Politicians Debate Austrian Foreign Policy in Times of Global Change

PeoplePoliticians ♦ Published: July 8, 2024; 23:56 ♦ (Vindobona)

Austrian foreign policy was the focus of a topical debate with Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg during the Federal Council session. Under the title "Austria's Foreign Policy in a Time of Global Change", the Federal Councillors discussed the challenges and direction of Austrian neutrality as well as the integration of the Western Balkans into the European Union.

The debate in the Austrian Parliament highlighted the diverse views on Austrian foreign policy and the need for a clear strategy in a rapidly changing world. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / Gryffindor, CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Austrian foreign policy is largely shaped by the party affiliation of the government. Each party has its views and priorities concerning international relations. Especially now, in times of global change, foreign policy in Austria is being discussed again and again. Austria's foreign policy despite being strongly shaped by the governing parties and domestic politics, with pro-European and economic interests dominating.  The Federal Council, the second chamber of the Austrian parliament, plays a crucial role in Austrian foreign policy. It represents the federal states and examines and approves bills passed by the National Council.

The Council has specific functions in foreign policy, including involvement in legislative proposals, representation of federal states, participation in the European Union, control and consultation, and cooperation with the National Council. Its involvement in legislation, representation of federal states, involvement in EU policy, control function, and cooperation with the National Council ensure that Austria's foreign policy takes into account the interests and concerns of the entire nation. The Federal Council's indirect influence on Austria's foreign policy direction is significant, as it can delay or prevent legislation if rejected.

Austria's nine federal states have distinct political, economic, and foreign policy tendencies. Vienna, the capital, has a strong international focus, supporting open borders and multicultural integration. Lower Austria, surrounded by Vienna, supports agricultural and viticulture initiatives, while Upper Austria, an industrially strong state, supports trade and economic cooperation. Styria, known for its industrial and agricultural sectors, supports free trade and environmental protection. Tyrol, Salzburg, Carinthia, Vorarlberg, and Burgenland all have pro-European tendencies, promoting regional cooperation, economic integration, and sustainable development. This diversity contributes to Austria's complex foreign policy.

Although the pro-European stance is visible in all federal states, there are still small, subtle differences in general foreign policy, especially in economic foreign relations. This makes a joint debate on this all the more important. New appointments and new voices in the debate are also the order of the day in the Federal Council. Manuela-Anna Sumah-Vospernik (NEOS) from Vienna was sworn in as a new Federal Councillor at the beginning of the meeting. She succeeds Karl-Arthur Arlamovsky, who is now a member of the National Council for the NEOS. Elisabeth Grossmann (SPÖ) from Styria said goodbye to the Federal Council and will move to the European Parliament in July.

ÖVP: Building bridges and promoting dialog

Christine Schwarz-Fuchs (ÖVP) emphasized the need for a resolute foreign policy in a changing world in which Austria is heavily dependent on global developments. She emphasized the role of neutrality in securing peace and warned of the danger of nuclear war. Christian Buchmann (ÖVP) added that foreign policy also contributes to the development of prosperity and that Austria, as an export-oriented country, is dependent on multilateral cooperation. About the Western Balkans, he emphasized the need for stability to avoid unstable conditions.

The Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) is traditionally a pro-European party that strongly supports European integration. It sees membership in the European Union as an important pillar of Austrian foreign policy and emphasizes the benefits of closer economic and political cooperation within the EU. The ÖVP attaches great importance to good relations with the USA and NATO member states, although Austria is officially neutral and not a NATO member. These transatlantic relations are seen as essential for security and economic stability. Another central aspect of ÖVP foreign policy is economic diplomacy. The promotion of trade and economic relations is a priority to keep Austrian companies internationally competitive and to strengthen the domestic economy.

SPÖ: Bringing conflict partners together

Stefan Schennach (SPÖ) criticized the lack of an ambitious foreign policy and called for conflicting parties to be brought together to enable dialogue. He spoke out clearly in favor of full EU membership for the Western Balkan states and emphasized the importance of neutrality as Austria's greatest asset in terms of foreign and security policy. Elisabeth Grossmann (SPÖ) emphasized that neutral states are important for the EU.

The Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) also supports European integration and emphasizes the importance of the social dimension of the EU. It advocates an EU that focuses on social justice and solidarity. The SPÖ often emphasizes Austria's neutrality and sees this as an important part of national identity and foreign policy. This neutrality should enable Austria to play a role as a mediator and peacemaker in international conflicts. The SPÖ also attaches great importance to human rights and development cooperation. It advocates Austria's strong participation in international aid projects and the promotion of human rights worldwide.

FPÖ: Neutrality hangs "by a thread"

Markus Leinfellner (FPÖ) spoke of a "total failure" in foreign policy and said that Austria's neutrality and energy supply was "hanging by a thread". He called for Austria to play an active role in peace negotiations and criticized the supposed dependence of foreign policy on external powers. Andreas Arthur Spanring (FPÖ) added that the current foreign policy was at best inadequate and at worst "dangerously naive".

The Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) often takes a populist and critical stance towards the European Union and calls for more national sovereignty. The FPÖ often sees the EU as a threat to national identity and independence and rejects deeper integration. It attaches great importance to Austria's neutrality and strictly rejects membership of NATO. The FPÖ emphasizes that Austria should stay out of military alliances to preserve its independence. Another central point of the FPÖ's foreign policy is its strict immigration policy. The party calls for strong border controls and a restrictive immigration policy to guarantee national security and protect cultural identity.

Greens: Stay true to European values

Adi Gross (Greens) emphasized the challenges posed by global power shifts and the need for a foreign policy that remains true to European values. He called for a reduction in dependence on Russian energy and an acceleration of the EU accession process for the Western Balkan states. Marco Schreuder (Greens) called for a clear pro-European signal in the Western Balkans and the development of a clear "China strategy".

The Greens are a strongly pro-European party that supports European integration, especially concerning environmental and climate policy. They see the EU as a crucial instrument for combating climate change and promoting sustainable development. The Greens' foreign policy has a strong focus on environmental policy, human rights, and sustainable development. They advocate a foreign policy that promotes environmental sustainability and social justice. The Greens emphasize the importance of disarmament and civil conflict resolution and oppose military intervention. They strive for a peaceful and cooperative international order based on dialog and cooperation.

NEOS: Functioning of the UN essential for Austria

In her first speech, Manuela-Anna Sumah-Vospernik (NEOS) spoke about the nostalgic feelings that neutrality arouses in many Austrians and emphasized the importance of the UN for Austria. She criticized Russia's blockade of the UN Security Council and emphasized that a functioning UN system was essential for Austria.

NEOS is a strongly pro-European party that advocates deeper integration of the EU. They see the European Union as an important means of promoting democracy, the rule of law, and economic prosperity. NEOS supports free trade agreements and international economic relations to strengthen the Austrian economy and create jobs. Its foreign policy is modern and future-oriented, with a strong focus on digitalization, education, and innovation. NEOS is committed to a foreign policy that makes Austria a pioneer in these areas and strengthens international relations through technological and economic progress.

Dangerous "systemic competition"

Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg warned of a "systemic competition" between democratic and autocratic models of life. Only 20% of countries worldwide had a democratic model of life, which was a fire hazard for Austria. He emphasized the importance of international law and treaties for Austria's security and highlighted Austria's role as an active politician of values and neutrality. Schallenberg also emphasized the importance of distinguishing between victims and perpetrators and expressed his gratitude for the cross-party support for the Western Balkans.

Austrian Parliament