Austrian legislative elections 2017

BY WERONIKA CYCAK

On October 15, Austrians will take to the polls to elect 183 members of the National Council. Usually the leader of the largest party in the National Council or a senior partner in governing coalition becomes the head of the government and holds the title of the Chancellor of Austria. The latest polls expect the victory of the centre-right, Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), and a high score for the far right, Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). The elections can thus reshape economic and migration policy in Austria and also affect the entire EU as the country will assume the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2018.

Economy and migration shaking up Austrian politics

Since the end of the Second World War, two main parties the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) have dominated the political scene in Austria. Although the last parliamentary elections in September 2013 brought an all-time-low support for the two political groups, they have eventually once again formed a grand coalition government. The far right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) has gained voters’ support and came as the third.

In the years following the election, weak economic growth[1] and rising unemployment were considered to be among key issues contributing to growing dissatisfaction with the government’s policies and pessimistic visions for the future, despite Austria remaining one of the richest countries in the EU in terms of GDP per capita. Austria recovered quickly from the financial crisis but the GDP growth remained low until 2017 when in the first half of the year GDP growth reached the highest point in last six years. According to Eurostat, the unemployment has been on the rise since the second half of 2011 and in July 2016 reached 6.3%. However, it is also improving now as the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.4% by July 2017.

Apart from the economic trends, the topic of migration has been high on the political agenda, especially since the peak of the influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa to Europe in 2015. Being located right in the centre of the main migration route from Hungary to Germany, Austria has become the gate to Western Europe. The Austrian government decided to support German ‘open door policy’ and let the migrants cross the borders. Although most of the migrants targeted Germany as their final destination, around 90,000 of them stayed and eventually applied for asylum in Austria in 2015. According to Eurostat, Austria was the third country in the EU (after Hungary and Sweden) with the largest number of recipients of asylum application per capita that year.[2] Initially welcoming attitude and sympathy toward refugees soon has given a way to insecurities about social and economic integration of the newcomers and related costs.

The tensions over the issue of migration could also be felt on the political scene, as the FPÖ, which advocated for a border fence to stop migrants, came in second in the 2015 state election at 30.4% of the vote, after conservative ÖVP which got 36.4%.[3] The party has also improved its performance in Vienna, which is known to be traditionally a bastion of the Social Democrats (dominating the city’s politics since the end of the Second World War).[4] The dissatisfaction with the mainstream politics and craving for change became further evident when the government coalition parties performed poorly in presidential elections in 2016. In the second round, FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer (49.7%) was narrowly defeated by Alexander Van der Bellen (50.3%) running as an independent candidate backed by the Green Party.[5] The results have shown the society divided between supporters of anti-EU, anti-Islamic and anti-immigration stance and those in favour of pro-EU socially liberal policies.

Soon after the heavy electoral defeat, the leader of the SPÖ Werner Faymann stepped down and the position was given to Christian Kern, at that time the CEO of the Austrian Federal Railways. Disputes between coalition partners have also led to resignation of Reinhold Mitterlehner leading the ÖVP, who was succeeded in May 2017 by Sebastian Kurz, 31-year-old Minister for Foreign Affairs.[6] Amid changes in both governing parties and dim prospects for further cooperation and reform implementation, the coalition ultimately collapsed and Kurz called for snap elections which will take place on 15 October 2017.

Centre-right on the lead

Recent polls indicate that the elections will clearly be a battleground mainly for the ÖVP, the SPÖ and the FPÖ with the first one expected to get most of the votes. According to a poll published by the Kurier newspaper on the 8th of October, 33% of voters back the ÖVP. The conservative party is followed by the SPÖ with support of 27% and the FPÖ at 25%. NEOS, Liste Peter Pilz and the Greens are far behind at 5-4%. The race for the second place remains very tight and other polls, for example those published by Der Standard and Österreich, predict that the FPÖ will be ahead of the SPÖ.

