The major EU enlargement of 2004 was a tremendous political and economic challenge as well as a vast success for the EU: It has led to greater stability and prosperity in Europe. Austrian businesses have seized the investment opportunities in the Central and Eastern European countries (CEEC) earlier than their international competitors so that Austrian direct foreign investments took already place at the closing phase of the EU accession negotiations. The Austrian National Bank reports for instance that Austrian direct investments in the Central and Eastern Europe countries (CEEC) have increased from 0.4 billion Euros in 1990 to 60,3 billion Euros in 2014. With the accession of the CEEC to the EU, the dynamic development of Austrian foreign trade received another impetus. Austrian exports to the new EU Member States have nearly doubled since their accession. According to the Austrian Economic Chamber, they increased from 11.3 billion Euros in 2003 to almost 22 billion in 2015. Exports in the five countries in the immediate neighborhood in Central and Eastern Europe increased to 19 billion Euros.
As a relatively small economy, Austria hence benefits strongly from access to a larger market without trade barriers. The Austrian Institute of Economic Research calculated that the expansion of trade opportunities with Eastern European countries, combined with EU enlargement, led to an additional economic growth of almost 20 billion Euros and the creation of some 130.000 additional jobs.
Austria strongly supports the European perspective for all countries of the Western Balkans. Austria is the largest foreign investor in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and among the top foreign investors in the remaining countries of the region. Growth and prosperity require a sound economic environment and reliable political and legal structures. Experience has taught us that the perspective of EU membership is a crucial motor for transformation and stabilization in the countries of the Western Balkans. In the framework of the accession process, Austria supports institution-building based upon European values such as democracy, rule of law, human and minority rights.