Famous for its spectacular mountain scenery, Austria is no longer the dominant political force it was in Central Europe under the Habsburg dynasty which ruled until the first world war.
However, its position at the geographical heart of Europe on the key Danube trade route enhances its strategic importance.
After being joined to Nazi Germany from 1938-1945, Austria was occupied by the Allies, who divided up the country and the capital Vienna into separate sectors.
However, the 1955 State Treaty – signed by the Allies – guaranteed Austria’s unity, ensuring it did not suffer Germany’s fate of being split between the Soviets and the Western Cold War blocs.
In return, Austria declared permanent neutrality, to which it still adheres.
There were some questions surrounding this when two thirds of voters supported EU membership in a referendum in 1994 and entry followed in 1995.
The entry into Austria’s coalition government of the far-right Freedom Party in February 2000 sent shockwaves across Europe. Austria’s relations with the EU were severely strained after some states imposed sanctions in protest. These were lifted some months later.
The capital, Vienna, is home to key international organisations, including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Opec, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Austria has a very rich cultural heritage. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart occupies a place of his own as composer of some of the best loved European classical music while the works of Franz Schubert enjoy great popularity too.
In the world of philosophy and ideas, Sigmund Freud still provokes controversy while Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of the major influences in 20th century thinking. In fine art, the paintings of Gustav Klimt are widely admired.