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Austria [Österreich]

Austria
Head of State
 President Thomas Klestil
Head of Government Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel
Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner
Area 83,855 km2
Population 8.1 million
Capital Vienna
Language German
Currency Euro
Per capita GDP € 24,404
GDP growth 1.1% (2001)

Constitution - Domestic politics

Austria is a federal republic. The head of state is the president and the government is led by the federal chancellor. The national parliament has two houses: the Bundesrat (upper house), with 64 members appointed by the state parliaments; and the Nationalrat (lower house), which has 183 members elected by proportional representation.

Schussel led his People's Party to its biggest electoral success in two decades in the November 2002 parliamentary elections. His coalition partner for over two and a half years, the far-right Freedom Party, took just 10.2% of the vote, compared to Schussel’s 42.3%. However, the People's Party did not win enough votes to form a government on its own and efforts are currently being made to form a new coalition.

Schussel drew strong criticism at home and abroad when his party formed a coalition with the Freedom Party in 2000. However, the coalition collapsed when three Freedom Party members resigned in an internal row over the party's role in government.

Economy

Austria's GDP per head (in terms of PPP) was 10% higher than the EU average in 1999, making it the fourth richest country in the Community. The most important sector of the economy is services, which account for two-thirds of employment and 62% of output. Industry (including construction) accounts for approximately 35% of GDP, while the agricultural sector for just 1.3%.

Austria's main resources are its skilled labour force and good industrial relations. The country is also a popular tourist destination. With a small domestic market, Austrian companies have had to look to export markets for expansion. The main exports include machinery, metals, paper, textiles, food and livestock.

Austria participates fully in the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and introduced the euro on 1 January 2002. The new government will most likely continue efforts to stabilise the budget and reduce the government debt.

Foreign policy

In the period after World War II and until the break-up of the Eastern bloc, Austria served as a bridge between East and West. Following the break-up, the country had to redefine its international role and Austria became a full member of the European Union in 1995. Although Austria has preserved its neutral status in geopolitical terms, government policy has in recent years taken Austria closer to NATO.

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