Austria. Former Minister of the Interior and European Parliamentarian Ernst Strasser was sentenced in January to four years in prison for bribery. Strasser, who was a member of the Conservative People’s Party (OVP), was convicted of offering lobbying services in the European Parliament for compensation.
The first nationwide referendum in Austria was held in January. The Social Democrats, the largest of the ruling parties, advocated the dismantling of the general military duty, but close to 60% of voters voted to retain it.
According to Countryaah, Gerald Klug became the new Minister of Defense in March, when Norbert Darabos resigned to lead the Social Democratic SPÖ’s election campaign ahead of the September parliamentary elections.
When regional elections were held in Carinthia in March, the SPÖ again became the largest party, following a dramatic fall for the right-wing populists who have ruled since 2009. The Federation for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) then received 45% of the votes while the Kärnten Freedom Party (FPK), which since replaced BZÖ, now received only 17%. Internal fragmentation and corruption scandals contributed to the case. Carinthia was the home ground for Jörg Haider, the forefront of Austrian right-wing extremism. He passed away in 2008.
At an EU summit in May, Austria basically agreed to ease its banking secrecy, after a decade of pressure and negotiations with the EU. The EU demanded the exchange of information on account holders from other countries in order to prevent tax evasion.
In the parliamentary elections in September, both government parties lost SPÖ and ÖVP votes. SPÖ received support of just under 27% and ÖVP of 24%. The result was the worst since World War II for both parties, which often ruled together in a so-called large coalition. Together, they received 99 of 183 seats in the National Council and thus retained their own majority.
Several smaller parties moved forward instead. The xenophobic Freedom Party (FPÖ), the party Haider first founded, was supported by every fifth voter and increased from 34 to 40 seats. At the same time, BZÖ ended up under the four percent block and became without a mandate. The Green Party also grew and two newly formed parties took place in Parliament: the EU-skeptical Team Stronach and the liberal New Austria.
After the election, ÖVP’s leader, Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, opened up to form a marked right-wing government with FPÖ and Team Stronach. But President Heinz Fischer commissioned Chancellor and Social Democrat Werner Faymann to re-form government.
Spindelegger now became finance minister and only 27-year-old Sebastian Kurz took over the post of foreign minister.
In the spring of 1945, Soviet troops moved into eastern Austria and conquered Vienna on April 13, while the western parts of the country were occupied by Westernized forces. The Allies had since 1943 had a restored Austrian republic as one of their war aims. They therefore immediately allowed the organization of an Austrian government made up of Social Democrats (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, SPÖ), representatives of the Austrian People’s Party (Austrian People’s Party, ÖVP), a continuation of the former Christian Socialist Party, and Communists (Communist Party Österreich Österreich). The government was led by Social Democrat Karl Renner. The Constitution of 1920 was put into effect again. However, the country was abandoned The Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945 under occupation management and was divided into a Soviet, an American, a British and a French zone, while the capital Vienna was given its own zoning. The supreme power was to be exercised by the Allies’ control council.
The next task was to reorganize the country, economically and politically. Economic reconstruction was hampered by Soviet claims for damages, but on the other hand, it was facilitated by United Nations assistance and Marshall U.S. aid. In the first few years after the end of the war, some nationalizations took place in the commodities and energy sectors, but in the 1950s a return to more consistent market management took place in parallel with a tight budgetary policy, which laid the foundation for an economic upswing. In November 1945, the first election was held for the National Council. ÖVP became the largest party (85 seats), closely followed by SPÖ (76 seats); KPÖ received 4 seats. A unifying government of all parties was formed with Leopold Figl (ÖVP) as Chancellor, while Renner became president.
The outbreak of the Cold War caused the Communists to lose their political foothold and to leave the government, which in 1947-66 was based on a “big coalition” between the roughly equal ÖVP and SPÖ. Federal Chancellors were consistently taken from the bourgeois OVP, while the Vice Chancellor was a Social Democrat. A new political force was created in the mid-1950s through the Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ), which challenged the ruling parties from the right.
Political bailout proved to be an asset when it came to removing remaining restrictions on national sovereignty. This goal was reached on May 15, 1955, by the agreement of the Western powers and the Soviet Union to grant Austria a state treaty, which terminated the occupation on condition that the country pledged to constant neutrality under international guarantee and pledged not to agree to a reunification with Germany. In October 1955, the last occupation soldiers left Austria, which was also admitted to the UN and joined the Council of Europe (1956), later also by EFTA (1960), while relations with the EC were regulated by a trade agreement for reasons of neutrality (1973).
Since the events in Eastern Europe 1989-90 created a new international situation, it became possible for Austria to participate fully in European integration work. In 1989, Austria applied for membership in the EU, and in June 1994 a clear majority voted in a referendum for an Austrian entry. The regained international confidence expressed by the State Treaty was also reflected in the agreement with Italy on the rights of the German-speaking minority in the South Tyrol reached in 1969, as well as in the transfer of the International Atomic Energy Agency to Vienna. At the political level, Austria, under the leadership of the Social Democrat Bruno Kreisky (Foreign Minister 1959-66, Chancellor 1970-83) seemed purposeful for international relaxation.
In domestic politics, a new phase began in 1966, when Josef Klaus (ÖVP) was able to form the first one-party government after the war. His role was taken over in 1970 by Bruno Kreisky, who until 1983 mastered the political scene in Austria as leader of one-party social democratic governments, from 1971 supported on his own majority. He combined economic stability and social reform will in a way that instilled confidence in civil circles as well, and carried out, among other things, significant criminal law reform. After Kreisky lost his majority in 1983, he resigned for party partner Fred Sinowatz (1929–2008), who led a coalition government between SPÖ and ÖVP until 1986, when the battle over Kurt Waldheim’s the presidency and alleged participation in war crimes blasted the political idyll of Austria.
The November election in November 1986 led to social democratic losses and successes for the FPÖ and a new political group, The Green Alternative (die Grüne Alternative), which won sympathies by opposing the expansion of nuclear energy. The result was a new “big coalition” between SPÖ and ÖVP under Social Democrat Franz Vranitzky. His government had to contend with new problems when it increased immigration, especially from the former Yugoslavia, elicited an xenophobia which took on malignant expressions and was used aggressively by the FPÖ under Jörg Haider.
The 1999 election meant that FPÖ with Haider in the leadership reached more than one in four voters, which made the party’s success throughout the 1990s unparalleled in Western Europe. Politician disdain and skillfully organized electoral movements can partly explain the party’s success. But Austria’s inability to deal with its past – the Anschluss period 1938–45 – must be taken into account. For more than five decades, SPÖ and ÖVP were guarantors of modernization and economic growth, and together they shared political power between them. This stable and distinctive political culture, the shared hegemony, was considerably weakened by the successes of right-wing populism.