time since 1938.


The Austrian President convenes and concludes parliamentary sessions and under certain conditions can dissolve Parliament. However, no Austrian President has dissolved Parliament in the Second Republic. The custom is for Parliament to call for new elections if needed. The President requests a party leader, usually the leader of the strongest party, to form a government. Upon the recommendation of the Federal Chancellor, the President also appoints cabinet ministers. No one can become a member of the government without the approval of the President.

The Federal Assembly (Parliament) is composed of two houses-the National Council  (Nationalrat), or lower house, and the Federal Council (Bundesrat), or upper house. Legislative authority is concentrated in the National Council. Its 183 members are elected for a maximum 4-year term in a three-tiered system, based on proportional representation. The National Council may dissolve itself by a simple majority vote or it may be dissolved by the President on the recommendation of the Chancellor. The 64 members of the Federal Council are elected by the legislatures of the nine provinces for 4- to 6-year terms. The Federal Council only reviews legislation passed by the National Council and can delay but not veto its enactment.

The highest courts of Austria's independent judiciary are the Constitutional Court; the Administrative Court, which handles bureaucratic disputes; and the Supreme Court, for civil and criminal cases. Cases in the Administrative and Supreme Courts concerning constitutional issues can be appealed to the Constitutional Court. Justices of the three courts are appointed by the President for specific terms.

The governors of Austria's nine Laender (provinces) are elected by the provincial legislatures. Although most authority, including the police, rests with the federal government, the provinces have considerable responsibility for welfare matters and local administration. Strong provincial and local loyalties are based on tradition and history.


Federal President-Thomas Klestil 
Federal Chancellor-Viktor Klima 
Vice Chancellor/ Foreign Minister-Wolfgang Schuessel 
Ambassador to the United States-Helmut Tuerk 
Ambassador to the United Nations-Ernst Sucharipa

Austria maintains an embassy in the United States at 3524 International Court, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (te1.202-895-6700). Consulates general are located in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, with honorary consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, Honolulu, Houston, Miami, New Orleans, Newark, Philadelphia, St. Paul, San Francisco, San Juan, and Seattle.


Since World War II, Austria has enjoyed political stability. A Socialist elder statesman, Dr. Karl Renner, organized an Austrian administration in the aftermath of the war, and general elections were held in November 1945.  In that election, the conservative People's Party (OVP) obtained 50% of the vote (85 seats) in the National Council (lower house of Parliament), the Socialists won 45% (76 seats), and the Communists  won 5% (4 seats). The ensuing three-party government ruled until 1947, when the Communists left the government and the OVP led a governing coalition with the Socialists (now called the Social Democratic Party or SPO) that governed until 1966. These two parties-the SPO and the OVP-have the support of a majority of the electorate. Since 1970, the SPO has ruled the country-either alone or in conjunction with the OVP, except from 1983-86, when it governed in coalition with the Freedom Party. Three opposition parties-the Freedom Movement, the Liberal Forum, and the Greens-together poll about 33% of the vote.

The Social Democratic Party traditionally draws its constituency from blue- and white-collar workers. Accordingly, much of its strength lies in urban and industrialized areas. In the 1995 national elections, it garnered 38% of the vote. The SPO in the past advocated heavy state involvement in Austria's key industries, the extension of social security benefits, and a full-employment policy. Beginning in the mid-1980s, it shifted its focus to free-market-oriented economic policies, balancing the federal budget, and European Union (EU) membership.

The People's Party's advocates conservative financial policies and privatization of much of Austria's nationalized industry and finds support from farmers, large and small business owners, and lay Catholic groups, mostly  in the  rural regions of Austria. In 1995, it received 28% of the vote

The rightist Freedom Movement (formerly Freedom Party/FPO) attracts protest votes and those who desire no association with the two major parties. Recently, the party's mixture of populism and anti-establishment themes propagated by its aggressive leader Joerg Haider has gained support. In several provinces, including Vienna, the Freedom Movement has replaced the People's Party as the second-strongest political force. Nationally, it attracts about 22% of the vote, though it gained 28% of the vote in 1996 elections for the European Parliament.

The Liberal Forum, founded on libertarian ideals, split from the Freedom Movement in February 1993. It received 5.5% of the vote in the 1995 election.  The Greens, a left-of-center party focusing on environmental issues, received 4.8% of the vote in 1995.

Austria has a social market economy in which the government has played an important role. Many of the country's largest firms were nationalized in the early post-war period to protect them from Soviet takeover as war reparations. At present, these state-owned corporations are intended to operate largely as private businesses, and a number are being wholly or partially privatized. The government operates various state monopolies, utilities, and services. Ongoing privatization and reduction of state subsidies is expected to reduce government participation. Austria enjoys well-developed industry, banking, transportation, services, and commercial facilities.

Although some industries, such as several iron and steel works and chemical plants, are large industrial enterprises employing thousands of people, most industrial and commercial enterprises in Austria are relatively small.

