Category Archives: Austria
EU 2014: Austria to Finland
In the next few posts, this blog will be covering the detailed results of the May 22-25 European Parliament (EP) election in the 28 member-states of the EU. As was argued in my introductory overview, the reality of EP elections is that they are largely fought and decided over national issues and the dynamics of EP elections are similar to those of midterm elections in the US. The results of this year’s EP elections, despite the EU’s attempts to create the narrative of a pan-European contest with ‘presidential candidates’ for the presidency of the Commission, confirmed that this is still the case. Turnout remained flat across the EU, and while some pan-European trends are discernible – largely an anti-incumbent swing which is nothing new or unusual in EP elections, with a secondary swing to anti-establishment Eurosceptic parties in most but not all member-states – the fact of the matter is that the changes in the makeup and strength of the parliamentary groups in the new EP owe to individual domestic political dynamics in the 28 member-states.
These posts will likely come in alphabetical order. Some countries will be covered by guest posters who have generously accepted to help out in this big task, contributing some local expertise.
These posts do not include, generally, descriptions of each party’s ideology and nature. For more information on parties, please refer to older posts I may have written on these countries on this blog or some excellent pre-election guides by Chris Terry on DemSoc.
In this first post, the results in countries from Austria to Finland.
Turnout: 45.39% (-0.58%)
MEPs: 18 (-1)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR, 4% threshold (national constituency)
ÖVP (EPP) 26.98% (-3%) winning 5 seats (-1)
SPÖ (S&D) 24.09% (+0.35%) winning 5 seats (nc)
FPÖ (NI/EAF) 19.72% (+7.01%) winning 4 seats (+2)
Greens (G-EFA) 14.52% (+4.59%) winning 2 seats (+1)
NEOS (ALDE) 8.14% (+8.14%) winning 1 seat (+1)
EU-STOP 2.76% (+2.76%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Europa Anders (GUE-NGL) 2.14% (+2.14%) winning 0 seats (nc)
REKOS (NI/MELD) 1.18% (+1.18%) winning 0 seats (nc)
BZÖ (NI) 0.47% (-4.11%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Austria’s two traditional parties of government – the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) both performed relatively poorly, in line with the general long-term trend of Austrian politics since 2006 or the 1990s. The last national elections in September 2013 ultimately saw the reelection of Chancellor Werner Faymann’s SPÖ-ÖVP Grand Coalition, although both the SPÖ and ÖVP continued their downwards trend and suffered loses, hitting new all-time lows of 26.8% and 24% respectively. The SPÖ and ÖVP, having dominated and controlled Austrian politics for nearly the entire post-war period, have gradually seen their support diminish considerably from the days of the stable two-party system which existed until the late 1980s. The ‘Proporz’ power-sharing system – the division of posts in the public sector, parastatals and government between the two major parties in the context of a pillarized political system – eroded ideological differences and created a fairly corrupt and nepotistic system of patronage and political immobilism. Austria’s economy is doing fairly well and the country is a haven of stability, but there’s no great love for its government. The SPÖVP Grand Coalition, which has governed Austria since 2006, could perhaps best be described as ‘boring’ – a stable, consensual and moderate government which ‘stays the course’ with rather prudent economic policies (mixing austerity and Keynesian job-creation incentives) and a pro-European outlook. There have been controversies and scandals to weaken the governing parties’ support and make them vulnerable to anti-corruption politics, but no crippling scandals. In turn, that means that it can be described by critics as ineffective, stale and unresponsive to voters’ concerns.
Four parties benefited from the SPÖVP’s relative unpopularity in 2013. Two old ones: Heinz-Christian Strache’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), a strongly Eurosceptic and anti-immigration populist party with a strong ‘social’ rhetoric advocating both interventionist and neoliberal economic policies (tax relief, rent reduction, higher minimum wage, millionaires’ tax, more generous pensions, tax breaks for SMEs, tax cuts for the poorest bracket, reducing bureaucracy); and the Greens, a left-wing party focused on environmental questions and government ethics. Two new ones: NEOS, a new pro-European right-leaning liberal party founded by a former ÖVP member in 2012, which has taken strongly pro-European (federalist) views combined with fairly right-wing liberal economic stances (tax cuts, a flatter tax system, pension reform, reducing bureaucracy, macroeconomic stability); and Team Stronach, a populist Eurosceptic (anti-Euro) right-wing (liberal to libertarian economic views) party founded by Austrian-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach. The FPÖ won 20.5%, the Greens won 12.4%, Stronach won 5.7% and NEOS surprised everybody by winning 5% (taking 9 seats). The FPÖ was decimated by its participation in the controversial black-blue government with the ÖVP between 1998 and 2005, and further weakened by the FPÖ’s famous leader Jörg Haider walking out of the party to create the BZÖ in 2005. But since 2006, it has gradually recovered lost strength, regaining its traditional anti-establishment, anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric and base of protest voters. In the 2013 election, the BZÖ lost all its seats, having been fatally wounded by Haider’s death in a car crash in 2008 (a short while after Haider’s BZÖ had won 11% at the polls in 2008) and infighting after his death. Since the 2013 election, Stronach’s party has, for all intents and purposes, died off: the party’s underwhelming showing at the polls in September 2013 led to internal dissent against the boss (Stronach) while Stronach lost interest in his pet project. Stronach has since gone back to Canada, leaving his party’s weak caucus to fend for itself without their boss and his money. The party barely polls 1% in the polls, and it decided not to run in the European elections or a state election in Vorarlberg later this year.