Date Source Sample Margin of error 1 2 3 4 5 6
9/10 Research Affairs/Österreich 1000 ±3.1 % ÖVP

33%

FPÖ

27%

SPÖ

23%

NEOS

6%

Liste Pilz

5%

The Greens 5%
8/10 OGM/Kurier 1002 ±3.1 % ÖVP

33%

SPÖ

27%

FPÖ

25%

NEOS

5%

Liste Pilz

4%

 

The Greens

4%

6/10 Market/Der Standard 813 ±3.5 % ÖVP

33%

FPÖ

25%

SPÖ

23%

Liste Pilz

6%

NEOS

5%

The Greens

5%

Source: https://pollofpolls.eu/AT

The graph below shows an overall polling trend and changes across time:

 

austria_graph

Source: https://pollofpolls.eu/AT

The ÖVP has gained a robust advantage over the opponents after Sebastian Kurz took over the party’s leadership. He has for long been drawing media’s attention due to his young age and charisma. As the new ÖVP leader, he attempted to refresh the party’s image by re-branding and bringing new names to the electoral “Sebastian Kurz List”. His style of remodeling the party to appear more like an independent  group under his name immediately invoked comparisons with Emmanuel Macron’s tactics and “En Marche‘’ movement that brought him a victory in this year’s  presidential elections in France.[7] Kurz also focuses more on curtailing migration to Austria and accelerating integration of refugees. His proposal includes for example cutting social benefits offered to migrants in Austria and better protection of EU borders. It is believed that this hard approach to immigration can help him to attract voters leaning toward the far-right. In regards to economy, Kurz wants to cut social spending and lower taxes to encourage companies to create more jobs.[8]

Economic reforms are also distinctly present in the program of the centre-left. In January 2017 Austrian Chancellor and the chairman of the SPÖ Christian Kern proposed a 10-year plan for job creation, more public investment and tax increase for multinational companies.[9] The electoral campaign of the Social Democrats focused on increase of pensions and the minimum wage, affordable housing, introduction of new taxes on wealth and inheritance, and subsidies for job creation, among others.

The far-right populist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), led by Heinz-Christian Strache, has put issues related to migration at the centre of its political program. The party emphasizes national identity and opposes immigration which it regards as a threat to local cultural values and traditions. It also stands against Islam and has been advocating ban on the religion and its symbols.[10] The FPÖ’s economic agenda is based on combination of low taxes and other incentives for companies and support for SMEs, as well as characteristics of social welfare state.

Intensifying conflict between ex-coalition partners

The break-up of the governing coalition turned out to be just the beginning of deteriorating relations between the ÖVP and the SPÖ. The reputation of the latter has been recently undermined by sudden allegations that SPÖ paid for Facebook sites with a controversial content posted to discredit Sebastian Kurz.[11] The websites were set up by a former advisor to Christian Kern, Tal Silberstein, who was fired by the party in August after being investigated over involvement in money laundering. Although Kern has said that he was not aware of the websites and promised a thorough investigation, the scandal has immediately become a weapon for the opposition to attack the SPÖ.

Furthermore, the SPÖ’s employee Peter Puller who worked with Silberstein claims that the ÖVP offered him 100,000 euros in July if he decides to “switch sides”[12]. The ÖVP spokesman called the accusations false and announced that the party would take a legal action against the Social Democrats. In response, the SPÖ wants to file lawsuit against Gerald Fleischmann who works for Sebastian Kurz for “bribery” and “espionage of corporate secrets”.[13]

Potential coalitions and the time for change

The predictions of the election results are uncertain as around a quarter of voters remain undecided.  Under debate is also the future after election and possible coalitions between parties. As the coalition between the ÖVP and the SPÖ lost popular support and the conflict between the parties has been exacerbating in last weeks, one of scenarios dominating in the media this time is the partnership of the ÖVP and the FPÖ. Therefore, even if the FPÖ comes third in the election, the coalition would pave it a way to the government. In fact, the ÖVP and the FPÖ were in coalition before from 2000-2005, but it caused a lot of controversy in the EU. In comparison, the SPÖ would find it much harder to find a coalition partner other than the ÖVP. Although few months ago the centre-left party dropped its 30-year ban on forming coalitions with the far-right, significant differences between the SPÖ and the FPÖ make such alliance unlikely.[14] The SPÖ could also potentially cooperate with smaller parties such as the liberal party NEOS, the Liste Pilz and the Greens.

