Tag Archives: team stronach

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


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

In Germany’s shadow, Austria also prepares for late September election


In central Europe, another German-speaking nation is heading to the polls next month in a race that will likely also result in a broad left/right ‘grand coalition.’austria flag

Austria’s parliamentary elections on September 29 will affect a population that’s just two-thirds that of the German state of Bavaria, but the campaign features many of the same dynamics as Germany’s federal elections that will be held exactly one week prior — a broad centrist consensus on economic policy, the likelihood of yet another ‘grand coalition,’ flush economic conditions relative to the rest of Europe and static polls all year long indicating a narrow center-left win.

But there are key differences as well — unlike in Germany, where Christian democratic chancellor Angela Merkel is favored for reelection, it’s Austria’s social democratic chancellor Werner Faymann who will likely return as chancellor.  Moreover, there’s a far-right component to Austrian politics that simply doesn’t exist in Germany.  While the far-right remains divided among three competing parties (and that makes it unlikely that they will form a government), the far-right parties could cumulative outpoll the center-left and the center-right.

Let’s start with the fundamentals — Austria’s economy grew by an estimated 0.6% last year and 2.7% in 2011, and though its growth this year has been virtually negligible, it dipped into negative growth (-0.1%) for just one quarter (Q4 2012), so it’s difficult to say that Austria has even suffered a recession, at least in technical terms.  Although the European Union’s unemployment rate, as of June 2013, remains 10.9% and the eurozone’s unemployment rate an even higher 12.3%, Austria has the absolute lowest unemployment of all 27 EU nations: at 4.6%, Austria’s unemployment is nearly a percentage point lower than the second-lowest, Germany, which has a 5.4% unemployment rate.

That means that the anti-incumbent moods that pushed out French president Nicolas Sarkozy last year and has already weakened his leftist successor, François Hollande, and that upended governments in Greece, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and elsewhere over the past year, doesn’t have the same punch in Austria.

The latest Gallup poll from Austria dated August 22, is representative — it shows that Faymann’s center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ, Social Democratic Party of Austria) holds a narrow lead over its current coalition partner, the center-right Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP, Austrian People’s Party):


The three far-right parties, taken together, however, attract the support of 29% of all Austrian voters — the largest, the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, the Freedom Party of Austria), is the longstanding anti-immigrant, anti-EU, extreme-right conservative party in Austria, and it was the party that the late Jörg Haider led controversially into a government coalition in 2000 with the ÖVP.

But Austro-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach, who returned to his homeland last year after decades as chief executive officer of his Ontario-based auto parts company, is leading an alternative populist, eurosceptic right-wing party — Team Stronach — that’s attracting between 8% and 10% of the vote.

Finally, the Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (BZÖ, Alliance for the Future of Austria), which Haider founded in 2005 when he left the FPÖ, is in danger of losing all of its seats in Austria’s parliament following Haider’s sensational November 2008 death and Stronach’s recent rise.

But most recently, Stronach and the FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache have made more headlines over shirtless photos than policy matters.   Furthermore, in March’s local elections in the southernmost state of Carinthia, where Haider had served as governor for nearly a decade, the Freedom Party’s share of the vote dropped from about 45% to just 17%, and the Social Democrats swept to power under its leader Peter Kaiser in alliance with the Die Grünen – Die Grüne Alternative (Green Party).  Nationally, the Greens are polling at around 15%, which would mark a 40% increase from their 2008 result.

Austrian voters also widely prefer Faymann to continue as chancellor over ÖVP leader and foreign minister Michael Spindelegger — Faymann took over just weeks after the global financial crisis in 2008, and he has pursued one of the most successful center-left policy agendas in Europe.  Like in Germany, Austria pursued work-sharing policies (e.g., shorter working hours for everyone) in the immediate aftermath of the crisis to avoid massive layoffs.  Faymann’s government has also enacted some of the world’s most successful job training legislation and other forward measures to assist workers remain competitive through Austria’s Arbeitsmarktservice (AMS, Austrian Employment Service): Continue reading In Germany’s shadow, Austria also prepares for late September election

Photo of the day: Austrian Freedom Party leader (nearly) bares all


There’s just something undeniably homoerotic about the Austrian far right.austria flag

It all started when octogenarian Austro-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach, the leader of Team Stronach, a new eurosceptic party contesting Austria’s upcoming parliamentary elections, bared his chest over the weekend while talking to reporters from his lakeside home.  But Heinz-Christian Strache (pictured above), the leader of the more established far-right Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, Freedom Party of Austria), felt the need to show even more skin in an uncharacteristic race to the bottom.