The SPÖ and ÖVP, under Chancellor Faymann and Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger, renewed their coalition for a third successive term with basically the same policy agenda and dropping the contentious points on their platforms which the other party disagreed with. This was greeted with disinterest or opposition by the public, and Strache’s FPÖ has continued climbing in polls. The far-right, ironically one might add, has seemingly cashed in on the Hypo Group Alpe Adria bank troubles. The bank, owned by Haider’s far-right Carinthian government until 2007, has been at the heart of a large scandal involving bad loans, kickbacks to politicians and a banking expansion gone terribly wrong. The bank was sold by the Carinthian government to a Bavarian bank in 2007, before the Austrian federal government nationalized it in 2009. The embattled lender has required the federal government to pump out large sums of bailout money (taxpayers’ money) to prop it up, and the situation has barely improved. In February 2014, the SPÖVP government decided to set up a bad bank, transferring €19 billion of troubled assets to wind it down fully. Austrians have already paid about €5 billion to help the bank, and the majority of voters want to bank to go bankrupt rather than footing the costs of winding it down (the government’s plan would increase, albeit temporarily, the debt and deficit). Although many agree that it was Carinthia’s FPÖ government which created the Hypo mess in the first place, the FPÖ’s support increased in the polls this spring when the bank was a top issue. The FPÖ is generally first or second in national opinion polls, polling up to 26-27% while the ÖVP and SPÖ are in the low 20s.
EP elections are, however, a different matter. In the last few elections, the ÖVP has generally done better than in national polls and the FPÖ hasn’t done as well. In 2004 and 2009, the FPÖ was weakened by competition from the Martin List – an ideologically undefined anti-corruption and soft Euro-critical movement led by ex-SPÖ MEP Hans-Peter Martin, who won 14% in 2004 and 17.7% in 2009 (electing 2 and 3 MEPs respectively). Since 2009, Martin lost his two other MEPs – one joined the ALDE and ran for reelection as the right-liberal BZÖ’s top-candidate while the other ran as the top candidate for the European Left-aligned Europa Anders alliance (made up of the Pirate Party and the Communist Party), and his personal transparency and probity has been called into question. Martin, polling only 3%, did not run for reelection. The FPÖ was drawn into a significant crisis when Andreas Mölzer, MEP and top candidate from the FPÖ’s traditionalist far-right and pan-German wing, commented at a round-table that the Nazi Third Reich was liberal and informal compared to the ‘EU dictatorship’ and called the EU a ‘negro/nigger conglomerate’ (negrokonglomerat). Mölzer apologized for the ‘nigger’ comments but did not back down on the Third Reich comparison, and Strache initially accepted his apology. But there was strong political pressure from other Austrian politicians and parts of the FPÖ for Mölzer to step down as FPÖ top candidate, which he did on April 8. Harald Vilimsky, an FPÖ MP close to Strache, replaced him. Ironically, on April 8, the BZÖ’s initial top candidate, Ulrike Haider – the daughter of the late Carinthian governor – stepped down as the party’s top candidate. The FPÖ’s support in polls declined from 20-23% to 18-20% following the mini-scandal, before climbing back up to 20-21%.
The ÖVP, led by incumbent MEP and EP vice-president Othmar Karas, topped the poll with 27% of the vote, a result down 3% on the ÖVP’s fairly strong showing in 2009 (30%) and costing the party one seat in the EP. The SPÖ, which had performed very poorly in 2009 with only 23.7% (a result down nearly 10 points from 2004), barely improved its totals, taking a paltry 24.1%. In all, both coalition parties performed poorly at the polls. For the ÖVP, however, it was a strong performance compared to what it’s been polling in national polls – it has gotten horrendous results, barely over 20% and down to 18% in some polls; its leader, Vice Chancellor and finance minister Michael Spindelegger, even manages the relatively rare feat of being more disliked than the far-right’s leader. The ÖVP has been bleeding support to NEOS, the new right-wing liberal party which is attractive to ÖVP voters in their leader’s home-state of Vorarlberg but also high-income, well-educated urban centre-right voters. From 5% in 2013, NEOS has been polling up to 13-14% – the same range as the Greens.
The ÖVP’s stronger performance in the EP elections likely owes mostly to turnout. The ÖVP’s increasingly elderly and fairly rural electorate is far more likely to turn out in the EP election than the FPÖ’s potentially large but also fickle electorate of anti-EU protest voters who have lower turnout in low-stakes elections such as EP elections (and there was not much to mobilize a protest electorate to vote in an EP election this year). The turnout map shows the heaviest turnout from the rural Catholic ÖVP strongholds in Lower Austria (the Waldviertel and Mostviertel regions of the state are some of the strongest ÖVP regions in Austria, with the conservative party taking about 40% there this year), although turnout was also high in the traditionally Socialist state of Burgenland and SPÖ-leaning areas in Lower Austria’s Industrieviertel. In Vienna, the conservative-leaning districts had higher turnout than the working-class SPÖ/FPÖ battleground boroughs (53.7% turnout in ÖVP-leaning Hietzing and 34.8% turnout in the working-class district of Simmering).