Regardless of which scenario comes true, coming election will be of high importance for the future of Austrian politics. The collapse of the grand coalition and the surge of support for the FPÖ have become a clear indicator of dissatisfaction with the status quo. As voters search for political alternatives, parties that used to enjoy their strong position are now being pressured to reform and adapt to changing circumstances. Strict rhetoric on migration is no longer a domain reserved for the far-right and is becoming visible in campaigns of various parties along the political spectrum. The electoral victory of the centre and far-right would also make Austria a part of a trend among EU countries – a slow decline of social democratic parties. Social Democrats may thus find it as a wake-up call to reframe their messages and persuade the general public that they still offer viable solutions to address worries over social and economic stability.

 


十月十五日,奧地利公民將會投票選出新一任國家議會的183位成員。通常情況下,國家議會中多數黨的領袖或聯合政府中較大政黨的領袖將會成爲政府首腦並任職奧地利總理。最近的民調顯示,保守派、中間偏右的奧地利人民黨(ÖVP)將會在選舉中勝出,而極右政黨奧地利自由黨(FPÖ)亦將會取得較多的議席。因此,這次選舉的結果不僅可能影響奧地利的經濟和移民政策,也可能影響整個歐盟,因為該國將在2018年下半年擔任歐盟理事會輪值主席國。

經濟與移民問題改組奧地利政治

自二戰結束以來,中間偏左的社會民主黨(SPÖ)和中間偏右的奧地利人民黨(ÖVP)在奧地利政治舞台上佔了主導地位。雖然2013年9月的最後一次議會選舉中兩個政治團體的支持達歷史新低,但最終兩黨又一次組成聯合政府執政。奧地利自由黨(FPÖ)則於該次選舉中獲得一定的選民支持,成為第三名。

在選舉之後的幾年中,經濟疲軟和上升的失業率成爲奧地利人對政府政策不滿和上產生悲觀態度的關鍵原因,儘管奧地利仍然是歐盟中國內人均生產總值最高的國家之一。奧地利從金融危機中迅速恢復,但國內生產總值的增長始終停留在低位,直到二零一七年上半年,國內生產總值增長率達到六年來的最高點。根據歐盟統計局的統計,2011年下半年以來,奧地利的失業率一直在上升,到2016年7月達到6.3%。不過,失業率的情況自此以後得到改善,在二零一七年七月底下降至5.4%。

除了經濟趨勢,移民問題也是政治議程上的熱門話題。自從2015年中東和非洲移民湧入歐洲的高峰期以來,處於從匈牙利到德國的主要遷移路線的中心,奧地利已經成為西歐的大門。奧地利政府決定支持德國的「開門政策」,讓移民越過邊界。雖然大多數移民將德國定為最終目的地,但其中約有9萬人滯留,並於2015年在奧地利申請庇護。根據歐盟統計局的統計,以人均庇護申請人數計算,奧地利已成為歐盟第三大難民接收國(匈牙利和瑞典之後)。最初對難民的歡迎態度和同情,很快就被社會和經濟融合以及有關成本帶來的不安全感所取代。

移民問題的緊張氣氛也蔓延到了政治舞台。呼籲高建圍牆阻擋移民的 FPÖ在2015年的國家選舉中收穫了30.4%的選票,僅排在收穫36.4%選票的ÖVP之後。該黨也改善了在維也納的表現,而維也納傳統上是社會民主黨(SPÖ)的堡壘(在第二次世界大戰結束後主宰該城市的政治)。ÖVP 和SPÖ政治聯盟在2016年總統選舉中表現不佳時,民衆對主流政治的不滿情緒和對改革的渴望更加明顯。在第二輪投票中,FPÖ候選人Norbert Hofer(49.7%)被Alexander Van der Belle (Green Party支持的獨立候選人, 50.3%)擊敗。結果表明,社會上分為反歐盟、反伊斯蘭和反移民立場的支持者和贊成歐盟社會自由政策的支持者。

