1. Euroscepticism and European Parliament election

Economics and jobs

In 1994 two thirds of the pop­u­la­tion had sup­port­ed Austria’s mem­ber­ship in a ref­er­en­dum. Twen­ty years lat­er 40 per­cent see the Euro­pean Union (EU) in a pos­i­tive light, anoth­er 40 per­cent rather stress its dis­ad­van­tages. The expec­ta­tions in the EU were high in 1994, they were low­er in 2014. In ret­ro­spect about 50 per­cent see Austria’s acces­sion to the EU as the right deci­sion, 40 per­cent as wrong. About 60 per­cent of the Aus­tri­ans want­ed a more pow­er­ful EU in cer­tain pol­i­cy areas. Those were main­ly areas con­nect­ed with eco­nom­ic issues such as trade, invest­ment, jobs and com­mon Euro­pean mea­sures to fight the cri­sis. Only about 15 to 20 per­cent would want to leave the EU, 70 to 80 per­cent want to stay. This gen­er­al atti­tude did not change very much dur­ing the eco­nom­ic reces­sion in spite of a very EU friend­ly gov­ern­ment, which is sup­port­ed by a coali­tion of the two major par­ties, the Social Democ­rats (SPÖ) and the con­ser­v­a­tive People’s Par­ty (ÖVP). Both par­ties sup­port Euro­pean inte­gra­tion and Austria’s mem­ber­ship in the EU with­out reser­va­tions. The Green Par­ty and the neolib­er­al Neos also are very pro-Euro­pean par­ties. The right wing Free­dom Par­ty (FPÖ) is most crit­i­cal about fur­ther EU-integration.

Euroscepticism and the rise of the Freedom Party

In the elec­tions for the EU par­lia­ment in May 2014 the ÖVP achieved 27 per­cent (nation­al elec­tions 2013: 24), the SPÖ 24 (27), the FPÖ 19 (20), the Green Par­ty 14 (12) and the Neos 8 (5). In gen­er­al, pro-Euro­pean par­ties received, com­bined, about 70 per­cent of the vote. Sig­nif­i­cant is that the FPÖ received eight per­cent more votes than in the 2009 elec­tions to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. The FPÖ does not oppose the EU all togeth­er, how­ev­er, but wants a lim­it­ed “EU of the father­lands.” The FPÖ was very active in build­ing an anti-EU-coali­tion in the EU Par­lia­ment, although with mixed suc­cess. The vot­er-turnout was low (45 per­cent) and there was a gen­er­al dis­in­ter­est in par­tic­u­lar EU pol­i­cy issues.

The rel­a­tive strength of the FPÖ does not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean that Aus­tria as such moves to the right. In fact, the oppo­site may be true. Dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment the SPÖ request­ed a more social route and held Neolib­er­als respon­si­ble for the present reces­sion. The Greens blamed the big banks and companies.


  • CATI-Inter­views, der Stan­dard, 24/25 May 2014.
  • Der Stan­dard, 24/25 May 2014.
  • Eco­quest, Mar­ket Research & Con­sult­ing GmbH, 20 June 2013.

2. The EU’s Neighbourhood

Ukraine, the EU and Russian–Austrian relations

The prin­ci­ples of the EU’s neigh­bour­hood pol­i­cy, the pro­mo­tion of democ­ra­cy, the rule of law and mar­ket-econ­o­my, are essen­tial for Ukraine. How­ev­er, as EU politi­cians and offi­cials con­tin­ue to indi­cate, a solu­tion with­out Rus­sia will not be pos­si­ble. Because of the events in Ukraine, Europe regained atten­tion in the US not only on the eco­nom­ic but also on the geostrate­gic lev­el. The prin­ci­ples of the EU’s neigh­bour­hood pol­i­cy are sim­i­lar to the ideas of the Amer­i­can lib­er­al inter­na­tion­al­ists. They stim­u­lat­ed the desire of many Ukraini­ans to join the EU. But the EU could not meet their expec­ta­tions because the econ­o­my of Ukraine was depen­dent on both the Euro­pean and the Russ­ian economies. There­fore, a solu­tion with­out Rus­sia will not be pos­si­ble. The vol­ume of trade of the EU with Rus­sia is ten times high­er than the vol­ume of the USA with Russia.

