Tag Archives: NEOs

Häupl holds off far-right threat in Vienna elections

Vienna's Social Democratic mayor, Michael Häupl, has held power since 1994. (Hans Punz/aPA)
Vienna’s Social Democratic mayor, Michael Häupl, has held power since 1994. (Hans Punz/aPA)

Sometimes, what doesn’t happen in an election matters more than what does happen.austria flag

So it was in Vienna on Sunday, when Michael Häupl, the longtime center-left mayor held onto power. That’s not so surprising, because his Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ, Social Democratic Party of Austria) has controlled Vienna’s state government in every election in the postwar era.

What’s more, though polls showed that the far-right Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, Freedom Party of Austria) was trailing the Social Democrats by just 1% in the week before Vienna’s elections, the Freedom Party actually lost by nearly 10%. Though the Freedom Party’s result marks a gain against its prior result in 2010, and its strength is growing amid the backdrop of Europe’s migration and refugee crisis, its failure in Vienna is notable.

vienna election

After an election campaign that pitted Häupl in competition directly with the Freedom Party’s leader Heinz-Christian Strache, the far right’s failure to break through should come as a relief to Austria’s entire political mainstream, of both right and left. Had Strache won the election, it would have shaken the foundations of the grand coalition that governs Austria under Social Democratic chancellor Werner Faymann.

vienna2015

Vienna, aside from being Austria’s capital, is also the country’s largest state, with 1.8 million of Austria’s 8.6 million people, so elections for the Landtag invariably influence the national political climate. Die Grünen (the Greens/Green Alternative), the third-placed party, won enough seats to give the SPÖ-led coalition a majority in the state assembly. Continue reading Häupl holds off far-right threat in Vienna elections

Who is Sebastian Kurz? Meet Austria’s new 27-year-old foreign minister.

sebastiankurz

While most of Europe was watching the birth of Germany’s latest grand coalition government last week, Austria’s grand coalition also finalized its government platform.austria flag

Austria, which has an even stronger tradition of cozy coalition politics between the center-left and the center right, will continue to a coalition that’s comprised of its main center-left party, the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ, Social Democratic Party of Austria) and its main center-right party, the Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP, Austrian People’s Party).

There was very little unexpected news about the coalition deal, which will continue the broadly centrist course of center-left chancellor Werner Faymann’s government.

But the decision to elevate the hunky 27-year-old Sebastian Kurz as Austria’s new foreign minister was something of a shock.  Michael Spindelegger, the ÖVP leader and deputy chancellor, who previously served as foreign minister between 2008 and 2013, will become the government’s new finance minister.

The decision leaves Kurz (pictured above) as one of the world’s youngest political leaders in such a high policymaking role.

So who is this whiz kid?  Kurz became involved in politics at age 10, and by 2009, he was the leader of the youth wing of the Austrian People’s Party.  In 2010, he was elected to the city council of his native Vienna, running under the slogan, ‘Schwarz macht geil‘ (‘Black is cool,’ referring to the color most associated with the People’s Party) in a campaign Hummer that quickly gained the nickname as the ‘Geilomobil‘ (which translates roughly to ‘Horny-mobile’), befitting Kurz’s growing reputation as somewhat of a party animal.  Before you judge him too harshly, however, remember that it was part of a wider push to make the ÖVP more attractive to young voters. And just four months ago, two competing leaders of the Austrian far right both posed shirtless in public.

But by 2011 he was already serving as state secretary for integration, where he impressed skeptics by working to ease the path for the growing number of immigrants to Austria, including through the institution of an extra year of pre-school for immigrant children to learn German.  He helped spearhead a new immigration law in May of this year that clears a path to citizenship for some immigrants within six years.

It was a controversial move on Spindelegger’s part, but it paid off, and Kurz was elected to the Nationalrat (National Council), the chief house of the Austrian parliament, in the September 29 parliamentary elections with a higher number of votes than any other candidate. 

