Austria – recognised around the world for its mountain villages, baroque architecture, Imperial history and rugged Alpine terrain – has fallen three places to 17. Politically, it’s been a rollercoaster year. The Conservative’s Sebastian Kurz became the world’s youngest head of government, and at 31, the first millennial to lead a European Union state. But his victory wasn’t all smooth sailing. Riding the global wave of migration hysteria, Austrians handed the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) the third largest share of the vote, and Kurz was forced to form a coalition with this popular party. Austria’s criticism of key allies and institutions like Germany and the European Union – and the fact that it is one of the few countries in Western Europe with a far-right presence in government – may impact on its reputation for stability and tolerance. But for now, these events haven’t affected Austria’s performance in the Government sub-index. Austria enjoys an enviable tourism industry, sitting just outside the top-10 for tourist arrivals. It’s not hard to see why. Vienna was this year named the world’s most liveable city for the ninth year in a row, thanks in no small part to its rich history and culture. Vienna is the birthplace of café society; home to one of the greatest art collections in Europe; and as the birthplace of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, boasts an impressive philharmonic.
Once again, Austria’s strongest performance is in the Digital sub-index, sitting comfortably inside the top-10. The appeal of Kurz’s youthfulness has translated abroad, and he is widely engaged with on social media by international audiences. Austria also has strong digital infrastructure and high internet penetration rates.
The Alpine country falls behind many of its European neighbours in the international polling. The election of a far-right party to power – and the government’s hard line towards immigration – may have impacted on global perceptions. Austria would benefit from a concerted push to promote its many other soft power assets, from its natural scenery to its cultural scene that blends history and contemporary.
Vienna is one of the most important headquarters of international organisations, from the Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC) to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Vienna would do well to leverage this important role – in the same way that Belgium has – to raise its international profile and improve positive perceptions abroad.