1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia

A special relationship

The Aus­tri­an view on future rela­tions with Rus­sia is deter­mined by two fac­tors: on the one hand the coun­try wants to uphold its spe­cial rela­tion­ship with Rus­sia. On the oth­er hand, Aus­tria, tra­di­tion­al­ly ori­ent­ed towards Ger­man pol­i­tics, has to apply the EU sanc­tions against Rus­sia. Today the Aus­tro-Russ­ian rela­tion­ship is based on strong eco­nom­ic ties, espe­cial­ly in the ener­gy sec­tor and tourism. Aus­tri­an exports to Rus­sia amount­ed to 3.1 bil­lion Euros in 2014, but this con­sti­tutes a decrease of 8 per­cent from 2013. The main export goods are tech­ni­cal equip­ment and machines, food, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, and paper. Around 500 Aus­tri­an com­pa­nies work in Rus­sia, and Aus­tri­an banks (Raif­feisen Inter­na­tion­al, Bank Aus­tria) are com­par­a­tive­ly over­ex­posed in Rus­sia. In con­trast, Aus­tria imports main­ly gas and oil from Rus­sia: in 2014 a sum worth 2.3 bil­lion Euros, which rep­re­sents a decrease of 28 per­cent from 2013’s fig­ures. The Aus­tri­an gas hub Baum­garten is an impor­tant Euro­pean dis­tri­b­u­tion hub and fea­tures promi­nent­ly in the recent plans of cir­cum­vent­ing Russ­ian gas trans­ports through Ukraine. The Aus­tri­an min­er­al oil and gas com­pa­ny OMV, as one of the major play­ers on the Euro­pean mar­ket, is par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in main­tain­ing strong eco­nom­ic ties with Rus­sia irre­spec­tive of pipeline routes. While the gov­ern­ment, a coali­tion between the two biggest par­ties (with 103 out of a total of 183 seats in the par­lia­ment), the Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (52 seats) and the Aus­tri­an People’s Par­ty (49 seats), tries to steer a path between adher­ing to the EU sanc­tions and uphold­ing what it sees as a spe­cial rela­tion­ship, the oppo­si­tion is split between the right-wing Free­dom Par­ty (38 seats) who wants to end all sanc­tions against Rus­sia imme­di­ate­ly and the Greens Par­ty (24 seats) who endorse the full appli­ca­tion of the sanc­tions and sup­port for the export busi­ness­es that are alleged­ly affect­ed by them. In gen­er­al, it is believed that the sanc­tions will not con­tribute to nor­mal­iz­ing EU-Rus­sia rela­tions. Thus, the Aus­tri­an gov­ern­ment argues for dialogue.


Partnership: in need of improved effectiveness

Con­cern­ing Ukraine, the gov­ern­ment is in full sup­port of the Euro­pean poli­cies towards it and fre­quent­ly refers to the Ukraine being effec­tive­ly a neigh­bour­ing coun­try. The Aus­tri­an pop­u­la­tion, with a dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion between the west­ern and the east­ern part, is in gen­er­al scep­ti­cal of its east­ern neigh­bours. This is part­ly due to the pop­ulism of the right-wing Free­dom Par­ty (sup­port­ed by the largest tabloid paper the Kro­nen Zeitung) blam­ing ris­ing unem­ploy­ment and secu­ri­ty issues on the open bor­ders towards the east and the recent turn of Hun­gar­i­an pol­i­tics towards a more author­i­tar­i­an form of gov­ern­ment. The events in Ukraine are seen as a reflec­tion of the weak gov­ern­ment struc­tures in the coun­tries of the East­ern Part­ner­ship. Those coun­tries are seen as high-risk invest­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties but not as future can­di­dates for EU mem­ber­ship. In gen­er­al, doubts about the effec­tive­ness of the part­ner­ship mech­a­nisms are wide-spread, espe­cial­ly in the busi­ness community.

Another failed EU foreign policy

The East­ern Part­ner­ship Sum­mit in Riga did not draw a lot of pub­lic atten­tion. While the gov­ern­ment empha­sized the impor­tance of the part­ner­ship at a very gen­er­al lev­el, thus fol­low­ing the Joint Dec­la­ra­tion of the sum­mit, the oppo­si­tion crit­i­cized its lack­lus­tre stance towards Rus­sia. Again the oppo­si­tion was split between the Green Par­ty and the small lib­er­al par­ty of The New Aus­tria (NEOS) and the right-wing Free­dom Par­ty, which once again made a case for under­stand­ing the Russ­ian side. Greens and Lib­er­als expressed their wish for a staunch sanc­tion pol­i­cy towards Rus­sia. The Aus­tri­an gov­ern­ment also made it clear that the acces­sion of Ukraine is not on the agen­da at all. In the pub­lic the Sum­mit was hard­ly dis­cussed; when it was dis­cussed the Council’s murky joint dec­la­ra­tion was regard­ed as anoth­er instance of Europe’s fail­ing com­mon for­eign policy.

