Hannes Richter

1995-2015: 20 Years of Austrian EU Membership

Hannes Richter
1995-2015: 20 Years of Austrian EU Membership

Austria’s accession to the European Union marked the completion of the process of Austria’s integration efforts, which had started long before the submission of Austria’s application for membership to the European Communities (EC) by then minister of foreign affairs, Alois Mock, on July 17, 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 May 3, 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 EC 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.

Following the submission of Austria’s application for membership on July 7, 1989, the EC Council agreed to launch the accession process on July 28, 1989, with the formal membership negotiations starting on February 1, 1993. 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 May 2, 1992, Austria had already set itself the target of full membership in AI 35 the European Communities. Just one year after the entry into force of the EEC Treaty in 1994, Austria was to join the Treaty as a EU Member State. The negotiations were concluded on April 12, 1994.

Following the adoption by the two houses of the Austrian Parliament (the National Council and the Federal Council) in May 1994, it was put to an obligatory referendum in accordance with the Austrian Federal Constitution. On June 12, 1994, 66.58% of the Austrian population voted in favor of accession to the EU. The Accession Treaty and the Final Act were finally signed in Corfu on June 24, 1994.

Austria in the EU Today

Austria’s membership in the European Union has had a decisive impact on the country’s foreign and European policy over the past 20 years and offers a formal forum to advocate Austrian concerns within the EU decision-making structures. Representatives of Austria act in the framework of the European Council, the Council and its preparatory bodies; besides, directly elected Austrian members interact at the European Parliament, which has evolved into a co-decisive organ of the EU in most policy areas.

EU Council Meeting of Heads of State and Government in 2015 (European Council)

Comprehensive coordination of the Austrian positions is ensured by the consultation obligation defined in the Austrian constitution, especially vis-à-vis the parliament, the federal provinces and communities, the interest groups and the public. European issues feature prominently on the daily agenda of Austria’s foreign policy; after all, it is important that Austrian interests and positions are pursued further at the European level in the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defense Policy.

These EU policy areas include above all initiatives in the multilateral field, such as initiatives to protect civilians in armed conflicts, strengthening human rights and the rights of minorities, disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Austria held the EU Presidency in the second half of 1998 and the first six months of 2006. Twenty years after Austria’s accession to the European Union, numerous studies provide impressive proof that the Austrian economy has significantly profited from its involvement in the EU internal market, which is also reflected by the creation of jobs. As some 70% of Austria’s foreign trade is with EU member states, the internal market offers significant savings for the Austrian economy.

Since Austria’s accession in 1995, exports have tripled and 13,000 new jobs have been created per year. There is no doubt that Austria’s economy would not have been able to benefit from the opportunities created by the enlargement without its membership in the EU and the accession to the Monetary Union, and it would also have been hit much harder by the consequences of the economic and financial crisis.

The citizens particularly benefit from the numerous advantages and facilities that have become integral parts of our lives – travelling through a Europe without borders, studying in other member states in the framework of EU exchange programs, benefitting from the common currency and having the right to settle in any EU member state.

Read more about Austria's European policy