SORA’s exit poll/post-election analysis showed an electorate which was more pro-EU than non-voters: 35% of voters expressed ‘confidence’ in the EU while only 18% of non-voters did so; 28% of voters expressed ‘anger’ in the EU compared to 35% of non-voters while an additional 19% of non-voters were indifferent towards the EU. 15% of non-voters thought the country should leave the EU; only 9% of actual voters thought likewise. Consider, on top of that, that of voters opposed to the EU, a full 60% supported the FPÖ while only 4% of pro-EU voters backed the far-right party. The FPÖ’s electorate is quasi-exclusively anti-EU/Eurosceptical, but it is this electorate which had the lowest turnout on May 25. As such, it is hard to consider this EP election as being an accurate portrayal of where public opinion/voting intentions for the next election stands at the moment.
Nevertheless, the FPÖ won a strong result, although it falls below the party’s 2013 result and falls far short of the FPÖ’s records in the 1996 and 1999 EP elections (27.5% and 23.4% respectively). The FPÖ gained about 7% from the 2009 election. According to SORA’s voter flow analysis, the FPÖ gained 26% of the 2009 Martin vote (130,000 votes), a quarter of the 2009 BZÖ vote (33,000) and 3% of 2009 non-voters (a still hefty 99,000 votes). It held 64% of its own vote from 2009, losing about 16% of its voters from five years ago to abstention and about 15k each to the ÖVP, SPÖ, Greens, NEOS and other parties. Geographically, the FPÖ performed best in Styria, placing a close second with 24.2% against 25.3% for the ÖVP – the FPÖ had won the state, where the state SPÖVP government is unpopular, in the 2013 elections. Unlike in the 2013 election, the FPÖ did fairly poorly in Graz (17.9%) but retained strong support in other regions of the state – both the conservative and rural southern half and the industrial SPÖ bastions of Upper Styria. In Carinthia, the FPÖ won 20.2%, gaining 13.5% since 2009, but not fully capitalizing on the BZÖ’s collapse in the old Haider stronghold – the BZÖ vote in the state fell by 19.6%, to a mere 1.4%. The SPÖ made strong gains in Carinthia, continuing the trend from the 2013 state and federal elections, winning 32.8% (+7.4%). In Vienna, the FPÖ won 18.2%, compared to 20.6% in 2013. Its best district remained the ethnically diverse and working-class Simmering, where the far-right party won 28.7% against 35.8% for the SPÖ.
The Greens performed surprisingly well, taking 14.5%, slightly better than the 12-13% they had received in EP polling. Since the 2009 election, the Greens have gained votes from non-voters (65k, 2%), Martin’s list (54k, 11%), the ÖVP (40k, 5% and the SPÖ (36k, 5%). These gains compensated for some fairly significant loses to NEOS, which took 12% of the Greens’ 2009 electorate (a trend observed in 2013) and to abstention, with 7% of the Greens’ 2009 supporters not turning out this year. The Greens performed best in Vorarlberg (23.3%, topping the polls in the districts of Feldkirch and Dornbirn) and Vienna (20.9%, topping the poll in their traditional strongholds in the central ‘bobo’ districts but also extending into gentrifying districts such as Hernals), and they were the largest party in the cities of Graz and Innsbruck.
Once again, the Greens’ support decreases with age (26% with those under 29, the SPÖ and ÖVP placed third and fifth respectively), increases with higher levels of education (31% with those with a university degree) and was at its highest with young females (32% with women under 29). There is a massive gender gap between young males and females; the former being the FPÖ’s prime clientele (33%) while the latter are left-leaning and liberal (only 16% for the FPÖ). The SPÖ and ÖVP, the two old parties, have been polling horribly with young voters, who prefer the fresher alternatives of the FPÖ (especially unemployed or blue-collar young males in demographically stagnant or declining areas, with low levels of qualification) or the Greens/NEOS (young, well-educated women and men with high qualifications in cosmopolitan urban areas and college towns). The SPÖ and ÖVP electorates are disproportionately made up of pensioners/seniors – the two parties won 34% and 35% of pensioners’ votes respectively.
NEOS, on the other hand, had a rather underwhelming performance: with 8.1% of the vote, the new liberal party on an upswing since 2013, only managed to win one MEP rather than the two they might have won if they matched their early polling numbers (12-14%). In the last stretch of the campaign, however, NEOS’ support fell to 10-11%, likely feeling the results of an ÖVP and Green offensive against the ‘NEOS threat’ – the Greens trying to depict NEOS as a right-wing liberal party. The party’s stances in favour of water privatization, waste management privatization and European federalism, which are unpopular topics in Austria, may have hurt them. Weak turnout with young voters, NEOS’ strongest electorate, may also have hurt them. NEOS polled best in Vorarlberg, where the party’s leader is from (14.9%) and Vienna (9.1%); in general, NEOS has urban support, largely from the same places where the Greens or the ÖVP find support (well-educated, younger, and middle-class professional inner cities). Demographically, NEOS’ support decreased with age (15% with those under 29) and generally increased with higher levels of education.