His approach contrasts with that of the more xenophobic approach to immigration of Austria’s far right.  In  September, the Social Democrats won 27.1% and the Austrian People’s Party won 23.8%, but the anti-immigrant, anti-EU Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, the Freedom Party of Austria) won 21.4%, a strong third-place finish.  But a Dec. 12 Hajek poll showed that if the elections were held over today, the Freedom Party would emerge as the leading party with 26%, followed by the Social Democrats with 23% and the Austrian People’s Party at 20%.  A new free-market libertarian partyDas Neue Österreich (NEOS, The New Austria), which entered the National Council for the first time in September’s elections, would win 11%.

The Freedom Party’s relatively young and charismatic leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, wasted no time in criticizing Kurz for his inexperience:

“When Mr Kurz becomes foreign minister without any diplomatic experience, you have to be amazed. This is the continuation of Austria’s farewell to foreign policy,” right-wing leader Heinz Christian Strache told parliament on Tuesday.

Kurz… took the blows.  “It’s true, of course. Due to my age I have limited experience and of course hardly any diplomatic experience. But what I bring is lots of diligence, energy and the desire to contribute something,” he told Reuters.

But Kurz emphasized the international nature of his previous role with respect to integration, and he argued that his relative youth and high media profile would allow him to make an immediate impact.  Though Austria, with just 8.5 million people, has a less dominant voice on European matters than Germany, it plays a key role in the Balkans, where Serbia and other former Yugoslav countries are hoping to begin accession talks to the European Union early next year. (If your German skills are up for it, here’s an interview with Kurz in Der Standard earlier this week).

Kurz’s appointment also means that he will likely take a key role in the upcoming European Parliament elections by convincing Austrian voters not to turn to euroskeptic parties like the Freedom Party or Team Stronach, the conservative movement of Austro-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach.  Spindelegger was criticized during his tenure at the ministry for being a ‘half-time foreign minister’ in light of his duties as the ÖVP leader and deputy chancellor. Continue reading Who is Sebastian Kurz? Meet Austria’s new 27-year-old foreign minister.

Austrian election results: grand coalition reelected, Freedom Party solidifies gains on far right

hcstrache

With nearly all of the votes counted in Austria’s election today, it appears that the current grand coalition led by center-left chancellor Werner Faymann will continue — for up to another five years.austria flag

Just one week after Germans massively supported chancellor Angela Merkel and her center-right Christian Democrats for steering Germany largely unscathed through the worst of the economic crisis, Austrians appeared ready to do the same for Faymann, though his Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ, Social Democratic Party of Austria) did not score the kind of overwhelming victory that Merkel’s Christian Democrats won last week — the SPÖ lost over 2% of the vote since the September 2008 election.

But their coalition partners, the center-right Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP, Austrian People’s Party), also lost 2.2% of the vote from 2008.  Together, however, the two parties won enough seats (99) to continue to hold an absolute majority in Austria’s 183-member Nationalrat (National Council), the chief house of the Austrian parliament.

austria 2013

But the far-right, anti-EU, anti-immigrant Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, the Freedom Party of Austria) won just four seats less than the People’s Party and it won over 21% of the vote.  That’s largely because voters on the far right abandoned the Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (BZÖ, Alliance for the Future of Austria), the splinter group that former Freedom Party leader Jörg Haider founded in 2005.

Believe it or not, today’s election was the first one without Haider in nearly two decades following his sensational death in October 2008, and the BZÖ lost over 7% from the 2008 election — and missed the 4% electoral hurdle required to hold seats in Austria’s National Council.  Given Haider’s absence from the political scene, many BZÖ supporters turned back to the Freedom Party.  In any event, it’s certainly a huge victory for FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache (pictured above), whose party gained more support than any of the parties that contested the 2008 election.  Strache is one of the big winners in today’s election, and that will amplify his voice as the chief opposition leader in Austria.

nationalrat

Continue reading Austrian election results: grand coalition reelected, Freedom Party solidifies gains on far right

Austria election tomorrow likely to result in grand coalition, reelection for Faymann

Austria goes to the polls tomorrow to select 183 members of the Nationalrat (National Council), the lower house of Austria’s parliament — but by far the most important.  What better musical selection than Johann Strauss II’s Kaiserwaltzer?austria flag

Austria’s elections are determined on the basis of proportional representation, so no matter who wins, Austria will have a coalition government.

