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Austria Politics

State and politics

GOVERNMENT

Austria is a federal republic with nine states (countries), each of which has its own parliament and government. The Head of State, who holds the title of Federal President, is elected for a term of six years and may be re-elected once. See ABBREVIATIONFINDER for how AT can stand for Austria.

Political System of Austria

The power of the president is primarily ceremonial, but the constitution also allows the president to appoint government leaders and a number of other government officials and, in some circumstances, dissolve parliament and announce new elections.

At the federal level, the legislative power is held by a two-chamber parliament, where the 183 members of the National Council are elected for a term of five years. For representation in the National Council there is a 4 per cent block. The nine state parliaments elect 61 members of the Federal Council. Their task is, often in clear competition with the federal parliament and the government, to represent the interests of the states. The states have relatively far-reaching self-government, but their right to veto is weak and gradually more and more economic and political influence has accumulated at the federal level.

Policy

In the second half of the 20th century, Austrian party politics was dominated by two major parties: the bourgeois People's Party (sterreichische Volkspartei, VP), with strong ties to business, industrial and agricultural interests, and the Social Democrats (Sozialdemokratische Partei sterreichs, SP), with links to trade unions and other interest organizations.

For a long time, the political system showed high stability and voter mobility was low. OVP and SP formed coalition governments on several occasions. Through the so-called proportionate system, political and administrative positions were distributed for a long time between the candidates of both parties.

During the 1990s, support for the VP and the SP declined, and the populist and EU-critical Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei sterreichs, FP) achieved great success in both national and state elections. This was mainly the expression of a growing dissatisfaction with the propor- tion system and an increasing resistance to immigration. After the 1999 election to the National Council, which became a hardship for both VP and SP but a success for FP, VP government formed together with FP.

The government's policy led to several crises and, in some cases, strong international criticism, which focused mainly on FP and its controversial leader Jrg Haider. The EU even imposed sanctions against Austria for a few months due to the FP's place in the government. The loosely cohesive party, in office, became increasingly difficult to retain voter support and in 2005 the party split. Haider formed the new party for the future of Austria (Bndnis Zukun sterreich, BZ), with a somewhat dimmed political profile.

In opposition, the Social Democrats developed a program that is broadly similar to those of the Nordic Social Democratic parties, with investments in welfare issues and social security. At the 2006 election, the party became the largest party in the National Council and again formed government with the VP. However, the contradictions between the coalition parties were clear from the outset and new elections had to be announced as early as September 2008. The election results confirmed that VP and SP lost large parts of their voter support; both parties made their worst choices so far in the post-war period.

Things went better for both populist parties FP and BZ. The Greens (Die Grnen), which has emerged as an alternative party for young voters since the 1980s, achieved their best result to date. The voter streams could be partly explained by the fact that the voting age in 2007 was lowered from 18 to 16 years. SP refused to cooperate with FP and BZ and again formed a coalition government with VP. Federal Chancellor became the SP leader Werner Faymann (born 1960).

The contradictions between the government parties became clear in many issues and the citizens also showed dissatisfaction with the economic and social policies pursued. At the same time, a series of scandals shook both SP and VP. Jrg Haider died in a traffic accident shortly after the election, which became the beginning of a period of increased contradictions within BZ.

In the 2013 National Council elections, both SP and VP listed new bottom listings, although they remained the largest parties. Both FP and the Greens went ahead while the election became a disaster for BZ, which lost all its mandates. Some former BZ voters gave their vote to Team Stronach fr sterreich (TS), a party formed by an aged industrialist who returned to Austria after 60 years in Canada. The party was attracted mainly because of harsh criticism of the Eurosystem and received just under 6 percent of the vote and eleven seats. The newly formed party Das Neue sterreich (NEOS), which is described as liberal and EU-positive, also made a surprisingly good choice, reaching a 5 percent vote, giving nine seats.

SP and VP continued their coalition co-operation with Faymann as Chancellor, but from the outset problems arose in the formulation of government policy. For a long time, there has been a split between city and countryside in Austrian politics. This has been accentuated in recent years, mainly through increased contradictions in the view of immigration. The government coalition between SP and VP first took a very liberal stance on this issue, causing increasing dissatisfaction among large groups of voters, mainly in rural areas. Later, Faymann launched a completely opposite line, and the government's faltering on the issue provided additional fuel to the debate ahead of the election of a new federal president in early 2016.