The BZÖ saw its support evaporate entirely, even in its former Carinthian stronghold. The party suffered from major infighting following Haider’s death, and the remnants of the party shifted to a right-wing liberal/libertarian and Eurosceptic platform which was a major flop in the 2013 elections. The BZÖ’s sole MEP, Ewald Stadler, from the far-right Haiderite/traditionalist wing of the party, was expelled from the party in 2013 after criticizing the right-liberal shift and the party’s 2013 campaign. He ran for reelection for The Reform Conservatives (REKOS), which won 1.2%. The BZÖ’s initial top candidate, Ulrike Haider, withdrew, and was replaced by Angelika Werthmann, an ex-Martin and ex-ALDE MEP. At this point, the BZÖ is likely to fully die off and disband.
On the left, the Austrian Pirates and Communists, which won only 0.8% and 1% in 2013, united to form an electoral coalition allied to the European Left, Europa Anders, led by Martin Ehrenhauser, an ex-Martin MEP. They managed a fairly respectable 2.1% of the vote.
Martin’s 2009 vote flowed mostly to the FPÖ (26%) and abstention (25%), but the SPÖ, ÖVP and Greens each received 11% of Martin’s 2009 vote and NEOS got 9% of them.
Turnout: 90.39% (+0.75%) – mandatory voting enforced
MEPs: 21 (-1) – 12 Dutch-speaking college (Flanders), 8 French-speaking college (Wallonia) and 1 German-speaking college (German Community); voters in Brussels-Capital and six municipalities with language facilities may choose between the Dutch and French colleges
Electoral system: Preferential list PR (no threshold) in 2 colleges, FPTP in the German-speaking college
N-VA (G-EFA > ?) 26.67% (+16.79%) winning 4 seats (+3)
Open Vld (ALDE) 20.4% (-0.16%) winning 3 seats (nc)
CD&V (EPP) 19.96% (-3.3%) winning 2 seats (-1)
sp.a (PES) 13.18% (-0.03%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Groen (G-EFA) 10.62% (+2.72%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Vlaams Belang (NI/EAF) 6.76% (-9.11%) winning 1 seat (-1)
PvdA+ 2.4% (+1.42%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PS (PES) 29.28% (+0.19%) winning 3 seats (nc)
MR (ALDE) 27.1% (+1.05%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Ecolo (G-EFA) 11.69% (-11.19%) winning 1 seat (-1)
cdH (EPP) 11.36% (-1.98%) winning 1 seat (nc)
PP 5.98% (+5.98%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PTB-GO! 5.48% (+4.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FDF 3.39% (+3.39%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Debout les Belges! 2.98% (+2.98%) winning 0 seats (nc)
La Droite 1.59% (+1.59%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.14% (-6.34%) winning 0 seats (nc)
CSP (EPP) 30.36% (-1.89%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Ecolo (G-EFA) 16.66% (+1.08%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PFF (ALDE) 16.05% (-4.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SP (PES) 15.11% (+0.48%) winning 0 seats (nc)
ProDG (EFA) 13.22% (+3.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Vivant 8.61% (+2.36%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The Belgian EP, federal and regional elections will be covered in a dedicated guest post.
Turnout: 36.15% (-1.34%)
MEPs: 17 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, Hare quota threshold approx 5.9% (national constituency)
GERB (EPP) 30.4% (+6.04%) winning 6 seats (+1)
Coalition for Bulgaria-BSP (PES) 18.93% (+0.43%) winning 4 seats (nc)
DPS (ALDE) 17.27% (+3.13%) winning 4 seats (+1)
Bulgaria Without Censorship 10.66% (+10.66%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Reformist Bloc (EPP) 6.45% (-1.5%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Alternative for Bulgarian Revival 4.02% (+4.02%) winning 0 seats (nc)
National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria 3.05% (+3.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Attack 2.96% (-9%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Others 6.26% winning 0 seats (-2)
In an election marked by low turnout – the norm for EP elections in the new member-states – the right-wing opposition party, former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s GERB (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria), ‘won’ the election and gained another two seats in the EP. The political climate in Bulgaria is incredibly bleak, and the elections in May 2013 have changed little except the colour of the head of an increasingly discredited, corrupt, incredibly disconnected and largely incompetent political elite. In 2009, only a month after the EP elections, the GERB, a new right-wing anti-corruption and ostensibly pro-European party founded by Boyko Borisov, a flamboyant and burly wrestler/bodyguard/police chief-turned-politician (he was mayor of Sofia from 2005 to 2009), won the legislative elections in a landslide, handing the governing Socialist Party (BSP) a thumping (like all Bulgarian governments up to that point, it was defeated after one term in office). Borisov quickly became unpopular, for implementing harsh austerity measures which drastically cut the budget deficit but aggravated poverty in the EU’s poorest countries (it has the lowest HDI and the lowest average wage at €333), and for proving once again that Bulgarian politicians are all hopelessly corrupt whose electoral stances are gimmicks. Borisov had previously been accused of being directly linked to organized crime and major mobsters in Bulgaria; in government, he was accused of money laundering for criminal groups by way of his wife, who owns a large bank. His interior minister wiretapped political rivals, businessmen and journalists; the top anti-crime official, who was Borisov’s former campaign manager, was suspected of having received a bribe in 1999 in return for alerting mobsters of police interventions and having turned a blind eye to drug trafficking channels in the country. Borisov’s government fell following huge and violent protests (a few protesters self-immolated) in early 2013, sparked by popular anger at exorbitant utility prices (it was said that households would soon spend 100% of their monthly income on basic necessities) charged by corrupt monopolistic private firms; but they symbolized a wider lack of trust in politicians and institutions, exasperation at political corruption, the control of politics by corrupt oligarchs and mismanagement in both the public and private sectors. Borisov engineered his own resignation in pure populist fashion and called for snap elections, in which the GERB lost 19 seats and 9% but retained a plurality of seats. However, given a polarized and dirty political climate, Borisov was unable to form government.