The EU is Russia’s biggest trad­ing part­ner, and Rus­sia the EU’s third biggest. For Aus­tria Rus­sia is the tenth most impor­tant trad­ing part­ner. Exports to Rus­sia and imports from Rus­sia are over three bil­lion Euro each. Aus­tria buys about 55 per­cent of its gas from Rus­sia, and Aus­tri­an banks Raif­feisen Bank Inter­na­tion­al and Uni­Cred­it Bank Aus­tria are among the biggest in Rus­sia. About 500 Aus­tri­an com­pa­nies are present in Russia.

Geopo­lit­i­cal­ly Rus­sia is Europe’s neigh­bour that can­not be removed. Many fear a new Cold War with mil­i­tary con­flict and anoth­er arms race. For the Euro­peans Aus­tria Rus­sia has to be includ­ed in a long term solu­tion. This does not mean that Aus­tria endors­es Russia’s occu­pa­tion of Crimea. There­fore, Aus­tria sup­ports more mod­est sanc­tions than the US-admin­is­tra­tion which also acts under pres­sure from the neo-con­ser­v­a­tive right. In June 2014 the Russ­ian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin vis­it­ed Aus­tria. The vis­it has been agreed already in 2011. The Aus­tri­an pres­i­dent stressed that the dia­log should not be inter­rupt­ed. He also invit­ed the new Ukrain­ian pres­i­dent Poroschenko to Vien­na. A solu­tion could be that for Ukraine the option for mem­ber­ship in the EU should remain open but it should not become a NATO mem­ber by inter­na­tion­al law. Free trade unions of the Ukraine should be nego­ti­at­ed with both the EU and with Russia.

More­over, they also empha­size that becom­ing a NATO mem­ber is not on the Ukrain­ian agenda.

Austria as a model for Ukraine

Aus­tria believes that sanc­tions will not solve the prob­lem. It becomes some­what clear that the Aus­tri­an mod­el could be an inter­est­ing alter­na­tive for Ukraine. This sug­ges­tion has been made by the Aus­tri­an Insti­tute for Inter­na­tion­al Affairs (oiip), but became the posi­tion of the Aus­tri­an gov­ern­ment after­wards. Austria’s mod­el could pro­vide such an offer. Aus­tria is a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Union but not a NATO mem­ber. How­ev­er, there was no ide­o­log­i­cal neu­tral­i­ty. Aus­tria quick­ly adopt­ed the West­ern val­ues and start­ed a process of inte­gra­tion in the mar­ket econ­o­my, which even­tu­al­ly led to the acces­sion to the Euro­pean Union in the nineties. This devel­op­ment was accept­ed by the Sovi­et Union, main­ly because Aus­tria did not become a mem­ber of NATO. A guar­an­tee that Ukraine will not join a mil­i­tary alliance based on inter­na­tion­al law might be accept­able for Rus­sia. In addi­tion, in a sep­a­rate Aus­tri­an State Treaty, the minor­i­ty rights were reg­u­lat­ed and cer­tain capa­bil­i­ties of Austria’s mil­i­tary were lim­it­ed. The State Treaty also guar­an­teed that Aus­tria would not join a new union with Ger­many (Anschluss), as it had in 1938. In the case of Ukraine, such a State Treaty could express­ly detail the Russ­ian minori­ties with­in the coun­try’s bor­ders, as well as clar­i­fy the future sta­tus of Crimea, where­by the uni­ty of Ukraine should be guaranteed.

