Austria Report



Austria’s strategic culture concerning international engagement is evolving towards a more coordinated and coherent approach. However, overall, it continues to be fragmented to a certain degree owing to the various mechanisms of coordination at different levels as well as budgetary regulations. In addition, Austria’s WGA still seems to be inspired to a considerable degree by informal gatherings and personal leadership.
Austria’s Federal Ministries Act (National Council 1986), which sets out the administrative architecture of the ministries, does not explicitly propel inter-ministerial cooperation in a WGA sense, as it is designed to delineate competencies between the various ministries (i.e. to build boundaries rather than bridges). The only body with the power to coordinate all relevant governmental players is the federal chancellor (via the ‘Kompetenz-Kompetenz’ of the Federal Chancellery). This setup legally puts a constraint on the implementation of the full spectrum of WGA. However, policy-wise, Austria’s Comprehensive Security Provision (discussed above) represents a layer of the WGA at the strategic level.
There is a mix of instruments in Austria to support the implementation of its WGA. This includes institutional arrangements (e.g. the Foreign Disaster Relief Fund (AFDRF) managed by the BMEIA, the Austrian Platform of Development and Humanitarian Aid, and evaluations of guidelines and programmes) and ad hoc mechanisms (e.g. pooled funding for Austria’s civil-military engagement in Mali). However, a certain weakness lies in the fact that there is no overarching strategic platform, stabilisation fund or task force. Pooled funding has been met with political resistance and, due to budget-law constraints, a compromise at the inter-ministerial level has yet to be achieved. The humanitarian angle of external engagement (e.g. the AFDRF, for which the federal cabinet makes decisions) reflects an existing imbalance between short-term political decision-making needed to respond to crises and a needs-based human-security approach stressing pre vention tools. A more coherent and strategic approach regarding a transparent, foreseeable and sustainable allocation of financial means would minimise the risk of political instrumentalisation as well as enhance the financial predictability for implementing partners.
As far as the concrete functioning of a WGA-oriented setup is concerned, work on a practical basis can be assessed positively despite constitutional gaps and a certain disconnect that persists between the working and political levels. Moreover, in practice, a compulsory implementation of a WGA is hampered by a certain degree of reluctance, which has prevented full political backing. But since it is a relatively young working method, and one that often depends on engagement by individuals (‘champions’), a WGA would need constant political backing.
International debate contributes to sustaining joint efforts to establish a WGA (e.g. the EUGS, but also the SDGs, the UNDP and World Bank policies). Inter-departmental coordination and the effectiveness and quality of institutional arrangements varies and is predominantly driven by individual leadership as well as the significance of the respective policy for Austria. Furthermore, departments in different ministries with a key role in implementing a WGA are often understaffed, and personnel-training efforts are often undertaken on an ad hoc basis. Indeed, more human resources should be dedicated to a WGA, as more staff could administer more programmes, thereby creating a leverage effect for certain prioritised areas. There is a strong willingness among experts and staff at the working level across the line ministries to implement a WGA, but the necessary political leadership at the strategic level has yet to live up to its full potential.
In conclusion, regarding Austria’s WGA-like approach, the current state of play can be summarised as follows: First, without any doubt, the spirit of a WGA is shared by Austrian stakeholders (especially in the administration) as well as at the level of experts and NGOs. However, a systematic WGA is limited to a certain degree by the existing legal framework (e.g. division of competencies among ministries and the deployment of personnel) as well as by budgetary legislation (i.e. the ‘budget sovereignty’ of the ministries involved). Second, coherence issues under the umbrella of a WGA can and should be improved through a number of measures (e.g. comprehensive political guidance, prioritisation of a WGA at the political level, specialisation of personnel, inter-ministerial trainings and pooled funding) and by having a more consistent institutional framework. Third, enhanced political backing of a WGA could contribute to a more proactive management as well as to higher and more sustained funding to address conflicts and crises. Fourth, prioritisation based on joint assessments and analyses of all stakeholders in given contexts could be improved to substantially promote coherent action. Fifth, strategic communication would be a prerequisite for the successful implementation of a WGA. And, lastly, the establishment of WGA focal points drawing on, for example, expertise from respective country teams in the lead ministries would certainly improve the preparation of joint action, and this work should be interlinked with the NSC and/or the federal cabinet.
Altogether, one can expect that Austria will continue its interactions at the EU level related to further strengthening WGA and comprehensive cooperation and thereby benefit, in turn, from an enhanced WGA at the national level.
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