Political Background

Austria joined the EU in 1995. While a capitalist democracy during the Cold War Austria had been bordered by Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, meaning the country maintained a strict policy of neutrality.  Austria quickly moved to join the EU after the fall of the Berlin wall and joined the Euro on its creation.

The country is haunted by the factionalised inter-war Austrian First Republic, and the resultant Austrian Civil War between socialist/communist and conservative/fascist forces. Although the conflict lasted for only four days in 1934, during the post-WWII era Austria maintained a strict form of consensus politics known as Proporz in which the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) shared power, most often governing in grand coalitions. This kept the peace, but also resulted in patronage and nepotism, with certain jobs reserved only for members of certain parties.

Displeasure with this arrangement led to the rise of Jӧrg Haider, the radical leader of Austria’s third party, the Freedom Party (FPÖ), who combined nationalistic, xenophobic rhetoric with a strong vein of anti-establishment feeling against ‘SPÖVP’ governments. The country is still dealing with the fallout from the FPÖ‘s rise and entry into government between 1999 and 2005.

Electoral System

Austria will elect 18 MEPs (down from 19 after the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty) by a fairly typical party-list system in which parties are allocated seats in proportion to the number of votes they win. The system is semi-open so that parties present a ranked list of candidates; those candidates will normally fill seats in order, so that if a party wins three seats then the top three candidates will be elected. Voters may vote for individual candidates and if those candidates win enough votes then they may be elected ‘out of order’, leap frogging higher ranked members of their party. For the purposes of European elections the country forms a single national constituency.

In 2007 Austria became the first country in the European Union to lower the voting age to 16.

2009 Election Result

Party European Political Party Votes Seats[1]
Austrian People’s Party European People’s Party 30.0% 6
Social Democratic Party of Austria Socialists and Democrats 23.7% 5
Hans-Peter Martin List None 17.7% 3
Freedom Party of Austria None 12.7% 2
The Greens European Green Party 9.9% 2
Alliance for the Future of Austria None 4.6% 1

Likely results

After the 2013 election late last year, the SPÖ and ÖVP once again formed a ‘SPÖVP’ grand coalition. The combination of this with the implosion of its right-populist competitors, Stronach and the BZÖ, the FPÖ is experiencing growth, with it tied for first place in one national poll.

The polls for the European elections so far show a tight three-way race for the lead with the SPÖ, ÖVP and FPÖ all polling within a couple percentage points of one another. A Gallup poll, on the 17th of January, for instance, showed the ÖVP and the SPÖ both on 24% and the FPÖ on 23%. As time goes on and the government’s re-election honeymoon wears off it is likely that the governing parties will lose votes and the Freedom Party will gain, therefore it is likely that the FPÖ will be the winners of the Austrian European elections. If so this will be a great blow to the Austrian mainstream parties, as it will the first time that the Freedom Party tops the poll in Austria, but it will also aid a strengthening of Euroscepticism in the European Parliament.

In terms of minor parties, it is exceedingly unlikely that Martin, or BZÖ will return to the parliament. Stronach is also likely to fail to reach the parliament. The Greens and NEOS are both polling around 10-15%, enough to win 2 or 3 seats.

 

 

[1] For the purposes of simplicity, these are seats won under the Lisbon Treaty number of seats

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