The opposition BSP, which increased its support by about 9%, formed a minority government in coalition with the Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS), the party of the Turkish minority, and received conditional support from the far-right nationalist Attack party, notwithstanding the far-right’s traditional vicious anti-DPS and anti-Turkish rhetoric. Plamen Oresharski, a somewhat technocratic BSP figure (who had been a very right-wing finance minister under a past BSP government), became Prime Minister. But it was clear that the elections had changed little and that the new government was unfit to address the real challenges at hand: there remained a large discrepancy between the political elite and the citizenry, an ‘above’ vs. ‘below’ polarization rather than an ideological divide. The BSP is little different from the GERB; the left-wing rhetoric and orientation of the BSP is largely for show, because in power, from 2005 to 2009, the BSP government introduced a 10% flat tax (despite promising to amend it to make it progressive for some, the Oresharski government has keep it intact) and continued privatizations, while proving no less corrupt or incompetent than the right. Lo and behold, two weeks after Oresharski cobbled together his fragile government, major protests erupted in Sofia after the government nominated Delyan Peevski, a DPS MP and highly controversial and corrupt media mogul/oligarch, to head the secret service. Although officially owned by his mother, Peevski’s media group controls several high-circulation newspapers, TV channels and news websites which tend to be invariably pro-government while he is closely tied to Tsvetan Vassilev, the boss of a powerful bank which dispenses much of the investment for state-owned companies. Peevski is also a politician, having served as a deputy minister under a previous BSP government before he was fired and prosecuted (but later cleared) on extortion and corruption charges. The protests forced Oresharski to quickly revoke Peevski’s appointment, but the large protests, rallying tens of thousands of mostly young and/or middle-class protesters in Sofia organized through social media, continued in June and July. In late July, protesters laid siege to Parliament after MPs had approved a new debt emission without clarifying where 40% of the funds will go. Police brutally cracked down on protesters and bused the MPs out. The protests became a catch-all movement, calling for the resignation of the government, more transparency, less corruption, an end to the rule of oligarchs, cracking down on organized crime and more broadly rescuing Bulgaria from its dismal state. In late 2013, a report by the European Commission lamented the government’s inability to reform the slow and ineffective judiciary or fight corruption.
Protests have continued, but with lower turnout, marked by student sit-ins and campus occupations in October and January. Support for the protests apparently declined somewhat, with the BSP voicing concerns that the protests were partisan and that the GERB was seeking to seize control of the movement, although it does not appear that most protesters have been co-opted. Critics have attacked the middle-class background of the protesters, the strongly anti-communist and anti-leftist rhetoric of the protesters which has enabled the BSP to rally its supporters (in counter-protesters, allegedly paid) and perhaps some thinly-veiled anti-Turkish (DPS) sentiments. There has been some ‘protest fatigue’ setting in, with calls on the protesters to lay off and allow the government, although it may fall and be forced into snap elections at a moment’s notice, to prove itself. The government assures voters that it has a reformist platform, aimed at tackling corruption and improving living conditions and social benefits. However, at other times, the BSP has preferred to play political games, lashing out and pointing figures at the GERB, which retaliated with more politicking of its own.
A new party, Bulgaria Without Censorship (BBT), was founded in January 2014, led by former TV host Nikolay Barevok. BBT, which has allied with parties on the right and left, has a populist platform with promises to lock up corrupt politicians, work for ‘capitalism with a human face’ (Barekov has expressed nostalgia for the communist regime and criticized the effects of capitalism on the country) and an operation to audit the income and property of all Bulgarian politicians over the last 20 years. Barevok doesn’t come without baggage of his own – anti-corruption activists have asked questions about Barekov’s weight and there is the matter of his alleged connections to Peevski and Tsvetan Vassilev.
The GERB won the EP elections with a solid majority over the governing Coalition for Bulgaria, in which the BSP is the only relevant party. The party won 30.4%, very similar to its 2013 result, although its vote intake of 630.8k was far less than the 1.08 million votes the GERB won in 2013. The BSP coalition won 18.9%, a terrible showing similar to the 2009 EP election, when the BSP was also an unpopular governing party (then under Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, who was soundly defeated a month later). From 942.5k votes in 2013, the BSP fell to only 424,000 votes this year.