Declaring himself at top fitness going into the campaign, Strache uploaded the photo to his Facebook page over the weekend as well, with his party poised to win nearly one-fifth of Austrian voters next month. Continue reading Photo of the day: Austrian Freedom Party leader (nearly) bares all

Stronach’s much-heralded Austrian effort falls flat in Lower Austria and Carinthia


It takes some brass for anyone, even a billionaire, to come to Austria after a lifetime in Canada thinking he can revolutionize politics, least of all as a know-it-all North American running against the euro — a monetary project infused with much more emotional and social content than just economics. austria flag

But brass runs strong in the Stronach family, and although Belinda Stronach took Canada by storm a few years ago — first as a candidate for leader of the Conservative Party and later as a minister in Paul Martin’s ill-fated Liberal government before she crashed and burned when the Liberals lost the 2006 federal election — her father, Frank Stronach, mostly seemed content as the chairman of Magna International, the hugely successful Canadian auto parts company that he founded.

Stronach, a citizen of both Canada and Austria, came to Canada at age 18 from Austria and, while he’s had an incredibly philanthropic footprint in Austria, he’s always been better known as an international businessman and billionaire than as a politician.

Until last year, when, after retiring as Magna’s chairman in 2011, Stronach founded a new party in AustriaTeam Stronach, that had its first test in local elections Sunday in Lower Austria and Carinthia, two of Austria’s nine states.  The party, which promotes classical liberalism, supports an all-volunteer army (despite a January 2013 referendum in which Austrians voted 60 to 40% to retain its current conscription force), a 25% flat tax on national incomes and, most controversially, the reintroduction of the Austrian shilling.  Unlike many far right parties in Austria and in Europe, however, Stronach’s party is pro-immigrant and, except as regards the euro, fairly pro-Europe.

The name of Frank’s new party, ‘Team Stronach’ tells you everything you need to know about the movement — it’s more an 80-year-old man’s legacy project than a protest movement like, say, Beppe Grillo’s near-revolutionary Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement) in Italy.  Even in Prague, foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg is taken more seriously despite charges of carpetbagging — he lost the recent Czech presidential election in part because he spent over four decades of his early life outside Czechoslovakia / the Czech Republic (in Austria, of all places).

Despite a colorful collection of small parties, politics in Austria, a relatively wealthy Central European country of 8.5 million, remains essentially dominated by two parties — the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ, the Social Democratic Party) and the Christian democratic Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP, the People’s Party).  The SPÖ and the ÖVP have governed in a ‘grand coalition’ since 2006.

Two additional parties have historically held significant influence as well — the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, the Freedom Party), a right-wing populist party, well-known for its fiery former leader Jörg Haider, who led the party to government in 1999 and in 2002 (as a junior partner with the ÖVP), and the Greens (Die Grünen).

Austria will vote at the end of September 2013 to elect the 183 members of its lower house of parliament, the National Council (Nationalrat) — polls show the SPÖ, led by Austria’s chancellor, Werner Faymann, holds a narrow, but steady, lead (25% to 28%) over the ÖVP (with around 22% to 24%), with the FPÖ a bit behind (19% to 22%) and the Greens even further behind (13% to 15%).  Team Stronach is in fifth place — although its support is growing, it has peaked at around 8% to 12% of the vote.

Austria, unlike most European countries, is still posting economic growth — between 0.5% and 1.0% in 2012 and nearly 3.0% in 2011, despite an increasingly relentless recession throughout Europe that is now threatening to affect even Germany.  Austrian unemployment remains relatively low as well — around 9%, but still less than Italy’s unemployment.

So how did Stronach’s new party do on Sunday in Lower Austria and Carinthia? Continue reading Stronach’s much-heralded Austrian effort falls flat in Lower Austria and Carinthia