在選舉失敗後不久,SPÖ的領導人Werner Faymann下台,時任奧地利聯邦鐵路公司行政總裁的Christian Kern接任了他的位置。聯合政府之間的爭端也導致了ÖVP的Reinhold Mitterlehner的呈辭,該黨主席的位置於2017年5月由31歲的外交部長塞巴斯蒂安·庫爾茨(Sebastian Kurz)繼任。雖然兩個政黨作出改變 ,但加強合作和實施改革的前景不明朗,令聯合政府最終崩潰,Kurz呼籲於2017年10月15日進行臨時選舉。

中間偏右領先

最近的民意調查顯示,選舉顯然將是ÖVP,SPÖ和FPÖ的戰場,ÖVP預計會獲得大部分的選票。根據10月8日由Kurier報發表的民意調查報告,33%的選民支持ÖVP,其次是SPÖ,支持率為27%,FPÖ為25%。 NEOS,彼得皮爾茲名單( Liste Peter Pilz)和綠黨榜首遠遠落後於4-5%。爭奪第二席位的情況仍然很緊張,而其他民意預驗,例如由Der Standard和Österreich發表的民意調查,預測FPÖ將領先於SPÖ。

Date Source Sample Margin of error 1 2 3 4 5 6
9/10 Research Affairs/Österreich 1000 ±3.1 % ÖVP

33%

FPÖ

27%

SPÖ

23%

NEOS

6%

Liste Pilz

5%

The Greens 5%
8/10 OGM/Kurier 1002 ±3.1 % ÖVP

33%

SPÖ

27%

FPÖ

25%

NEOS

5%

Liste Pilz

4%

 

The Greens

4%

6/10 Market/Der Standard 813 ±3.5 % ÖVP

33%

FPÖ

25%

SPÖ

23%

Liste Pilz

6%

NEOS

5%

The Greens

5%

Source: https://pollofpolls.eu/AT

The graph below shows an overall polling trend and changes across time:

austria_graph

Source: https://pollofpolls.eu/AT

ÖVP在塞巴斯蒂安·庫爾斯接管了該黨的領導地位之後,已經獲得了比對手更強大的優勢。由於他的年輕和魅力,他長期以來一直吸引媒體的關注。作為新的ÖVP主席,他試圖通過重新包裝,刷新政黨的形象,並引入新名字到「塞巴斯蒂安·庫爾斯選舉名單」。他將ÖVP重新塑造成更像一個獨立的團體,使人對他和馬克龍的戰術「共和前進」運動作出比較,「共和前進」運動使馬克龍在今年的法國總統選舉中勝出。庫爾茨還更側重於削減到奧地利的移民和加快難民融合奧地利社會。他的建議包括削減對奧地利新移民提供社會福利,並更好地保護歐盟邊界。大家相信這種強硬的移民手段可以幫助他吸引偏向右派的選民。在經濟方面,庫爾茨希望削減社會支出,降低稅收,鼓勵企業創造更多的就業機會。

經濟改革也明顯存在於中間偏左派的計劃中。 2017年1月,奧地利總理兼SPÖ主席克恩提出了一個十年計劃,以為創造就業機會、增加公共投資和增加對跨國公司的稅收。社會民主黨選舉活動的重點是增加養老金和最低工資,可負擔的房屋,對財富和遺產的新稅收以及創造就業補貼等

由Heinz-Christian Strache領導的奧地利自由黨(FPÖ),實行極右民粹主義,將與移民有關的問題作為其政治計劃的中心。奧地利自由黨強調國家認同,反對移民,後者被視為對當地文化價值觀和傳統的威脅。它也反對伊斯蘭教,一直主張禁止宗教及其符號。 FPÖ的經濟議程是基於低稅收和其他激勵措施,支持中小企業,以及社會福利國家的特點。

聯合政府的衝突加深

執政聯盟的分裂只是ÖVP和SPÖ之間關係惡化的開始。最近,SPÖ支付了一些Facebook網站,散佈具爭議的內容來詆毀塞巴斯蒂安·庫爾茲(Sebastian Kurz),SPÖ的聲譽因此受到破壞。這些網站是由主席克恩的前顧問Tal Silberstein所設立,他因被調查參與洗錢活動後於8月被解僱。雖然克恩說他不知道這些網站,並承諾進行徹底的調查,但醜聞已經成為反對派攻擊SPÖ的武器。