The DPS, the party representing the Turkish minority, did very well with 17.3% of the vote, and the DPS’ vote intake was 97% of what it had won in 2013, the best hold of any major party. The DPS performs well in low-turnout elections, such as EP elections – in 2009, the DPS had won 14.1% and, most spectacularly, came close to topping the poll in the low-turnout 2007 EP by-election, winning 20.3% in an election with 29% turnout. Turnout tends to be higher in the Turkish areas of the country, where the DPS has a renowned ability to mobilize its Turkish electorate using various legal and extra-legal means (it is often accused of ‘electoral tourism’, which leads to Turkish voters voting at home in Bulgaria before turning up to vote ‘abroad’ at consulates in Turkey; plus the vote buying and intimidation techniques used by all parties); the division of the ethnic Bulgarian vote between different parties also helps the DPS top the poll even in Turkish-minority areas. For example, in this election, the division of the vote and turnout dynamics likely explain why the DPS polled the most votes in Smolyan and Pazardzhik province (which are 91% and 84% Bulgarian respectively, but the DPS has strong support with religious Muslim Pomaks – Bulgarian Muslims, who may identify as Turks – in the western Rhodope). In Kardzhali province, which is two-thirds Turkish, the DPS won 70.2% of the vote; it also topped the poll in four provinces with a significant Turkish minority (or majority, in Razgrad province) in northern Bulgaria. Peevski was the DPS’ top candidate, but he has declined to take his seat as a MEP.
The new BBT won 10.7% of the vote. It may have benefited from the collapse of the far-right Attack (Ataka), which had received about 12% in 2009 (and 7.3% in 2013), but won only 3% of the vote this year. The far-right has likely been hurt by its support for the government – the association with the DPS doesn’t seem to bother them too much, and Attack’s leader Volen Siderov spilled lots of vitriol on the protesters. The far-right’s support had previously collapsed between 2009 and 2013, when Attack had unofficially supported Borisov’s government, before it used the anti-Borisov protests to save its parliamentary seats in 2013. The Reformist Bloc, a right-wing coalition made up of the old Union of Democratic Forces (SDS, Bulgaria’s governing party between 1991 and 1992 and 1997 to 2001), former SDS Prime Minister Ivan Kostov’s fan club (the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria) and former EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva’s centre-right personal vehicle (Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, which failed to get into Parliament in 2013), held one of their seats with 6.5% of the vote. Kuneva was the alliance’s top candidate.
Turnout: 25.24% (+4.5%)
MEPs: 11 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 5% threshold (national constituency)
HDZ-HSS-HSP AS-BUZ (EPP/ECR) 41.42% (+8.56%) winning 6 seats (nc) [4 HDZ-EPP, 1 HSS-EPP, 1 HSP AS-ECR]
Kukuriku coalition (S&D/ALDE) 29.93% (-5.98%) winning 4 seats (-1) [3 SDP-S&D, 1 HNS LD-ALDE]
ORaH (G-EFA) 9.42% (+9.42%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Alliance for Croatia/HDSSB-HSP 6.88% (-0.07%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Labourists (GUE-NGL) 3.4% (-2.37%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Croatian Center/NF-HSLS-PGS 2.4% winning 0 seats
Others 6.55% winning 0 seats
Croatia is the EU’s newest member-state, having joined the Union on July 1 of last year – after two-thirds of voters had voted in favour of EU membership in January 2012 and three months after a by-election to elect Croatia’s 12 new MEPs (in which turnout was only 20%). Although there is no significant party which is openly anti-EU, there was little enthusiasm for joining the EU – certainly, joining the midst of the Eurozone crisis, there was none of that pomp which accompanied the EU’s Eastern enlargement in 2004. The Croatian economy has been performing poorly for nearly five years now – in fact, Croatia has been in recession for five years in a row, since the GDP plunged by nearly 7% in 2009. GDP growth is projected to remain negative in 2014, at -0.6%, although Croatia is expected to finally grow out of recession next year. Unemployment has soared from 9% when the recession began to about 17-20% today, with little relief expected in the next few years. The country’s public debt has increased from 36% to nearly 65% of the GDP. Croatia was initially hurt by the collapse of its exports to the rest of the EU with the global recession in 2009-2010, and many argue that the crisis has been so painful in Croatia because of the government’s reluctance to adopt structural reforms to reduce the country’s high tax rates, boost consumption, reducing tax revenues, downsize a large and costly public sector and restrictive monetary policies. Nevertheless, since 2009, two successive Croatian governments – from the right and left of the spectrum – have adopted similar austerity measures which have been deeply unpopular with voters and unconvincing for investors.
Between 2003 and 2011, Croatia was ruled by a centre-right coalition led by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Franjo Tuđman’s old authoritarian-nationalist party which had transformed into a pro-European conservative party under Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (2003-2009). The HDZ government became deeply unpopular because of the economic crisis, austerity policies and corruption scandals which have landed Sanader in jail. Hit by the recession, the HDZ government under well-meaning but largely ineffective Prime Minister Jadranska Kosor introduced a new income ‘crisis’ tax and increased the VAT by 1%. More importantly, the HDZ soon became embroiled in a series of particularly egregious corruption cases involving Sanader himself. In December 2010, as the Parliament was about to strip him of his parliamentary immunity, Sanader tried to flee to Austria but was arrested on an Interpol warrant and later extradited to Croatia to face trial. In this context, an opposition coalition, Kukuriku, led by Zoran Milanović’s Social Democrats (SDP) in alliance with the left-liberal Croatian People’s Party-Liberal Democrats (HNS-LD) and the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), won the December 2011 elections in a landslide with 40.7% against only 23.9% for the HDZ coalition.
