Relations between Austria and Germany are close, due to the common history, German being the official language and Germans being the largest ethnic group of both countries. Both countries are members of the European Union.
Austria and Germany have been united at various points in history, most recently from 1938 to 1945 under the Third Reich.
The Holy Roman Empire to German Unification
Throughout the middle and early modern ages, the Holy Roman Empire (HRE) encompassed all of Germany, including Austria. The House of Habsburg became the ruling family of the Empire in 1440; it would remain so for the rest of the Empire's existence. Austria was the Habsburg's seat of power, and it was the dominant state in the realm. The numerous states of Germany (within the HRE) constantly jostled for power and influence and often warred against each other. In the 18th century, the Kingdom of Prussia rose as another power in the HRE, and became Austria's main rival for dominance in Germany. Prussia and Austria fought a series of wars over the province of Silesia.
During the Napoleonic Wars, Austria and Prussia were allied against the French Empire. Francis II, the Holy Roman Emperor, proclaimed the Austrian Empire, dissolving the Holy Roman Empire shortly thereafter. The remaining German States became clients of the French Empire and comprised the Confederation of the Rhine. After Napoleon's defeat, the German Confederation was created as a new association of German States and the ideology Pan-Germanism started to arise. Under the Confederation, Germany lacked a monarch, a central government and any real unifying force. As a result, Prussia and Austria struggled to unite Germany under their different proposals. Austria hoped to unite the German states in a union centered on, and dominated by, Austria. Prussia hoped to unite the German states but excluding Austria. Prussia succeeded in creating a German Customs Union, and after the Austro-Prussian War, a new North German Confederation, both of which formed around Prussia and excluded Austria. The German Confederation was dissolved, excluding Austria from German affairs. In 1871, Germany was unified as a nation-state when the German Empire was proclaimed.
In the Middle Ages Austria was a quasi-independent state within the Holy Roman Empire, ruled by the House of Habsburg, while the Kingdom of Hungary was a sovereign state outside the empire. In 1526 at the Battle of Mohács, Hungary was defeated and largely conquered by the Ottoman Empire. The crown of Hungary was inherited by the Habsburgs, with part of the kingdom preserved from the Ottomans, who were subsequently driven out of Hungary in 1699. From 1526 to 1806, Austria and Hungary were in a “union of crowns”, having the same ruler but remaining two countries. In the 18th century, Hungary was legally subordinated to Austria, though remaining nominally sovereign. In 1804–6, the Holy Roman Empire was abolished, and the Austrian Empire was created. The Austrian Empire included Hungary as a constituent state, no longer sovereign. This was resented by the Hungarian people, or Magyars. Nationalist sentiment among the Magyars and other peoples of the region threatened the stability of the state and the power of the Austrian elite.
After the war Austria lost its many non-ethnic German territories and was reduced to a rump state called The Republic of German-Austria which declared "German-Austria is a component of the German Republic". The vast majority in the state wanted unification with new German republic but this was strictly forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. On September 1, 1920, an economic agreement was concluded between the two countries. After Austrian-born Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, he demanded the right to Anschluss or union between Austria and Germany. This was initially blocked by the Italian government under Benito Mussolini, who cooperated with his Austrian counterparts Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt Schuschnigg, fearing that a German occupation of Austria would lead to territorial demands on the former Austrian territories annexed by Italy after WWI. It was under Italian pressure that on July 11, 1936, the German and Austrian governments signed a friendship agreement in which the German Reich renounced all claims to Austria. Later, however, Hitler and Mussolini developed closer ties and Hitler committed to refrain from any territorial demands in Italy. As a result, Mussolini decided to abandon the policy of protecting Austrian independence. In March 1938, the German army took Austria without meeting any resistance.
In late April 1945, a provisional Austrian government led by Karl Renner declared the country's regained independence. Austria's democratic constitution was reinstated, and later that year elections paved the way for a new federal government, with Leopold Figl as the Chancellor of Austria. The former Germany remained a territory controlled by the Allied Forces until 1949 when both the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic emerged as new German states.
Since the end of the Second World War there has been no serious effort to unite the two countries again, and the Austrian State Treaty forbids the union between the two countries. Indeed, no mainstream political party in either country officially advocates political union. One reason for this is Austria's constitutional commitment to neutrality was (and is) in contrast to West Germany's commitment to being an active member of NATO. Moreover, the mainstream view that has been established in Austria since World War II is that the Austrians have developed their own distinct national identity. Unlike earlier in the 20th century, in 1987 only 6 percent of Austrians identified themselves as "Germans". Today over 90 percent of Austrians see themselves as an independent nation.[clarification needed] Indeed, views that promote a stronger identification with Germany or reunification are often associated with the far right or even Neo-Nazism within Austria. However, economic and political ties between the two states have been strong and mostly amicable since the postwar period. Relations were further strengthened through Austria's accession to the European Union in 1995 and the establishment of the Eurozone (of which both states are founding members) in 1999.
- Text in League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. 4, pp. 202-249.