此外,曾為Silberstein工作的SPÖ前員工Peter Puller表示ÖVP在7月份向他提供10萬歐元,以換取他「轉換方向」。 ÖVP發言人稱這個指控是虛假的,並宣布該黨將對社會民主黨採取法律行動。作為回應,SPÖ希望提出訴訟,針對為塞巴斯蒂安·庫爾茲(Sebastian Kurz)工作的Gerald Fleischmann的「賄賂」和「商業秘密間諜」行為。

有可能產生的聯盟和變革的時間

因為四分之一左右的選民依然未決定投票意向,所以並不能預測選舉結果。選舉之後的未來以及政黨之間可能組成的聯盟也是熱門話題。由於ÖVP和SPÖ之間的聯盟失去了群眾的支持,而且雙方之間的衝突在過去幾周中一直在加劇,大部分媒體估計的方案是ÖVP和FPÖ的夥伴關係。因此,即使FPÖ在選舉中排名第三,聯盟將為FPÖ加入政府鋪路。事實上,ÖVP和FPÖ在2000-2005年之前是聯盟夥伴的,但在歐盟引起了很大的爭議。相比之下,除了ÖVP,SPÖ更難找到另一個聯盟夥伴。儘管幾個月前,中間偏左政黨放棄了30年的禁令,與極右政黨組織聯盟,但SPÖ和FPÖ之間的差距實在太大,使得這種聯盟不太可能。 SPÖ也可能與其他較小的政黨合作,如自由黨NEOS,Liste Pilz和綠黨等。

無論是哪一種情況出現,是次選舉對於奧地利政治的未來將是非常重要。 聯合政府的崩潰和對FPÖ的大力支持已經成為選民對現狀不滿的明確指標。 隨著選民尋求其他的政治選擇,過去享有強勢地位的政黨現在正在加緊改革,適應不斷變化的形勢。 對移民的嚴格修辭不再是極右政黨的專利,政治光譜中的其他政黨亦爭相效法此舉。 中間和極右派的選舉勝利也代表奧地利成為歐盟國家趨勢的一部分 – 社會民主派的緩慢衰落。 因此,對社會民主派的警鐘已經敲響,他們需重建理念來說服大眾:他們仍可提供可行的辦法來解決對社會和經濟穩定的擔憂。

 

 

[1] https://tradingeconomics.com/austria/gdp-growth

[2] http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/7203832/3-04032016-AP-EN.pdf/790eba01-381c-4163-bcd2-a54959b99ed6

[3] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-austria-election/austrian-far-right-party-gets-electoral-boost-from-migrant-crisis-idUSKCN0RR0ZQ20150927

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/11/social-democrats-win-vienna-election-despite-freedom-party-gains

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/23/far-right-candidate-defeated-austrian-presidential-election-norbert-hofer#img-2

[6] https://www.ft.com/content/fe062f54-accb-3b31-a960-f3d029933ad9

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/17/macron-austrian-minister-sebastian-kurz-french-election

[8] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-03/austria-s-kurz-plans-14-billion-of-tax-cuts-to-boost-growth

[9] https://www.euractiv.com/section/social-europe-jobs/news/austrian-chancellor-launches-bid-to-win-back-voters-from-far-right/

[10] http://www.reuters.com/article/uk-austria-fpo/austrias-far-right-freedom-party-calls-for-ban-on-fascistic-islam-idUSKBN1511LC

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/05/negative-campaign-sites-scandal-shakes-up-austrian-election-race

[12] http://diepresse.com/home/innenpolitik/nationalratswahl/5297689/SilbersteinMitarbeiter_Bekam-von-der-OeVP-100000-angeboten

[13] http://www.politico.eu/article/legal-writs-fly-as-austrias-facebook-scandal-deepens-sebastian-kurz/

[14] http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-austria-politics/austrian-social-democrats-drop-ban-on-coalitions-with-far-right-idUKKBN1951B6?il=0