Austria ascended into the European Union on January 1st, 1995. This was an event 40 years in the making; Austria agreed to remain neutral in exchange for full sovereignty in 1955, which essentially made it ineligible to align itself with the European Union and the countries within that group. Thus, after spending many years working towards entering the European Union, this agreement was effectively nullified. Austria’s agreement to remain neutral was strange, and seemingly contrary to the long-term goals of the country, considering they have long had a strong desire to build a stable foundation for peace throughout Europe. This obstacle to full participation in the European Union did not stop Austria from systematically developing close relationships with the countries of the European Community (predecessor to the European Union). For instance, Austria participated in the 1972 Free Trade Agreement with the European Community, which made it more economically integrated than some of the actual member countries. It is possible that this violated Austria’s neutrality agreement, however the overwhelming desire to assist in building stability trumped their desire to adhere strictly to that agreement.
In the mid 1980s, Austria began to want more than the Free Trade Agreement of 1972; it was simply was not enough of an active integration into the rest of the European Community. In 1989, Austria applied for membership into the European Community, solidifying the country’s commitment to European unification, essentially nullifying their neutrality agreement. After the end of the Cold War and subsequent divisions of Europe in 1990, it was becoming obvious that the European Community was becoming outdated, and the European Union was gaining influence. As a result, before their acceptance into the European Community could be finalized, Austria decided to pursue membership into the European Union, in an effort to have more influence in shaping Europe’s future. In 1994, 67% of Austrians voted in favor of joining the European Union, and in 1995 Austria was accepted.
Since its ascension into the European Union, Austria has been an active and important member. It was among the first group of countries to convert its currency to the Euro in 1999. Austria has also held two six-month terms of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in 1998 and 2006, and three Austrian European Union Commissioners, (Franz Fischler, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and Johannes Hahn) are (or were) responsible for influential reports. Austria has 19 representatives in European Parliament, and currently has the highest percentage of non-politically affiliated representatives. There are also many Austrians working as civil servants for the European Union, ranging many positions, including permanent staff and top positions.
Economically Austria has benefited greatly from its membership in the European Union in the last 20 years. Austria’s economy relies primarily on export, and 70% of their foreign trade is with European Union members. Since so much of Austria’s export is internal (within the European Union), the economy experiences significant savings. Additionally, since Austria’s ascension into the European Union in 1995, export has tripled, and on average 13,000 new jobs have been created per year.
Europe Integration Foreign Affairs: Federal Ministry Republic of Austria: http://www.bmeia.gv.at/en/european-foreign-policy/european-policy/austria-in-the-eu/
Austrian Society of European Politics: http://www.oegfe.at/en/in-the-eu.html
Nato Review: http://www.nato.int/docu/review/1995/9502-4.htm