The latest DAC peer review of Austria (November 1999) once again highlights Austrias poor position of overseas development aid (ODA). This is characterised on the one hand by the small amount of money involved, and on the other by the lack of an overall aid policy and strategy that links all components to a clear set of development objectives.
Total ODA of Austria in 1998 was 0.22 per cent of GNP (410m Euros), compared to 0.26 per cent in 1997. About one-fifth of Austrias ODA still consists of components not primarily targeted at the development of the receiving country (for example, aid for refugees in Austria, indirect study costs in Austria, public export loans). Austria is ranked 16th among the 21 DAC member countries (in per cent of GNP it is only 19th). Under the new rightwing government it is feared this percentage will decrease by a further 20 per cent.
Responsibility for ODA in Austria is spread between 10 ministries. Expenses for humanitarian aid are administered by the Federal Chancellery (Section 1; also responsible for the national disaster management). Austria has no fixed annual budget for humanitarian aid programmes which means that every project has to be approved by the Council of Ministers. There is no overall strategy that links relief efforts to rehabilitation and development programmes in other ministries or departments, and there is no coordination mechanism between these institutions.
The Department of Development Cooperation in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for the administration of the bilateral technical aid budget for development projects and programmes in the south. This budget is the main source of public funding for NGOs. In 1998 it accounted for only 17 per cent of total ODA. In 1992 the department defined seven priority countries (Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Uganda, Mozambique and Bhutan) and 11 cooperation countries for Austrian bilateral aid in order to focus the scarce financial resources. In each of the priority countries there is an Austrian regional office for the coordination of public development cooperation; this has the tendency to strengthen direct relations between the department and southern NGOs through the regional offices as projects in the south are directly financed without the involvement of Austrian NGOs.
All aid programmes for eastern and southeastern Europe and the CIS have been managed by a special Eastern Aid Department in the Federal Chancellery (part of its budget being used for humanitarian aid in this region). The main objective of this portion of ODA is to support the economic and political processes of transformation in the region, concentrating on some priority countries. As of March 2000 the Department for Aid in Eastern and Southeastern Europe will be the responsibility of the Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and no longer in the Federal Chancellery. But there is still no consolidation with the department for development cooperation in the same ministry.
Austria does not have an executing agency for its bilateral projects. NGOs and private companies are the main actors in Austrian bilateral technical aid: the interdependence between the state and NGOs is related to the Austrian model of neo-corporatism which developed in the postwar era and in which all important groups of society are integrated into state decision-making, cooperating in order to achieve consensus and to avoid conflicts. In this context, Austrian NGOs have played an important role in the conception of Austrian bilateral aid. Close formal and informal relations exist between the responsible departments in the ministries and the NGOs.
These still good relationships could be the base for the bottom-up development of a common strategic policy for the whole continuum of relief, rehabilitation and development. An important first step would be the installation of a working-group/round table within the Federal Chancellery, including the most important humanitarian organisations, to develop a proposal for an Austrian humanitarian aid policy. Reportedly, the new head of the responsible department is thinking in that direction. In order to have a durable improvement across the whole sector it will be crucial to unite all activities and planing instruments under one single responsibility and ministry (this could be facilitated by the fact that in the new government the two key ministries for aid programmes Foreign Affairs and Federal Chancellery are in the hands of the same party; this was not the case before) and to increase Austrian ODA expenses towards the 0.7 per cent target.
The realisation of these proposals by the new Austrian government would be a good opportunity to prove that the fears of further restrictions of foreign aid in Austria, and of a xenophobic and racist policy, are unfounded.
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