April 13. 2024. 5:31

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Experts call for debate about Austria’s neutrality

Ninety experts and public figures called for a reorientation of Austrian security policy in an open letter, criticising that the nation remains out of military conflicts one year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In May of last year, 40 experts demanded a rethink of the country’s security policy in an open letter to the Austrian government.

Now they followed up with a second letter as none of their suggestions were implemented, with Austrian politician and First Vice-President of the European Parliament Othmar Karas (EPP) being among the 90 signatories.

They said that important questions about the future of Austria, Europe and the international order are being neglected, while Sweden and Finland have applied to join NATO and countries cautious towards Russia, such as Germany and the Czech Republic, are delivering “weapons worth several billion euros” to Ukraine.

“At the same time, Austria is acting as if the world had stopped on 23 February 2022,” the letter says. “Many Austrians still seem to believe or hope that nothing has really changed for our country, that we can stay out of all military conflicts and protect ourselves in the foreseeable future.”

The recently decided increased military spending of €16 billion until 2027 would not solve any of the strategic issues as the Austrian Armed Forces would still be “unprepared to seriously defend the homeland and stand by other EU states as actually promised,” according to the experts, who are also demanding better equipment of Austrian intelligence services.

Neutrality not up for debate

For Karas’ party colleague, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, the debate about neutrality has long been considered finished.

“Austria was neutral, Austria is neutral, Austria will remain neutral,” he said in March last year after the beginning of the war in Ukraine, stressing the fact would not even be up for debate.

Austria’s neutrality is enshrined in the Austrian constitution and part of the country’s post-World War II identity, while it had a rather Russia-friendly attitude in the past. In April, Nehammer also visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to have a diplomatic conversation, a move that has been strongly criticised.

Austrian Defence Minister Klaudia Tanner stressed that Austria had supported all EU sanctions against Russia since the war started.

“It is important to emphasise that while we are militarily neutral according to our constitution and legal regulations, we are certainly not politically neutral when it comes to Ukraine,” she told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

(Chiara Swaton | EURACTIV.de)