All in all, a demo­c­ra­t­ic and eco­nom­i­cal­ly devel­oped Ukraine could rep­re­sent in the long run a valu­able advan­tage for the Krem­lin. Euro­pean and Amer­i­can eco­nom­ic aid pack­ages, sim­i­lar to the post-World War II Mar­shall-Plan, are now essen­tial for Ukraine. Sim­i­lar to the sit­u­a­tion in Aus­tria, the aid pack­ages should also tar­get the East­ern part of the coun­try. The com­bi­na­tion of neu­tral­i­ty and the Mar­shall-Plan was a def­i­nite suc­cess for Aus­tria. More­over, one could argue that Austria’s neu­tral­i­ty law was the begin­ning of the détente pol­i­cy between East and West. The direc­tions out­lined above advo­cate that the Aus­tri­an mod­el deliv­ers a diplo­mat­ic solu­tion that should be tak­en into consideration.


Widespread opposition to Turkish EU membership

The FPÖ vehe­ment­ly oppos­es Turkey’s mem­ber­ship in the EU. Both the SPÖ and the ÖVP remain scep­ti­cal con­cern­ing Turkey’s EU mem­ber­ship. Two thirds of the Austria’s pop­u­la­tion do not sup­port Turk­ish mem­ber­ship in the EU. This is the high­est per­cent­age in the EU. The Aus­tri­ans main­ly men­tion cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences. Nev­er­the­less, in ear­ly sum­mer 2014 a debate began whether Turk­ish should be toughed as a for­eign lan­guage in Aus­tri­an high schools. When the Turk­ish pre­mier min­is­ter Erdo­gan vis­it­ed Vien­na in June 2014 the polar­iza­tion of sup­port­ers and oppo­nents of the cur­rent Turk­ish gov­ern­ment became vis­i­ble. It trig­gered a live­ly debate about all the issues relat­ing to Turkey: migra­tion, lan­guage, EU-mem­ber­ship, Islam, val­ues. Turk­ish cit­i­zens are not the largest group of migrants, how­ev­er. About 160.000 Ger­mans, 114.000 Turks and 112.000 Serbs live in Aus­tria. All togeth­er there are 280.000 humans with Turk­ish roots in Aus­tria (at least one par­ent should be Turk­ish cit­i­zen), 115.000 of those are Aus­tri­an citizens.


3. Power relations in the EU

Economic crisis and TTIP

The fore­casts for the Aus­tri­an econ­o­my for 2015 are dire. Although it will stay low­er than the EU aver­age, which is about eleven per­cent, the unem­ploy­ment rate will rise to eight per­cent. The eco­nom­ic growth will fall to less than two per­cent, the same as the EU aver­age. The dete­ri­o­rat­ing sit­u­a­tion in East­ern Europe has hit the Aus­tri­an econ­o­my bad­ly. Investors are pulling out and many Aus­tri­an banks have out­stand­ing loans there. The eco­nom­ic dif­fi­cul­ties strength­ened the cohe­sion of the coali­tion gov­ern­ment. The par­ties of the coali­tion agreed on cuts of expen­di­tures. The eco­nom­ic crises made high­er cuts of state expen­di­tures accept­able to the pub­lic; in spite of the cuts, 65 per­cent of Aus­tri­ans want to remain in the Euro­zone. Because of the aus­ter­i­ty pol­i­cy a new debate on tax­es start­ed dur­ing the cam­paign to the Euro­pean elec­tions. With­in the EU Aus­tria is (togeth­er with Bel­gium and Italy) already the coun­try with one of the high­est tax rate on labour. The tax on cap­i­tal lies sig­nif­i­cant­ly below the EU-aver­age. The Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty requests high­er tax­es on cap­i­tal, the Peo­ples Par­ty oppos­es it.

Dur­ing the eco­nom­ic cri­sis the inequal­i­ty in the indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries of the OECD (Orga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nom­ic Coop­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment) increased. Aus­tria is no excep­tion. Between 2007 and 2011 the tenth per­cent with the low­est income lost 0.8 per­cent of its annu­al income, where­as the high­est tenth added 1.5 per­cent to its income. In gen­er­al, the income of the high­est tenth is 7.7 per­cent high­er than that of the low­est tenth (OECD aver­age: 9.3 percent).

