Austria maintains diplomatic relations with all 48 European states and has embassies in 39 of them. 45 European states have representations in Vienna. From the foreign policy point of view, membership in the EU is of particular importance for Austria today.
This is the reason why the Austrian embassies based in other EU Member States have had to assume new and additional tasks beside their traditional ambassadorial work. Although an important part of the workload is handled by the Austrian representation in Brussels, the embassies play a substantial role as hubs and lobbying centres for Austrian interests. Their direct access to decision-makers in the EU partner countries has proved to be a sine qua non in terms of preparatory and follow-up work on EU plans and projects.
Apart from being a Member State of the European Union, Austria is represented in a large number of other important multi-lateral European institutions, such as the OSCE and the Council of Europe. In the field of security cooperation, Austria participates in NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme.
The European Union
The roots of the idea of a united Europe can be traced back to Graeco-Roman times. The unification of Europe into a community of peace only took a concrete shape with Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman’s concept for the foundation of a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the subsequent establishment of a supra-national administration for coal and steel production. However, the already far-reaching effects of the ECSC were further surpassed by the project of a European internal market based on the Treaties of Rome of 1957.
The European Union we live in today is devised as a community based on law and is founded on treaties concluded under international law between its Member States. At present the two communities forming the "first pillar" (the European Community, EC, and the European Atomic Energy Community, EAEC) are complemented by the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSC), which is in principle based on inter-governmental cooperation, and the Police and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters.
Austria in the EU
On 1 January 1995 Austria became a Member State of the European Union. This act marked the completion of the process of Austria’s integration efforts which had started long before the submission of Austria’s application for EC membership by then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alois Mock, on 17 July 1989.
Austria was one of the founding members of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), established by the Stockholm Convention which entered into force on 3 May 1960. The first closer economic ties to the states forming the European Economic Community (EEC) were established in 1973 when the free trade area between Austria and the EEC was set up. Although this bridge between the members of EFTA and the members of the EU proved successful because the EFTA states’ export business was granted largely unhindered access to the EC area in the industrial sector, it did not offer any perspective for more comprehensive relations.
In 1989 the plan for the establishment of a European Economic Area presented by then President of the Commission, Jacques Delors provided for a close association between EFTA and the EEC. By the time the treaty establishing the European Economic Area was signed in Porto on 2 May 1992, Austria had already set itself the integration goal of full membership in the European Communities. Just one year after the entry into force of the EEC Treaty in 1994, Austria was to change sides and join the Treaty as an EU Member State.
Following the submission of Austria’s application for membership, the EC Council agreed to launch the accession process as early as 28 July 1989, with the formal membership negotiations starting on 1 February 1993.
The explicit empowerment for the conclusion of this state treaty in line with the outcome of the negotiations achieved on 12 April 1994 was granted by the Federal Constitutional Law on the Accession of Austria to the European Union ("Beitrittsbundesverfassungsgesetz", Federal Law Gazette No.744/1994). Following the adoption of this Act by the two houses of the Austrian Parliament, the National Council and the Federal Council, the Federal Constitutional Law on the Accession of Austria to the EU was put to referendum according to Article 44 par. 3 of the Austrian Federal Constitution on 12 June 1994, in which 66.58% of the Austrian population voted in favour of accession to the EU. The Accession Treaty and the Final Act were then signed in Corfu on 24 June 1994.
National Cooperation between Government, Parliament and Federal Provinces
When formulating its EU policy Austria attaches particular importance to involving the federal provinces and the active contribution of the democratically legitimised representatives of the people.
The cooperation between government, parliament and federal provinces in matters relating to European integration is based on the National and Federal Councils’ rights to participate – i.e. the right to be informed about plans with regard to the EU and the right to give an opinion on them as provided for under Art. 23e of the Federal Constitutional Law.
If the Main Committee of the National Council or the Standing Sub-Committee on matters relating to the EU resolves to give an opinion or make a statement on an EU-related matter, which would have to be regulated by a federal law, or geared towards the passing of an immediately applicable EU legal act relating to matters to be regulated by a federal law, the competent member of the Federal Government is bound by this opinion and can only deviate from it for compelling foreign or integration policy reasons. If this member of the government intends to deviate from such an opinion, the matter must again be submitted to the National Council. A deviation is not permissible under any circumstances if the legal act of the European Union which is in the process of being prepared would represent a deviation from the applicable Austrian Federal Constitutional Law.
The participation rights of the federal provinces and municipalities as defined under Art. 23d of the Federal Constitutional Law include a right to be informed about and give an opinion on matters relating to their respective areas of competence and jurisdiction.