In office, Milanović’s government has continued with similar austerity policies, which the centre-left government claims are tough measures necessary to make Croatia competitive in the EU and which any government would be forced to take. He has cut public spending, begun a wave of privatizations, reformed pensions, liberalized foreign investment and has talked of cutting 15,000 jobs from the public sector. Some of his controversial economic policies have been opposed by trade unions and employees, while the likes of The Economist dislike the government’s reluctance to cut taxes and public sector wages. The SDP-led government is widely viewed as being uninspiring, and some of Milanović’s decisions have baffled supporters – for example, Milanović barred (until January 2014) the extradition to Germany of former Yugoslav-era secret police chief Josip Perković, who is wanted for the murder of a Croatian defector in Germany in 1983. The opposition HDZ is hardly in better shape. Tomislav Karamarko, the HDZ leader since 2012, has not really improved the HDZ’s standing in opinion polls. In late 2012, the opposition leader was accused of creating a fake scandal to discredit the government (a right-wing paper had alleged that the interior minister had been tapping phones of intelligence operatives, before a left-wing paper countered by claiming that the intelligence operatives had suspected ties with the mafia). In December 2012, Ivo Sanader was found guilty in a first corruption trial and sentenced to 10 years in jail, for having accepted bribes from Austria’s Hypo Bank and an Hungarian oil company. In March 2014, Sanader received another 9 year prison sentence when he – and the HDZ – were found guilty of corruption, accusing Sanader of being behind a scheme to siphon off funds from state-run institutions for personal and partisan financial gain. There has, however, been a mobilization of socially conservative and nationalist opinion, buoyed by the successful initiative referendum last year which amended the constitution to ban gay marriage. The ban on same-sex marriage was approved by 65.9% of voters, despite the opposition of the Prime Minister.
The opposition coalition, made of the HDZ, the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), the national-conservative Croatian Party of Rights dr. Ante Starčević (HSP-AS) and a pensioners party, won a strong victory – but with only a quarter of the electorate actually turning up. With 41% of the vote, the HDZ’s result is about 8.6 points better than what it had won in the by-election last year, when the right had defeated the SDP coalition by a small margin. The right-wing coalition won 381,844 votes, which is less than what the right received in the 2011 parliamentary elections (554,765), when it had won only 23.4%. Given the low turnout, it is likely a matter of differential mobilization – with opposition voters being more motivated to turn out than supporters of an unpopular and uninspiring government. Polls for the next general elections have showed the right to be tied with or leading the government, but more because the government’s numbers have collapsed to a low level than any major increase in the right’s support (which stands at 24-27%, with the gains from the HDZ’s result in 2011 coming from the addition of the party’s new allies, the HSS and HSP-AS). Turnout was slightly higher in some of the HDZ’s traditional strongholds in Dalmatia, but correlation between turnout and the right’s support was not apparent at the county level. As in 2013, the top vote-winning candidate on preferential votes was Ruža Tomašić, the MEP from the nationalist HSP-AS, who sits with the British Tories in the ECR group (the HDZ, and now the HSS, which won one of the coalition’s six MEPs, sits with the EPP). She won 107,206 votes, or 28.1% of votes cast for the list.
The SDP-led coalition expanded compared to the 2013 EP election, taking in the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), which had won 3.8% of the vote (and topped the poll in Istria, a traditional left-wing bastion), but despite this expansion, the Kukuriku list won 6% less than the SDP-IDS’ combined total from the 2013 by-election and the 275.9k votes it won represents a huge collapse from the 958,000 votes the left had won in 2011. Tonino Picula, an incumbent SDP MEP, received the most preferential votes (48.1%), while the Kukuriku coalition’s top candidate on the list, EU Commissioner Neven Mimica won only 8.1% of preferential votes cast for the list.
To a large extent, the other major winners of the election were smaller parties, although only one of them won seats. ORaH – Croatian Sustainable Development (although orah means nut or walnut in Croatian)- is a new green party founded by former SDP environment minister Mirela Holy, who resigned from cabinet in 2012 citing disagreements with the government’s policy. ORaH describes itself as a socially liberal, progressive green party of the centre-left, and is seeking association with the European Greens. The party’s support has soared in polls since its creation in October 2013, now averaging about 9-11% nationally. Likely pulling votes from the left – ORaH performed best in traditionally left-leaning counties such as the city and county of Zagreb, Istria and Primorje-Gorski Kotar – the party won 9.4% or 86.8 thousand votes, electing Mirela Holy to the EP.
On the right of the spectrum, the Alliance for Croatia, a new right-wing coalition made of the regionalist/conservative Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja (HDSSB), the far-right Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) and the new far-right Hrast movement, won 6.9% of the vote, but failed to win a seat. To a large extent, the alliance’s support remained concentrated in the HDSSB’s traditional stronghold in Osijek-Baranja county, where it won 16.4%, but it did win some significant support outside the poor conservative region of Slavonia, notably in Zagreb (7%) and Split-Dalmatia county (10.9%).
The Labourists, a left-wing anti-austerity party founded by HNS dissident Dragutin Lesar, which won 5% in 2011 and 5.8% in 2013, lost its only MEP. The party, which polled up to 10% in 2012, has seen its support declined to 7-8%. The Partnership of the Croatian Centre, a new centre-right alliance including ophthalmologist Nikica Gabrić’ National Forum, the centre-right Social Liberals (HSLS) and two small local parties, won 2.4% of the vote. Former Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, expelled from the HDZ in March 2013, was the alliance’s top preferential vote-winner, with 29.7% of the votes cast for the alliance in her name against 24.2% for Gabrić.
This EP election should probably not be taken as an accurate depiction of voters’ view, because turnout was just so low. Polls suggest that the next election, due by 2016, will result in an exploded political scene, with both the SDP and HDZ-led blocs polling below 30% with third parties such as ORaH, the Labourists, the HDSSB and the centrist alliance being all potential kingmakers in what may be a very divided Sabor.
Turnout: 43.97% (-15.43%) – mandatory voting unenforced
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR, 1.8% threshold (national constituency)
DISY (EPP) 37.75% (+1.76%) winning 2 seats (nc)
AKEL (GUE-NGL) 26.98% (-8.37%) winning 2 seats (nc)
DIKO (S&D) 10.83% (-1.48%) winning 1 seat (nc)
EDEK-Green (S&D) 7.68% (-3.76%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Citizen’s Alliance 6.78% winning 0 seats (nc)
Message of Hope 3.83% winning 0 seats (nc)
ELAM 2.69% (+2.48%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.42% winning 0 seats (nc)
Cyprus has been especially hard hit by the financial crisis. Cyprus’ huge offshore banking sector speculated on the Greek debt, and came under pressure beginning in 2008-2009 as bad debt ratios rose and they incurred major loses when Greece restructured its debt. The country’s economy collapsed after 2011: in 2013, the worst year of the crisis, the Cypriot GDP shrank by 6% and is projected to remain in recession in 2014 (-4.8%); the public debt has increased from 58.5% in 2009 to 121.5% in 2014, one of the highest public debts in the EU; unemployment has jumped from 5% in 2009 to 19% in 2014, the third highest in the EU. The Cypriot crisis was particularly complicated for EU policymakers and the IMF because the issue was the island’s gigantic and overextended banking sector – in 2011, its banking sector was said to be eight time as big as its GDP. To complicate matters further, a lot of banking deposits were held by wealthy Russians and Russians make up an important share of the local population.
Cyprus had been in trouble for quite some time before 2013, but the government of President Dimitris Christofias, from the communist Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL), in office since 2008, initially resisted pressure to seek a bailout from the troika, downplayed the severity of the crisis and opposed implementing austerity and structural reforms. Christofias and the troika didn’t like one another; the latter didn’t trust him to implement structural reforms such as reductions in social spending and public sector wages (which is said to be overstaffed and generously paid compared to the private sector). As the crisis worsened and Cyprus’ credit rating was downgraded, the island was forced to ask for a European bailout in June 2012. Cyprus needed a €17 billion loan spread out over four years, a substantial sum of money representing one year’s worth of the Cypriot GDP; over half of that was needed to recapitalize its banks. In 2011, Cyprus also received a €2.5 billion loan from Russia, which is influential in Cyprus. President Christofias, however, balked at the terms of such deals: he opposed privatization of state assets and was a vocal critic of austerity policies. That being said, his government started introducing austerity policies in 2012 and early 2013: cuts in social spending, a VAT hike and the introduction of retirement contributions for civil servants. With a poor economic record, Christofias did not run for reelection to the presidency in February 2013, and the election was won in a landslide by Nicos Anastasiades, the leader of the conservative pro-EU, pro-bailout and pro-reunification Democratic Rally (DISY). With a more friendly and credible partner, the troika began negotiations for a bailout.
The first bailout agreement in March 2013 represented a major new step in the Eurozone crisis: it imposed a one-time levy on insured and uninsured bank deposits, at a 6.7% rate for deposits up to €100,000 and 9.9% on deposits above that rate. Designed to prevent the island’s banking sector from completely collapsing (but also because Germany didn’t want to loan the full €17 billion and only agreed to €10 billion), the ‘haircut’ on deposits was extremely unpopular and provoked a firestorm in Cyprus and across the EU. A few days later, with pressure from Russia (which was severely irked by the bailout terms) and local protesters, the Parliament rejected the deal. There were worries that Cyprus might be forced to pull out of the eurozone following a tense standoff with the ECB, but a second deal was reached: the Laiki Bank, the second largest bank, would be restructured in a bad bank, spared all insured deposits of €100,000 and less but levied uninsured deposits at the Laiki Bank and 40% of uninsured deposits in the Bank of Cyprus. In the final agreement, no bank levy was imposed, as the Laiki Bank would be directly closed, although uninsured deposits over €100,000 at the Laiki Bank would be lost and those over the same amount at the Bank of Cyprus would be frozen for a haircut if necessary. The Cypriot government also accepted implementation of an anti-money laundering framework, reducing the deficit, structural reforms and privatization. Cyprus also imposed capital controls. However, the first botched bailout was not forgotten in collective memories across Europe, with many fearing that there was now a precedent for ