Austria country profile
Austria is a landlocked country of approximately 8.7 million inhabitants in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The territory of Austria covers 83,878 square kilometres (32,385 sq mi) and has a temperate and alpine climate. Austria’s terrain is highly mountainous due to the presence of the Alps; only 32% of the country is below 500 metres (1,640 ft), and its highest point the Grossglockner is 3,798 metres (12,460 ft). The majority of the population speaks German, which is also the country’s official language. Other local official languages are Croatian, Hungarian and Slovene.
Austria is a parliamentary representative democracy. The capital and largest city, with a population exceeding 1.8 million, is Vienna. Austria is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with a nominal per capita GDP of $46,972 (2018 est.). The country has developed a high standard of living and in 2016 was ranked 24rd in the world for its Human Development Index. Austria has been a member of the United Nations since 1955, joined the European Union in 1995, and is a founder of the OECD. Austria also signed the Schengen Agreement in 1995, and adopted the European currency, the euro, in 1999.
As a federal republic, Austria is comprised of nine independent federal states or provinces: Burgenland, Carinthia, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Tyrol, Vorarlberg and Vienna.
The origins of Austria date back to the time of the Roman Empire when a Celtic kingdom was conquered by the Romans in approximately 15 BC and later became Noricum, a Roman province, in the mid 1st century AD—an area which mostly encloses today’s Austria. In 788 AD, the Frankish king Charlemagne conquered the area and introduced Christianity. Under the native Habsburg dynasty, Austria became one of the great powers of Europe. In 1867, the Austrian Empire was reformed into Austria-Hungary.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in 1918 with the end of World War I. The First Austrian Republic was established in 1919. In the 1938 Anschluss, Austria was occupied and annexed by Nazi Germany. This lasted until the end of World War II in 1945, after which Austria was occupied by the Allies and its former democratic constitution was restored. In 1955, the Austrian State Treaty re-established Austria as a sovereign state, ending the occupation. In the same year, the Austrian Parliament created the Declaration of Neutrality which declared that the country would become permanently neutral.
- 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
Austria President: Alexander van der Bellen
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.
Austria Chancellor: Sebastian Kurz
Sebastian Kurz became the world’s youngest head of government when he was sworn in as federal chancellor in December 2017 at the age of 31.
After his Austrian People’s Party (OeVP) won 32% of the vote in the October parliamentary election he formed a coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), making Austria the only country in western Europe with a far-right presence in government.
He became OeVP chairman in May 2017 and immediately ended the decade-long coalition government with the Social Democrats (SPOe) and called for an early election.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said he was worried about the inclusion of the Freedom Party in the new cabinet. Some 6,000 people protested outside the December 2017 swearing-in ceremony in the Hofburg palace in Vienna, denouncing the Freedom Party as Nazis.
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.
- 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.
- 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.