Once the center of power for the large Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austria was reduced to a small republic after its defeat in World War I. Following annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938 and subsequent occupation by the victorious Allies in 1945, Austria's status remained unclear for a decade. A State Treaty signed in 1955 ended the occupation, recognized Austria's independence, and forbade unification with Germany. A constitutional law that same year declared the country's "perpetual neutrality" as a condition for Soviet military withdrawal. The Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 and Austria's entry into the European Union in 1995 have altered the meaning of this neutrality. A prosperous, democratic country, Austria entered the EU Economic and Monetary Union in 1999.
Austria, with its well-developed market economy and high standard of living, is closely tied to other EU economies, especially Germany's. Its economy features a large service sector, a sound industrial sector, and a small, but highly developed agricultural sector. Following several years of solid foreign demand for Austrian exports and record employment growth, the international financial crisis and global economic downturn in 2008 led to a recession that persisted until the third quarter of 2009. Austrian GDP contracted 3.8% in 2009 but saw positive growth of about 2% in 2010. Unemployment has not risen as steeply in Austria as elsewhere in Europe, partly because its government has subsidized reduced working hour schemes to allow companies to retain employees. Such stabilization measures, stimulus initiatives, and the government's income tax reforms pushed the budget deficit to 3.5% of GDP in 2009 and about 5% in 2010, from only about 1.3% in 2008. The international financial crisis caused difficulties for some of Austria's largest banks whose extensive operations in central, eastern, and southeastern Europe faced large losses. The government provided bank support - including in some instances, nationalization - to prevent insolvency and possible regional contagion. In the medium-term all large Austrian banks will need additional capital. Even after the global economic outlook improves, Austria will need to continue restructuring, emphasizing knowledge-based sectors of the economy, and encouraging greater labor flexibility and greater labor participation to offset growing unemployment and Austria's aging population and exceedingly low fertility rate.