The New Austria and Liberal Forum

The New Austria and Liberal Forum (NEOS). After the liberal wing of the FPÖ left in 1993, they formed the Liberal Forum (LiF). The party was initially a small but notable party, winning 11 seats in 1994, and 10 in 1995 though it crashed out of parliament in 1999 after the election of an unpopular leader. It won a single seat on the SPÖ’s list in 2006 but otherwise was a moribund party, succumbing to infighting and divisions with its own youth wing.

Liberalism in Austria appeared to be virtually dead as a party political movement until Matthias Strolz, an entrepreneur and former ÖVP member created NEOS in October 2012. The party immediately formed a coalition with the LiF and the party’s former youth wing became that of NEOS. It received financial backing from the billionaire chairman of the construction company Strabag, Hans Peter Haselstainer, a former LiF MP, who accepted a position as the party’s top candidate for the 2013 election.

Polls in the run-up to the 2013 election had showed the party just around the point where it could expect to enter parliament. It surpassed expectations by winning 5% of the vote and thus 9 seats despite a campaign that had not received significant attention from the media.

NEOS is a strongly liberal party. It is pro-immigration and supports same-sex marriage, it is also an advocate of moderately low tax and free market policies. The party is very pro-European, up to the point of being federalis. Its voters seem to broadly resemble those of the Greens – urban, educated, female and young, but more right-leaning. They took more votes from the Greens than any other party in 2013.

Since the 2013 election NEOS has been going from strength to strength. The LiF has formally merged into it, and the party is polling increasingly strongly, generally at more than double its 2013 support. There is widespread speculation that unlike other recent parties such as BZÖ or Team Stronach NEOS may have more sticking power because it is identified with a set of ideas and a coherent ideology rather than a single personality.

Unless NEOS experiences a big fall in support it will almost certainly win multiple MEPs. NEOS is, predictably, a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

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