Regional policy in Austria

Graphic Austria with the headline Regional Policy
Photo: BML

Challenges and priorities of regional policy in Austria. Coordination of the involved public agencies at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management, supported by the Austrian Spatial Planning Conference (ÖROK).

Multiple challenges

Austria’s geography is characterised by a few specificities which significantly influence regional development:

  • A large part of the national territory accounts for mountain areas (Alps, Bohemian Mass). This complicates transport development and makes it more difficult to ensure the environmental compatibility of the economic development.
  • The population and economic activities are extremely unevenly distributed: The dominant conurbation, Vienna, is located on the edge of the national territory. Besides Vienna, there are but few large cities; the share of rural areas having a low population density is very high.
  • All large conurbations are located close to national borders. Cross-border relations are therefore of great importance to regional development.

The framework for the regional and spatial development in Austria is undergoing radical change as a result of the European integration process, the internationalisation or globalisation, the migration and integration of people of other cultural backgrounds -issues which need to be addressed in regional policy, too. Furthermore, the demographic change (ageing of the population) will - in different ways - pose new challenges for regions also in Austria. In addition, regional and spatial planning policy needs to find solutions to our global challenges, for example to climate change and the scarcity of fossil resources.

Priorities of regional policy

Due to the changing challenges of recent decades, new priorities have evolved in Austria’s regional policy:

  • Strengthening the knowledge base and the innovative power of companies, research and training institutions;
  • Facilitation of cross-border economic activities with a strong international character, especially the structural adjustment of enterprises in border regions which find new opportunities of development;
  • Increasing resource and energy efficiency, especially the use of renewable energy sources and new technologies as well as of environmental investments in companies and in the public sector;
  • Equal opportunities, in particular consistent application of the principle of equality of women and men (gender mainstreaming) as well as higher flexibility and qualification of employees, including enterprises.

Political activities are aimed to ensure that Austria designs and intensifies the transition towards a knowledge-based economy and society on a broad scale. New patterns of growth which are more strongly based on knowledge networks and market entries and which extend into the new EU Member States promote the development in Austria. Austria’s regional policy is based on a broad innovation concept which includes technological as well as social, organisational, logistic, financial and personnel management, marketing-related and design-oriented innovations.

It is important to integrate Austrian regions into EU-wide cooperation networks. Another focus is on ensuring that economically depressed regions are linked to and integrated into the centres of innovation and research activities.

Cities and urban regions represent important strategic elements which are of national importance for Austria’s social and economic development. Due to the high density and the large concentration of people and their activities these areas show a particularly dynamic development and therefore have a strong need for coordination in respect of land-use. However, in Austria decisions concerning the development of regions as well as of cities and urban areas are taken by a large number of players on different levels (Federal Government, Provinces, cities and municipalities, economic and social partners, civil society). The Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management organises information exchange and joint opinion-making on the issue of city and urban development between these different levels and players in Austria and presents them as Austria’s positions in the processes taking place on EU level and at the level of international organisations (UN, OECD etc.).

Coordination by the Federal Ministry

The coordination of the various public agencies whose activities have impacts on spatial planning and development is the responsibility of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management, supported by the Austrian Spatial Planning Conference (ÖROK, “Österreichische Raumordnungskonferenz”).

The Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management coordination activities focus on the following priorities of regional policy:

(1) Overall coordination of the European Structural Investment Funds in Austria

  • Representation of Austrian interests at the European Commission as well as in the bodies of the Council of the European Union;
  • Quality assurance (monitoring, continuous evaluation) in programme implementation;
  • Efficient financial management of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF);
  • Information hub between the sponsors of actions on federal, provincial and local level.

(2) Intensifying EU integration through cooperation with other EU Member States

  • Programmes serving the European Territorial Cooperation goal as a concrete implementation of the idea of integration. Supporting programme coordination, in particular with neighbouring countries; transfer of know-how on successful cross-border projects;
  • Coordinating support of other area-related policies in the context of the EU.

(3) Coordination of Austrian interests with a view to the new EU Structural Funds period as from 2021

  • Representation of the Austrian position concerning the ESI Funds, with a focus on simplification and the cutting of red tape.

(4) Innovative impulses for regional policy and regional development in Austria

  • Cooperation with partner institutions from Austria and abroad to elaborate innovative approaches to regional-policy and area-related issues;
  • Launching innovations in the cooperation of administrative bodies and private institutions;
  • Contributions to the new Austrian Spatial Development Concept

The Austrian Conference on Spatial Planning (Österreichische Raumordnungskonferenz, ÖROK)

The Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management is assisted in its area-related coordination activities by the office of the Austrian Spatial Planning Conference, ÖROK. ÖROK was established in 1971 as a joint cooperation platform of the Federal Government, the Provinces, the representatives of special interest groups of the municipalities and the social partners in order to compensate for the missing legal form of coordination procedure in matters of area-related policies.

ÖROK adopts an Austrian Spatial Development Concept on political level. This concept is an important (though not legally binding) reference document for the definition of the most urgent problems and priorities.

The website of the office of the Austrian Spatial Planning Conference (ÖROK) offers general information, orders for the ÖROK publication series and the “ÖROK-Atlas” as well as more detailed information on the ESI Funds.