The Austrian EU Presidency: A Midterm Report (2006:1op)

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Austria joined the EU in January 1995. It had been a long road to membership. After achieving full independence in 1955, Austrians debated membership in the European Coal and Steel Community. Mainly domestic economic and political reasons lead the Austrian government to opt for membership of the European Free Trade Association and not of the European Economic Community. The public explanation given was Austria's neutral status.

The completion of the EC's internal market and a crisis of the nationalized industry in the mid-1980s forced the political elites to modify their integration policy. It resulted in an EC membership application in 1989, before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This paper shows that Austria as an EU member wanted to be in the core of EU integration, in spite of its neutrality status. The professional execution of Austria's first EU Presidency in 1998 was praised, but the quest for harmony and the "dread of risk" of its government criticized. The "sanctions" of 14 EU member states against the new government in 2000 had a lasting effect on Austria's EU policy, in particular on the (increasingly negative) attitudes of Austrians towards the EU.

The organization of this second Presidency in the first half of 2006 resembles the first one, except that the conflicts between the Federal Chancellery and the Foreign Ministry which hampered the first Presidency have vanished since both are lead by conservative politicians. The solution of the financial perspective question in the last phase of the UK Presidency relieved the Austrian Presidency of a heavy burden. Still, problems like the energy crisis between Russia and the Ukraine showed that a Presidency is largely influenced by events it cannot control.

The main aim of the Austrian Presidency seems to be to increase the trust of European (and in particular Austrian) citizens in the EU, after the problematic events of 2005. A number of "showy" events have formed a part of this strategy.

The report was presented at the seminar The Austrian EU Presidency and is part of the research project The EU Presidencies.

icon 2006:1op The Austrian EU Presidency: A Midterm Report (230.28 kB)