Austria

I - Political context

The views expressed in this report are solely those of the author in her private capacity. The report provides an overview and makes no claim to completeness.

Political change     
I.1
What is the political context of the Eurozone crisis period in Austria? Have there been changes in government, elections, referenda or other major political events during the period of 2008-present?

All of the crisis measures have been decided by the 2008-2013 government consisting of a coalition of the Social-Democrat Party (SPÖ) and the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) (conservative center-right party) under a SPÖ chancellor, Werner Faymann (see questions V.1 and VIII.1. Maria Fekter (ÖVP). Maria Fekter (ÖVP) was the Minister of Finance of that government. From the opposition parties, the Greens were generally siding with the government on the stabilization measures (but not the fiscal measures), whereas the far right parties, the FPÖ and the small BZÖ, were opposing both, the stabilization and the fiscal measures in a general anti-European tone. Probably as a result of the crisis, there was a new ‘protest party’ that ran for elections in autumn 2013 and that has reached considerable results at regional elections in Carinthia, Lower Austria, Tyrol and Salzburg. It was lead by the Austro-Canadian millionaire Frank Stronach under the title ‘Team Stronach’ and was fiercely opposing the ESM[1], and the Euro (e.g. suggesting its replacement with ‘National Euros’).[2]

National Council elections took place in September 2013 and a new government was constituted in December 2013. The results of the elections were SPÖ 26.82%, ÖVP 23.99%, FPÖ 20.51%, BZÖ 3.53%, Greens 12.42%, Frank Stronach 5.73%, Neos 4.96%. Basically, the two governing parties had small losses while the FPÖ gained a little, the BZÖ did not pass the threshold to enter into the National Council and two new parties entering instead. On the one hand, Stronach, who, however, remained below expectations, and on the other hand a new, liberal party, the Neos, managed to enter the parliament. The Neos are an interesting new party that attracted mostly former voters of the ÖVP or the Greens. It is definitively a pro-European party. The new government consists of again the same SPÖ – ÖVP coalition under the leadership chancellor Werner Faymann (SPÖ), while the Minister of Finance and simultaneous Vice-chancellor), replacing Maria Fekter, was initially Michael Spindelegger (ÖVP, replaced since September 2014 by Hans-Jörg Schelling from the same party

Regional elections took place in all of the nine provinces (Länder) during the 2008-2013 period, but major turnabouts happened only in Carinthia and in Salzburg.

·         Carinthia: It is impossible to talk about Carinthia without mentioning Jörg Haider who was its governor from 1989 to 1991 and then again from 1999 to his death in 2008. First head of the FPÖ on federal level, he then split off with a group of fellow party members and founded the BZÖ in 2005 that remained rather unsuccessful on federal level but very successful in Carinthia. In 2009 (after Haider’s death) its Carinthian branch split off under the name FPK and won the Carinthian elections with 44.9%. It is the Carinthian government under a FPK governor that brought the case against the ESM in front of the Austrian Constitutional Court. However, the FPK shrank to 6.4% (while the FPÖ still ‘resurrected to’16.8%) at the regional election of March 3, 2013. The SPÖ won these elections with 37.1 %, which means that Carinthia now has a social-democrat governor for the first time in 14 years.

·         Salzburg: Salzburg that had traditionally been an ÖVP-governed province had been governed by an SPÖ-led coalition from 2004 to 2013. A financial speculation scandal lead to anticipated elections in 2013 and the SPÖ lost its majority to the ÖVP. Remarkably, the Greens established themselves as anti-corruption and anti-speculation party in Salzburg and got 20.18%, which means that they are the third strongest force, leaving the far-right parties behind.

Further major events during the crisis were the (partial) nationalizations/restructurings of a handful of medium-sized banks (Hypo Alpe Adria, Kommunalkredit, KA Finanz, Austrian Volksbanken AG). For more details see the IMF’s 2013 Country Report Austria – Art. IV Consultation 2013 (the 2014 Report is being published shortly) at http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2013/cr13280.pdf, notably its pages 8 and 9.

[1]              Webpage of party “Team Stronach”, at http://www.stronachinstitut.at/stop-esm

[2]              Die Presse, “Jedem sein eigener Euro, September 24, 2012, at http://diepresse.com/home/politik/innenpolitik/1293771/Team-Stronach_Jedem-sein-eigener-Euro