Upholding the myth of neutrality

Austria’s secu­ri­ty strat­e­gy is embed­ded with­in the UN, the EU, the OSCE, the Coun­cil of Europe, and in its part­ner­ships with NATO (Part­ner­ship for Peace mem­ber since 1995; mem­ber of the Euro-Atlantic Part­ner­ship Coun­cil since 1997). The ques­tion of joint Euro­pean armed forces was not dis­cussed wide­ly in Aus­tria due to the country’s neu­tral sta­tus. This sta­tus is seen as one of the pil­lars of Aus­tri­an iden­ti­ty and there­fore is not open­ly ques­tioned or dis­cussed. How­ev­er, the 2015 polit­i­cal pro­gram of the con­ser­v­a­tive Aus­tri­an People’s Par­ty, for exam­ple, envis­ages a com­mon Euro­pean army as a long-term goal. Since this has been part of the con­ser­v­a­tive agen­da for sev­er­al years already, this can­not be regard­ed as a reac­tion to the cri­sis in the Ukraine. Fur­ther­more, Austria’s involve­ment with NATO cri­sis oper­a­tions and train­ing exer­cis­es reveals a gap between offi­cial state­ments about the impor­tance of neu­tral­i­ty and the prac­tice on the ground. By virtue of Arti­cle 23j of its Con­sti­tu­tion­al Law, Aus­tria ful­ly par­tic­i­pates in the Com­mon For­eign and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy of the Euro­pean Union. NATO is the most impor­tant orga­ni­za­tion in the Euro-Atlantic con­text, and is the pre­dom­i­nant secu­ri­ty forum for those 22 EU mem­ber states which are also mem­bers of NATO. Aus­tria has, for almost two decades, been par­tic­i­pat­ing, as a part­ner to NATO, in the alliance’s secu­ri­ty activ­i­ties in many ways. A high val­ue is placed on inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion in cri­sis man­age­ment mis­sions by the EU, NATO, and UN. The Aus­tri­an Fed­er­al Armed Forces are cur­rent­ly con­tribut­ing to mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina, Mali and the Cen­tral African Repub­lic as well as to the civil­ian mis­sions in Geor­gia and the DR Con­go. With 300 plus troops Aus­tria pro­vides more than half the troop strength of oper­a­tion EUFOR Althea in Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina. Aus­tri­an police­men and diplo­mats are tak­ing part in Com­mon Secu­ri­ty and Defence Pol­i­cy-mis­sions in Koso­vo, Afghanistan, Geor­gia, Pales­tine and Libya.


2. EU Enlargement

No to enlargement

The Aus­tri­an posi­tion towards fur­ther enlarge­ment of the EU can indeed be called scep­ti­cal. With­in the wake of the Ukraine-Rus­sia cri­sis, the Aus­tri­an gov­ern­ment has empha­sized many times that mem­ber­ship promis­es towards the Ukraine should not be made. A rather dif­fer­ent pic­ture emerges with respect to enlarge­ment in the West Balka­ns, towards which the gov­ern­ment seems to be more open. The pri­ma­ry goal of Aus­tri­an for­eign pol­i­cy is to sup­port the trans­for­ma­tion of the West­ern Balka­ns area into a zone of sta­bil­i­ty. From the Aus­tri­an per­spec­tive there is only one option for the West­ern Balka­ns: a full Euro­pean inte­gra­tion of the region. In late August 2015, a high-lev­el inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence, the 2015 West­ern Balka­ns Sum­mit, will take place in Vien­na. The pop­u­la­tion as such is against any enlarge­ment. The Greek cri­sis has deep­ened this skep­ti­cism that was cer­tain­ly fur­thered by the pop­ulist right-wing par­ty. Secu­ri­ty and employ­ment are the major issues fre­quent­ly cit­ed to defend a no-enlarge­ment policy.

No to Turkey, a conditional yes to the Western Balkans

With respect to Turkey, two thirds of the Aus­tri­an pop­u­la­tion does not sup­port Turk­ish mem­ber­ship in the EU. Cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences, the tight domes­tic job mar­ket, and- since the Syr­i­an war and its result­ing migra­tion waves- secu­ri­ty issues are fre­quent­ly quot­ed. When the Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Erdoğan 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, and 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 peo­ple with Turk­ish roots in Aus­tria (with at least one par­ent being Turk­ish cit­i­zen); 115,000 of those are Aus­tri­an cit­i­zens. In sum­mer 2015 a new Turk­ish elec­toral list announced its inten­tion to run in the Octo­ber 2015 Vien­nese region­al elections.


This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘East­ern Neigh­bours and Rus­sia: Close links with EU cit­i­zens’ (ENURC) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TEPSA (Trans Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion). The project focus­es on devel­op­ing EU cit­i­zens’ under­stand­ing of the top­ic of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood and Rus­sia and aims at encour­ag­ing their inter­est and involve­ment in this pol­i­cy which has an impact on their dai­ly lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is map­ping out the dis­cours­es on these issues in Euro­pean poli­cies all over Europe. Research insti­tutes from all 28 mem­ber states are invit­ed to give overviews on the dis­cours­es in their respec­tive countries.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2015. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2015. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the recent­ly relaunched EU-28 Watch web­site:

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 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.