Parliamentary Elections (snap)
September 29, 2019
Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party (OVP) received 37.5% of the vote (71 seats), up six points from the party’s 2017 result of 31%. The Social Democrats (SPO) came in second with 21.2% of the vote (40 seats)—a loss of 5 points from 2017—, the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) third with 16.2% (31 seats), and the Greens saw a 10-point surge in their score, reaching 13.9% of the vote (26 seats) and thus re-entering parliament after being shut out in 2017. The liberal NEOS received 8.1% (15 seats). After more than a month of exploratory talks, Kurz announced on November 11 that OVP will start coalition negotiations with the Greens. If the talks are successful, the Greens would enter government at the national level for the first time. Kurz has publicly stated that it will be a “challenging process” as the positions of the parties are “very, very different,” which indicates that the negotiations may become lengthy.
- Bicameral parliament in a federal republic: National Council ( Nationalrat, 183 members) and Federal Council (Bundesrat, 61 members but varying in size).
- National Council is elected every 5 years through open party lists, in a proportional representation system; voting age is 16; there are 9 multi-member constituencies (representing the 9 states) and 39 local electoral districts, most of which are also multi-member.
- Parties must meet a 4% vote threshold to enter parliament or get one seat in one of the 39 local constituencies.
- The Bundesrat is elected indirectly through provincial assemblies and has limited powers.
- Incumbent: Technocratic caretaker government led by Brigitte Bierlein (former president of the Constitutional Court); was appointed by President after the Kurz cabinet fell in May 2019 after a motion of no confidence (following a scandal plaguing the OVP’s coalition partners, the far-right Freedom Party).
- Main parties:
- Austrian People’s Party (OVP): led by former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz; right-wing; conservative, free-market; anti-immigration, cap benefits for foreigners; pro-EU.
- Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPO): center-left; social democracy, increased public spending; more open to immigration; pro-EU with a stronger social program; pro-Russian tendencies.
- Freedom Party of Austria (FPO): far-right; populism; economic liberalism but support for welfare state; anti-immigration; Euroskeptic; pro-Russia.
- The Greens (Grüne): center-left; environmentalism; socially liberal; pro-EU.
- The New Austria and Liberal Forum (NEOS): center; liberalism, lower taxes; socially liberal; supports a more integrated EU.
Impact on U.S. Interests
- Total two-way trade in goods in 2017 reached $16 billion; in 2017, the U.S. was Austria’s 2nd export destination;
- In 2017, Austria invested more in the U.S. than vice versa ($12.3 billion versus $7.8 billion in FDI); Austrian companies (and majority-owned affiliates) employed close to 17,000 Americans in 2017;
- Austria is part of the anti-ISIS coalition; Austrian military pilots and mechanics have received training in the U.S.; it contributed troops to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan (Austria is not a NATO member);
- Austria has an important economic relationship with Russia and has served as an enabler of Russian influence in Europe, including through its banking sector.
Key Issues to Watch
- The far-right FPO was pushed out of its coalition with the OVP (in place since 2017) after a 2017 video recording surfaced in 2019 of the party leader discussing potential corruption and bribes with someone posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch (deemed the “Ibiza-gate” scandal). Shortly thereafter, the government fell over a no confidence vote for the first time in modern Austrian history.
- FPO has elected a new leader, Norbert Hofer, ahead of the election. Despite a more moderate demeanor (compared to the previous, scandal-plagued FPO leader Hans-Christian Strache), Hofer is a hardline ideologue who is strongly opposed to immigration. Hofer has said he would like to re-form the coalition with Kurz’s OVP.
- Despite popular opposition to another OVP-FPO coalition, and the scandal-plagued FPO, Kurz has not completely ruled out a possible coalition after the elections. The FPO retains a steady base with poll numbers dropping only to 19% immediately after the corruption scandal.
- Investigations into potentially illegal political donations, started after the video revelations, are still ongoing.
- The Greens have seen a spike in popularity since the European Parliament elections of May 2019 while the SPO has been unable to shore up its poll numbers and remains neck-and-neck with the FPO, as was the case in the last elections.