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UKRAINE

EXPLAINED: Why isn’t Austria in NATO?

Austria's long-standing "neutral" status dictates many of its diplomacy and policies, including when it comes to its military alliances.

A Nato meeting in Brussels. Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY / POOL / AFP
A Nato meeting in Brussels. Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY / POOL / AFP

By now, many people have likely become familiar with the map that shows which European countries are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), an intergovernmental military alliance with 28 European countries and two North American countries. 

In the map, a big white (sometimes grey) area appears right in the middle of Europe: Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland are famously not a part of the alliance. 

Austria’s non-membership comes from its long-standing neutrality.

In 1955, when the last foreign troops left Austria a decade after the end of the Second World War, the parliament adopted the constitutional law on the Neutrality of Austria, committing the country to permanent neutral status.

The law cemented certain provisions from the Austria State Treaty signed by the government and representatives of the allied forces, which paved the way for the foreign armies to leave the country. 

The Treaty, in turn, was largely based on the Moscow Memorandum signed between Austria and the Soviet Union in 1955. Moscow had set Austria’s perpetual neutrality as a condition of the agreement.

As per the Treaty, Austria can’t join a military alliance, allow the establishment of foreign military bases within its borders or participate in a war.  

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The history behind Austria’s neutrality

In other words, as a neutral country, Austria is not allowed to join NATO, which defines itself as a political and military alliance

Nevertheless, the alpine country is a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) organisation, promoting bilateral cooperation. Austria also participates in NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), a forum for dialogue and consultation on political and security-related issues in the Euro-Atlantic region. 

The Austrian military also participates in the United Nations peacekeeping operations and currently has deployments in several countries, including Kosovo (273 soldiers), Lebanon (182) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (174).

Neutral but not silent

Despite Austria’s neutrality, the country still voices opinions and sanctions other countries. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Austria has sent humanitarian help, including defensive equipment and fuel, to Ukrainians.

As a member of the European Union, the country has also adopted severe sanctions against Russia and condemned the Russian military action in the United Nations. 

Before a trip to Kyiv with his counterparts from Slovakia and Czech Republic, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said: “Even if Austria is a neutral state from a military point of view, we are not neutral when it comes to violence. 

“When it comes to the territorial integrity of a sovereign state, we will never remain silent, but always stand up for it resolutely.”

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ENERGY

ENERGY: How Austria has drastically reduced imports of Russian gas

Austria is no longer heavily dependent on Russian gas. How has this happened and how will it impact Austria’s gas supplies this winter? Here’s what you need to know.

ENERGY: How Austria has drastically reduced imports of Russian gas

Austria’s gas supply looks very different today compared to earlier this year when Russia invaded Ukraine.

Back in February, Austria sourced around 80 percent of all gas from Russia, with 10 percent coming from Norway, five percent from Germany and the remainder from other sources.

This put Austria in a delicate position as the EU began placing sanctions on Russia and experts voiced fears about Russia turning off the gas supply to Europe. This also took place at a time when Austria’s gas reserve tanks were only around 12 percent full.

READ MORE: Can British people in Austria claim the winter fuel payment from the UK?

However, as the first snowfall now covers more parts of the country, E-Control (the government regulator for electricity and gas markets) has confirmed that Austria reduced imports of Russian gas to 21 percent in September. 

The country’s gas tanks are also well stocked at just over 95 percent following a mild autumn. Although around a third of the gas belongs to neighbouring countries.

So how did this happen and where is Austria getting gas from now? The Local took a closer look to find out.

How did Austria reduce imports of Russian gas?

The biggest change to how Austria sources natural gas was by booking line capacity on pipelines that flow from Germany and Italy, reported Die Presse.

The gas now flowing to Austria is mostly coming from Norway or is liquefied natural gas (LNG).

At a recent press conference in Vienna, Johannes Schmidt from the Institute for Sustainable Economic Development, said: “Actually, it’s incredible what Europe and Austria in particular have achieved here over the summer.”

Austria’s partially state-owned OMV has also booked 40 terawatt hours (TWh) of gas transport capacity from Norway and non-Russian LNG suppliers for the period from October 2022 to September 2023. This gas is delivered to a tank in Oberkappel, Upper Austria, via Germany.

FOR MEMBERS: What are the rules about turning on the heating in the workplace in Austria?

Additionally, Austria has confirmed LNG shipments from Dubai, which further helps to boost the country’s energy security.

Picture taken on May 3, 2022 shows a general view of the largest Austrian refinery OMV at Schwechat near Vienna, Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

A statement released from the Federal Chancellery said: “The United Arab Emirates are a strategic partner of Austria and will make a contribution to the security of supply with LNG deliveries next winter, as agreed between OMV and the Emirati ADNOC.

“Furthermore, the Austrian and Emirati governments will intensify cooperation on energy issues and climate protection.”

However, purchasing gas from new sources hasn’t been the only tactic to reduce Austria’s dependency on Russian gas.

In July, Austria and Germany finalised a solidarity agreement to secure gas flows between the two countries in the event of an energy crisis. And in September, the Austrian Federal Government launched the “Mission 11” campaign to encourage consumers to save energy. 

Finally, there are long-term plans to expand renewable energy infrastructure across Austria to reduce the overall dependency on natural gas. But the results of this part of the plan will not be seen until the coming years.

READ MORE: How expensive are gas and electricity in Austria right now?

Is Austria’s gas supply now secure?

Experts are positive about Austria’s ability to get through the coming winter without running out of gas.

However, they are now concerned about winter 2023/2024 with plans already being hashed out about how to secure gas supplies next spring and summer to fill up the tanks again.

The procurement of gas has also come at a big cost to Austria with the government spending €3.95 billion alone on securing the recently implemented strategic gas reserve of 20 percent of overall consumption, reports ORF.

And with energy prices set to skyrocket again for the next storage season, it’s likely the Austrian government will have to dig deep into the financial reserves once more in the spring.

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