In the first round of the presidential election, the surprising result was that FP's candidate, Norbert Hofer (born 1971), received the most votes. Hofer was strongly critical of the government's immigration policy and promised to pursue political and constitutional issues in a way that previous presidents did not. Two came Alexander Van der Bellen, supported by the Greens. Only the fourth and fifth place came the candidates launched by VP and SP.

In the midst of the final phase of the presidential campaign, Faymann resigned from both the government post and as party leader. He was succeeded in both positions by Christian Kern (born 1966).

The second round of elections in May 2016 resulted in a very tight victory for Van der Bellen. However, the election was annulled by the Constitutional Court following allegations that, among other things, postal votes were counted prematurely. In the new election held in December, Van der Bellen won again. When he took office in January 2017, he became the country's first president after the Second World War from a party other than VP and SP.

Contradictions within the ruling SP-VP coalition in the spring of 2017 led to VP leaving the government. At the same time, the VP party leader resigned and the unusually young Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz took over the leadership.

New elections were held in October 2017. VP launched under the name List Sebastian Kurz – Die Neue Volkspartei, which proved to be a recipe for success. The party went strongly ahead and received 31.5 percent of the vote. FP also moved slightly ahead as the party increased by 5.5 percentage points and thus received 26 percent of the votes. SP managed to retain its electoral support and received 26.8 percent of the vote, while the Greens backed by close to 9 percentage points compared to the last election and thus ended up under the four percent block. The reason for the weak result was profound conflicts within the party, which among other things led to the former spokesman for Die Grnen forming the new party, List Peter Pilz. This party received 4.4 percent of the vote and became the representative of the green movement in the National Council. NEOS received 5.3 percent of the vote and slightly strengthened its position.

In December 2017, VP and FP formed government for the third time, now under the leadership of Sebastian Kurz, who thus became Austria's youngest alliance Chancellor. The government program included proposals for increased support for business, tax cuts and limited immigration, a profile issue for both parties.

In May 2019, a German film was released in German media of a 2017 conversation between, among others, FP's party leader Heinz-Christian Strache (born 1969) and a woman who claimed to be related to a Russian oligarch. The parties discussed how FP could be supported in the upcoming election against promises of future state business contracts, and how to take control of the Austrian evening newspaper Kronenzeitung to get rid of critical journalists.

The scandal led Strache to resign as vice-chancellor and party leader. Chancellor Kurz announced that all cooperation between VP and FP would cease. New elections were announced until September 2019. A little over a week after the disclosure, FP's Interior Minister Herbert Kickl (born 1968) was fired, and all FP ministers left the government in protest. Subsequently, Kurz and his government were deposed by a vote of no confidence in Parliament.

From June 2019 until the new government was in place, the country was ruled for the first time by a technocrat government led by the chairman of the Supreme Court Brigitte Bierlein (born 1949). Bierlein also became the first female head of government in Austria.

Despite the scandal that toppled the Kurz government, VP in the following election held in September 2019 received the best result since the 2000 elections. Also ahead, like green parties in a number of other European countries, was the Green Party (Die Grnen), which received about 13.9 percent of the vote. The party, which ended up in the 2017 election, went from 0 to 26 seats. Liberal and EU-friendly party NEO (Das Neue sterreich und Liberales Forum)) also went forward: from 10 to 15 seats. NEO thus became the fifth largest party in the Austrian National Council. Both the right-wing nationalist FP, which had previously ruled together with Kurz VP, and the Social Democratic SP backed down. FP lost almost half of its mandate.

After long negotiations, VP and the Greens reached a joint political program. The cooperation between the Green Party and VP was surprising in many respects, mainly because of their different views on migration and asylum issues.

However, alliances between conservative and green parties have also been discussed in other countries in recent years. The fact that the parties formed government together can be explained by several factors, but above all by a government program where the parties, instead of compromising on common answers to controversial questions, divided the questions between themselves. For example, the Greens were given influence over the climate policy issues.

VP has thus ruled the country since 1986 with the exception of 2019 when the country was ruled by a technocrat government.

Election results

Results of elections to the Austrian National Council (as a percentage and number of seats)

2002 2006 2008 2013 2017 2019
VP 42.3 (79) 34.3 (66) 26.0 (51) 24.0 (47) 31.5 (62) 37.5 (71)
ROD 36.5 (69) 35.3 (68 l) 29.3 (57) 26.8 (52) 26.9 (52) 21.2 (40)
FPO 10.0 (18) 11.0 (21) 17.5 (34) 20.5 (40) 26.0 (51) 16.2 (31)
Grne 9.5 (17) 11.0 (21) 10.4 (20) 12.4 (24) 3.8 (0) 13.9 (26)
BZ 4.1 (7) 10.7 (21)
Team Stronach 5.7 (11)
NEOS 5.0 (9) 5.3 (10) 8.1 (15)
List Peter Pilz 4.4 (8) 1.9 (0)

1 One of the SP's mandates, through election-technical cooperation, came to the party Liberales Forum, which in 2014 merged with NEOS.

