The head of state is a president, elected every six years by popular vote. The President chooses the chancellor, traditionally the leader of the largest party in the elections for parliament.
The Austrian parliament consists of two chambers, the Bundesrat, which consists of 64 representatives of the states, based on population, and the Nationalrat, which has 183 directly-elected members.
After three decades of social-democratic (SPÖ) participation in government, a right-wing coalition was formed in 2000, consisting of the conservative People's Party (ÖVP) and the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ). However, after some turmoil within the FPÖ concerning party policy and leadership, Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel (ÖVP) announced on September 9, 2002 that general elections would be held prematurely at the end of November.
In the elections of November 24, 2002, the ÖVP won a landslide victory (42.3% of the vote), whereas the FPÖ was reduced to a mere 10.1%.
The current Austrian parliament (Nationalrat, 183 seats) is made up as follows:
On February 28, 2003, the coalition between the ÖVP and the FPÖ was continued, again with Wolfgang Schüssel (ÖVP) as Federal Chancellor. His Vice Chancellor was Herbert Haupt (FPÖ) until replaced by Hubert Gorbach (FPÖ) on October 20, 2003.
Prior to that, long-lasting "probing talks" ("Sondierungsgespräche") took place between the ÖVP and the other major parties FPÖ, SPÖ and the Green Party.
Austria's west and south are situated in the Alps, making it a well-known winter sports destination. The highest mountain is the Grossglockner, at 3798 meters above sea level, followed by the Wildspitze (3774 m).
The north and east of the country are mostly rolling terrain. The climate is temperate, with cold winters and cool summers.
Austria, with its well-developed market economy and high standard of living, is closely tied to other European Union economies, especially Germany's.
Membership in the EU has drawn an influx of foreign investors attracted by Austria's access to the single European market and proximity to EU aspirant economies.
Slow growth in Germany and elsewhere in the world affected Austria, slowing its growth to 1.2% in 2001.
To meet increased competition from both EU and Central European countries, Austria will need to emphasize knowledge-based sectors of the economy, continue to deregulate the service sector, and lower its tax burden.
German-Austrians, by far the country's largest ethnic group, form between 85% and 89% of Austria's population. Around ten percent of Austria's people are of non-Austrian descent, many from surrounding countries, especially from the former East Bloc nations.
The Austrian federal states of Carinthia and Styria are home to a significant (indigenous) Slovenian minority with around 18,000 members. So-called guest workers (gastarbeiter) and their descendants also form an important minority group in Austria.
The official language, German, is spoken by almost all residents of the country. Austria's mountainous terrain lead to the development of many distinct German dialects. All of the dialects in the country, however, belong to Austro-Bavarian groups of German dialects, with the exception of the dialect spoken in its west-most Bundesland, Vorarlberg, which belongs to the group of Alemannic dialects.
There is also a distinct grammatical standard for Austrian German with a few significant differences to the German spoken in Germany.
More than three-quarters of Austrians are Roman Catholic.
Other important religions are Islam and Protestantism. Jews have lived in the areas that now form the Republic of Austria for centuries. A large portion of Austria's Jewish community emigrated during the 1930s and most of the remaining Jewish community was murdered during the holocaust. In 1930, Austria was home to at least 100,000 Jews. Today, estimates place the size of Austria's small but growing Jewish community between 10,000 and 20,000.