The most likely result, according to polls, is the continuation of a ‘red-black’ or ‘grand’ coalition between the two dominant parties in Austrian politics, the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ, Social Democratic Party of Austria) and the center-right Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP, Austrian People’s Party).

Polls also showed the anti-EU, anti-immigration, right-wing Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, the Freedom Party of Austria) gaining ground, but still in third place.

Though Austria’s chancellor Werner Faymann leads a consensus-driven government, he’s in some ways the opposite of German chancellor Angela Merkel, whose own center-right party won a huge victory just last weekend.  With an approach that’s leaned away from the austerity budgets of much of the rest of Europe, Faymann has boosted Austrian spending over the past five years on stimulative measures, including a massive commitment to job training.  That’s left Austria with the lowest unemployment rate among the 28 member states of the European Union.

Even if the SPÖ and the ÖVP win the largest and second-largest shares of the vote, they may still not win enough seats to form a majority because up to seven parties could win seats today.

Austria’s Die Grünen – Die Grüne Alternative (Green Party) will likely be the fourth-largest party in the National Council, but three smaller parties could also enter the parliament — the new eurosceptic Team Stronach, founded last year by Austrian-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach; the Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (BZÖ, Alliance for the Future of Austria), a liberal splinter group of the FPÖ; and Das Neue Österreich (NEOS, The New Austria), a new liberal party that formed last year as well.

Austrian NEOS may win seats in Nationalrat in resurrection of liberal politics

NEOs

While Germany’s major liberal party suffered a historic defeat in last weekend’s parliamentary elections, a new Austrian party may win enough seats to return a liberal voice to Austria’s parliament for the first time in nearly 20 years in Austria’s national elections this weekend.austria flag

If it can win 4% of the vote on Sunday, the Das Neue Österreich (NEOS, The New Austria) could enter the Nationalrat, the key 183-member chamber of Austria’s parliament, which would mean that free-market and social liberals would have a voice in Austrian parliamentary politics for the first time since the Liberales Forum (Liberal Forum) lost all of its seats in the 1999 parliamentary elections.  Polls in the lead-up to Austria’s election show the NEOS gaining strength, but still hovering between 3% and the 4% electoral hurdle, and the NEOS continues to gain credibility and momentum in the final days of the campaign.

What’s more, if the NEOS enter the parliament, and the two current governing parties, the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ, Social Democratic Party of Austria) of chancellor Werner Faymann and the center-right Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP, Austrian People’s Party), fail to win an absolute majority of seats to continue a two-party grand coalition, the NEOS could conceivably enter government as well in Europe’s first ‘red-black-pink’ coalition.

Given the coziness of Austria’s political elite, and the fact that grand coalitions have dominated Austrian governance in the postwar era, there’s much to recommend the return of a fresh and liberal voice to Austrian politics — or even Austrian government.  Not too shabby for a party that didn’t exist one year ago.

The NEOS were founded as a political party in October 2012, mainly as an alliance of what remains of the Liberal Forum and the Young Liberals, another small party, under the leadership of Matthias Strolz.  Since September, the party’s lead parliamentary candidate has been Hans-Peter Haselsteiner, the CEO of Austrian construction company Strabag and a Liberal deputy in the Nationalrat in the 1990s — it was a stunning reversal for Haselsteiner, who had previously remained somewhat aloof from the NEOS earlier this year.  Not only does Haselsteiner have the deep pockets to finance a strong showing, he’s also one of the most well-known liberals in the country.  Austrians vote for parties through an open-list proportional representation system, so if the NEOS surpass the 4% threshold, the NEOS should count on at least seven seats in the Nationalrat.

Moreover, if the NEOS do enter the Nationalrat, they could lower the total number of seats that the SPÖ and ÖVP can hope to win, making it even more likely that the SPÖ and ÖVP will be forced to look for a third coalition partner to cobble together a governing majority.

In an ironic twist, the NEOS could well enter Austria’s parliament just days after Germany’s Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party) narrowly failed to win 5% of the vote and, accordingly, Germany’s liberal party failed to win a single seat in the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s parliament, for the first time since 1949.  Continue reading Austrian NEOS may win seats in Nationalrat in resurrection of liberal politics