Judiciary

The legal order in Austria is codified, including a civil law (Allgemeines Brgerliches Lawbuch) from 1811, a commercial law and a civil process law. The judicial system consists mainly of district courts for small cases (Bezirksgerichte), General Court of First Instance (Landesgerichte), Court of Appeal (Oberlandesgerichte), and the Supreme Court (Oberster Gerichtshof). The legal order in Austria is affected by its membership in the EU. The death penalty was abolished in 1968; the last execution took place in 1950.

Heads of State

Land county 976–1156
The house Babenberg
976-994 Leopold I
994-1018 Henrik I
1018-55 Adalbert
1055-75 Ernst
1075-95 Leopold II
1095-1136 Leopold III
1136-41 Leopold IV
1141-56 Henry II Jasomirgott
Duchy of 1156-1804 *
The house Babenberg
1156-77 Henry II Jasomirgott
1177-94 Leopold V
1195-99 Fredrik I
1199-1230 Leopold VI
1230-46 Fredrik II
1246-48 interregnum
1248-50 Hermann (also Count of Baden)
The Přemysl family
1251-76 Ottokar II of Bohemia
The house Habsburg
1276-82 Rudolf I (as German King)
1282-1308 Alright I
1282-83 Rudolf II (co-regent with Albrekt I)
1308-30 Fredrik III (the beautiful one)
1308-26 Leopold I (co-regent with Fredrik III)
1330-58 Albreek II (the wise)
1330-39 Otto (co-regent with Albrekt II)
1358-65 Rudolf IV
1365-95 Albreek III
1365-79 Leopold II (co-founded with Albrekt III)
1395-1404 Albreek IV
1404-39 Albrekt V (like German King Albrekt II)
1440-57 Ladislaus (as Hungarian king Lszl V)
1457-63 Albreek VI
1457-93 Fredrik V (as Emperor Fredrik III; co-regent with Albrekt VI)
1493-1519 Maximilian I
1519-21 Charles I (as Emperor Charles V)
1521-64 Ferdinand I (Emperor of 1558)
1564-76 Maximilian II
1576-1612 Rudolf V (as Emperor Rudolf II)
1612-19 Mattias
1619-37 Ferdinand II
1637-57 Ferdinand III
1657-1705 Leopold I (Emperor from 1658)
1705-11 Joseph I
1711-40 Charles II (as Emperor Charles VI)
1740-80 Maria Teresia
House Habsburg-Lorraine-Tuscany
1740-65 Frans I Stefan (co-regent with Maria Teresia, as Frans I Emperor from 1745)
1765-90 Joseph II (co-regent with Maria Teresia 1765–80)
1790-92 Leopold II
1792-1804 French II
Imperial empire 1804–1918
House Habsburg-Lorraine-Tuscany
1804-35 Frans I (German-Roman Emperor until 1806)
1835-48 Ferdinand I
1848-1916 Frans Josef
1916-18 Karl I
First Republic 1918–38
presidents
1919-20 Karl Seitz
1920-28 Michael Hainisch
1928-38 Wilhelm Miklas
Part of the German Empire 1938–45
Second Republic 1945–
presidents
1945-50 Karl Renner
1951-57 Theodor Krner
1957-65 Adolf Sharp
1965-74 Franz Jonas
1974-86 Rudolf Kirchschlger
1986-92 Kurt Waldheim
1992-2004 Thomas Klestil
2004-2016 Heinz Fischer
2017- Alexander Van der Bellen

* (Archdiocese of 1453), 1438-1804 united with the royal / emperor dignity of the German-Roman Empire.

Federal Chancellor

Chancellor since 1945

1945 Karl Renner
1945-53 Leopold Figl
1953-61 Julius Raab
1961-64 Alfons Gorbach
1964-70 Josef Klaus
1970-83 Bruno Kreisky
1983-86 Fred Sinowatz
1986-97 Franz Vranitzky
1997-2000 Viktor Climate
2000-07 Wolfgang Schssel
2007-08 Alfred Gusenbauer
2008-16 Werner Faymann
2016-17 Christian Kern
2017-19 Sebastian Kurz
2019- Brigitte Bierlein
Other Countries in Europe

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