Austria has a strong labor movement. The Austrian Trade Union Federation (OGB) comprises constituent unions with a total membership of about 1.5 million-more than half the country's wage and salary earners. Since 1945, the OGB has pursued a moderate, consensus-oriented wage policy, cooperating with industry, agriculture, and the government on a broad range of social and economic issues in what is known as Austria's "social partnership."

Austrian farms, like those of other West European mountainous countries, are small and fragmented. Their products are relatively expensive. Although Austrian farmers provide about 80% of domestic food requirements, the agricultural contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) has declined since 1950 to about 2.7%.

Austria has achieved sustained economic growth. During the 1950s, the average annual growth rate was more than 5% in real terms and averaged about 4.5% through most of the 1960s. Following a robust 3% real GDP growth in 1994, the economy expanded only 1.8% in 1995 and 0.8% in 1996, and the 1997 rate is estimated at 1.4%. These lower rates stem from several factors, particularly government measures to lower the budget deficit. From 1998-2000, the economy is expected to grow at a moderate but steady rate of 1.8%.

Austria became a member of the European Union (EU) on January 1, 1995. Membership brought economic benefits and challenges. The government's biggest challenge in the coming years will be maintaining positive growth while reducing the budget deficit to satisfy the European Monetary Union (EMU) common currency convergence criteria (deficit less than 3.0% of GDP).

Trade with other EU countries accounts for more than  60% of Austrian imports and exports. Expanding trade and investment in the emerging markets of central and eastern Europe is a major element of Austrian economic activity. Austrian firms have sizable investments in and continue to move labor-intensive, low-tech production to these countries. Although the big investment boom has waned, Austria still has the potential to attract EU firms seeking convenient access to these developing markets.

Total trade with the United States 
in 1994 reached $4.5 billion. Imports 
from the United States amounted to 
$2.7 billion, constituting a U.S. market share in Austria of 4.4%. Austrian 
exports to the United States in 1994 were $1.8 billion, or 3.5% of total Austrian exports. 


The 1955 Austrian State Treaty ended the four-power occupation and recognized Austria as an independent and sovereign state. In October 1955, the Federal Assembly passed a constitutional law in which "Austria declares of her own free will her perpetual neutrality."  The second section of this law stated that "in all future times Austria will not join any military alliances and will not permit the establishment of any foreign military bases on her territory."

Austria has shaped its foreign policy on the basis of neutrality. However, Austria has begun to reassess its definition of neutrality, granting overflight rights for the UN-sanctioned action against Iraq in 1991, and, since 1995, contemplating participation in the EU's evolving security structure. Also in 1995, it joined the Partnership for Peace, and subsequently participated in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia. Discussion of possible Austrian NATO membership intensified during 1996. By 1998, the government plans to decide on its future security options, including whether to join the Western European Union as a full member (it now has observer status), NATO, or both.

Austrian leaders emphasize the unique role the country plays as a link between East and West and as a moderator between industrialized and developing countries. Austria is active in the United Nations and experienced in UN peacekeeping efforts. It attaches great importance to participation in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and other international economic organizations, and it has played an active role in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Vienna hosts the Secretariat of the OSCE and the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN Industrial Development Organization, and the UN Drug Control Program. Other international organizations based in Vienna include the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Recently, Vienna added the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization and the Wassenaar Arrangement (a technology-transfer control agency) to the list of international organizations it hosts.

Austria traditionally has been active in "bridge-building to the east," increasing contacts at all levels with eastern Europe and the states of the former Soviet Union. Austrians maintain a constant exchange of business representatives, political leaders, students, cultural groups, and tourists with the countries of central and eastern Europe. Austrian companies are active in investing and trading with the countries of central and eastern Europe. In addition, the Austrian Government and various Austrian organizations provide assistance and training to support the changes underway in the region.


Austria's political leaders and people recognize and appreciate the essential role played by U.S. economic assistance through the Marshall Plan in the reconstruction of their country after World War II, and by the U.S. in promoting the conclusion of the Austrian State Treaty. It is in the interest of the U.S. that the present friendly relations be maintained and strengthened and that Austria's political and economic stability be maintained.


Ambassador -- Kathryn Walt Hall
 Deputy Chief of Mission -- Joseph DeThomas 
Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs -- Timothy Savage 
Counselor for Public Affairs (USIS) -- L.W. Koengeter 
Counselor for Commercial Affairs -- Stephen Craven 
Counselor for Administrative Affairs -- Steven White 
Counselor for Agricultural Affairs -- Allan Mustard 
Consul General -- Guyle Cavin 
Defense and Army Attache -- Col. John Fairlamb 
Consular Agent in Salzburg -- Jeanie Mayer

The U.S. embassy in Austria is located at Boltzmanngasse 16, Vienna 1091, tel. (43) (1) 313-39 (After office hours: (43) (1) 319-5523). The U.S. Consular Agency in Salzburg is located at Alte Markt 1, 5020 Salzburg, tel. (43) (662) 848-776. 


The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on immigration practices, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is required). The CABB also carries international security information from the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.  

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.  

Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648)  

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800. 

Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).  

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.  

Further Electronic Information:  

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://www.state.gov. 

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-annual basis by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250. 

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.  

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