In Aus­tria the debate about Europe’s glob­al role start­ed short before the elec­tions to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in May 2014. 55 per­cent of the Aus­tri­ans want the EU to play a strong eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal role in the world. After all, it has about 1000 troops deployed in peace mis­sions, the high­est num­ber of all neu­tral and non-aligned states in the EU. In Bosnia, for exam­ple, Aus­tria has more troops deployed than any oth­er EU mem­ber state. But only 46 per­cent of the Aus­tri­ans think that the EU is a suc­cess­ful peace-project.

The announce­ment of the “Transat­lantic Trade and Invest­ment Part­ner­ship” (TTIP) raised debates in Aus­tria. The Aus­tri­an gov­ern­ment sup­ports the TTIP, but it stress­es that it will keep its stan­dards of food and envi­ron­men­tal secu­ri­ty. Also for rea­sons relat­ed to food and envi­ron­men­tal secu­ri­ty, the Green Par­ty oppos­es TTIP alto­geth­er. Fur­ther­more, Aus­tria is con­cerned that the TTIP would reduce its eco­nom­ic ties with Rus­sia and Chi­na. In the elec­tion cam­paign cer­tain spe­cif­ic issues, like the impor­tance of cos­tumer pro­tec­tion (and the prob­lem of “chlo­rine chick­ens”), dom­i­nat­ed the debate.

Partnership and economic dependence on neighbouring Germany

On the oth­er hand, anoth­er rea­son (not men­tioned pub­licly) for Austria’s offi­cial sup­port of the TTIP is that it would fur­ther diver­si­fy Austria’s trade and invest­ment beyond the EU and there­fore decrease its eco­nom­ic depen­dence on Ger­many. Polit­i­cal­ly, Ger­many is an impor­tant part­ner for Aus­tria in the EU. After the elec­tions to the EU-par­lia­ment elec­tions Ger­many and Aus­tria dis­cuss a clos­er coop­er­a­tion between their nation­al par­lia­ments. Although the Aus­tri­an chan­cel­lor, Wern­er Fey­mann, belongs to the Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, he sup­port­ed like Ger­man chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel the con­ser­v­a­tive Jean-Claude Junck­er as pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Commission.


Brexit: divided opinions

When it comes to the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the Unit­ed Kingdom’s (UK) exit from the EU the Aus­tri­an polit­i­cal elite is divid­ed. The defence and secu­ri­ty com­mu­ni­ty wants to keep the UK with­in the EU. After all, the UK sug­gest­ed and intro­duced main ele­ments of “Com­mon Secu­ri­ty and Defence Pol­i­cy” (CSDP) with­in the Lis­bon Treaty. Those who press for deep­er inte­gra­tion and even­tu­al­ly aim for a “Unit­ed States of Europe” see the UK as a major obstacle.


Heinz Gärt­ner is aca­d­e­m­ic direc­tor of the Aus­tri­an Insti­tute for Inter­na­tion­al Affairs (oiip), a pol­i­cy Think Tank, and pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vien­na at the polit­i­cal sci­ence depart­ment. He had sev­er­al vis­it­ing fel­low­ships and pro­fes­sor­ships at the Insti­tute for East-West Secu­ri­ty Stud­ies, New York; Uni­ver­si­ty of Erlan­gen, Ger­many; St. Hugh’s Col­lege, Oxford; Uni­ver­si­ty of British Colum­bia; World Pol­i­cy Insti­tute, New York; Uni­ver­si­ty of New Haven; Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty; Johns Hop­kins, Wash­ing­ton D:C; Kings Col­lege, Lon­don. Heinz Gärt­ner pub­lished wide­ly on Euro­pean and transat­lantic secu­ri­ty, and arms control.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2014. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2014. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the EU-28 Watch web­site:

The EU-28 Watch No. 10 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.