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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. 

EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland always neutral?

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.  

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).

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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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UKRAINE

REVEALED: What is Austria’s emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

Amid fears about what would happen if gas supplies to Austria were disrupted, the Federal Government has put together a package of measures to create a strategic gas reserve.

REVEALED: What is Austria's emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

It has been well reported that Austria is heavily reliant on Russian natural gas – but what would happen if supplies were suspended or stopped altogether?

Austria sources 80 percent of its gas from Russia, so the country would be seriously impacted if supplies were disrupted due to the war in Ukraine, a breakdown of diplomatic relations or any other unforeseen event. 

This is why the Federal Government has now unveiled a package of measures to protect Austria’s gas reserves in the event of an energy emergency.

READ MORE: ‘An unprecedented situation’: How would a gas embargo impact Austria?

What is in the package?

Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler and Finance Minister Magnus Brunner presented the plans following a meeting in the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, May 18th.

The most important points include an increase of the strategic gas reserve by 7.4 terawatt hours (TWh) to 20 TWh. This would cover Austria’s gas consumption for two winter months but the additional gas would not be sourced from Russia, according to the Kronen Zeitung

Gewessler said: “This measure will significantly reduce dependence on Russian gas.”

Increasing the strategic reserve with non-Russian supplies will reduce Austria’s dependence on Russian gas to 70 percent, Gewessler added.

Additionally, gas storage facilities located in Austria – such as the Haidach facility in Salzburg – must be connected to the Austrian gas grid. Haidach, which is supplied by Gasprom, is currently only connected to Germany’s pipeline network and has not been refilled for some time.

Finally, any unused gas in company storage facilities should be surrendered to the government if needed. Companies will be financially compensated for this.

READ ALSO: Austrian Economy Minister says gas embargo would be ‘red line’

What about next winter?

Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer has already said that gas storage facilities in Austria have to be 80 percent full before the next autumn and winter season.

The storage level is currently at 26 percent, reports Der Standard.

Gewessler also appealed to the Austrian public to make changes to help reduce the dependence on gas for energy, calling for more gas boilers to be replaced with other heating systems.

She said: “Together we are strong and together we can achieve this feat.”

READ MORE: What would an embargo on Russian oil mean for Austria?

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