Country and People
Austria lies in southern Central Europe and encompasses both the Eastern Alps, which cover almost two-thirds of its territory, and the Danube region. The surface area is 83,858 km² (32,378 square miles). Because of its location, the country has always been a crossroads between the great economic and cultural regions of Europe. Austria has common borders with eight countries: Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Austria is a federal republic comprised of nine independent Federal Provinces: Burgenland, Carinthia, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Tyrol, Vorarlberg and Vienna.
This European heartland is home to a wide variety of landscapes, climates and flora. Austria’s landscapes include major and minor mountain ranges, hills and plains. The foothills of the Alps and Carpathian Mountains, the Vienna Basin and parts of Austria’s share of the Pannonian plains in the east are the most important areas of settlement and economic activity. The country’s highest mountain is the Grossglockner (3,797m or 12,457 feet), and the most important river is the Danube, which flows across Austria for some 350 km (210 miles).
Austria lies in a temperate climatic zone with the influence of a moderate Atlantic climate felt more strongly in the west and northwest while the east reflects a more continental climate. Precipitation levels drop significantly from west to east and rise with altitude. The diversity of topographical and climatic conditions results in a wide variety of flora and fauna. Austria is one of Europe’s most heavily wooded countries (47% of total area).
Austria’s population figure broke the eight million mark just before the new millennium. According to Statistics Austria, the population in 2010 was 8.3 million. Population growth in recent years is attributable on the one hand to the positive birth rates in several Federal Provinces (Vorarlberg, Tyrol, Upper Austria) and on the other hand to rising immigration. However, there has been a declining trend in immigration in recent years. The percentage share of citizens of EU Member States, especially Germany and Italy, who are moving to Austria is higher than that of immigration from non-EU countries. The share of Austrians not born in Austria is 18.6% and thus higher than in the USA, the classical land of immigration. Comparing all the Federal Provinces, the capital Vienna has had the highest population increase. As of 1 January 2011, the share of foreigners living in Austria was 11%. The average mother in Austria has 1.4 children.
According to figures provided by Statistics Austria 2001, almost 82,000 Austrians spoke a language of one of the officially recognised ethnic minorities.
The six recognised ethnic minorities in Austria live in five Federal Provinces. Burgenland is home to Croats and Hungarians, many of whom have moved to Vienna. Slovenes live in the Gail, Rosen and Jaun valleys of southern Carinthia as well as in several villages in southern Styria. Czechs and Slovaks live in Vienna and in Lower Austria, particularly in the March and Tullnerfeld areas. Roma and Sinti, who were recognised as an ethnic group in 1993, live mainly in Burgenland and Vienna.
The Ethnic Groups Act of 1976 only recognises members of indigenous (autochthonous) ethnic groups, a term that applies to Austrian citizens whose families have been living in Austria for at least three generations.
In 2010, mean life expectancy was 83.2 for women and 77.7 years for men.
According to the census of 2001, Roman Catholics make up 73.6% of the population while 4.7% are Protestant (mainly Augsburg Confession). The number of Muslims has risen to 4.2%, mainly because of immigration over the past decade. Some 3.5% of the Austrian population belong to another faith, 12% do not belong to any denomination or religion, and 2% provided no information.
The Austrian State guarantees the following rights to legally recognised churches and religious communities:
- Public worship
- Exclusivity (legal protection of name, exclusive pastoral responsibility for members)
- Status as a public-law corporation
- Autonomous organisation and administration of "internal" affairs
- Protection of institutions, foundations and funds against secularisation
- Establishment of denominational private schools
- Provision of religious instruction at public schools
Legal recognition makes a church or religious community a legal entity under public law whose standing is that of a public-law corporation.
One characteristic of such public-law corporations is their assumption of missions in the public interest. In addition to their religious mission, these include social, societal and politico-cultural duties that serve the common good.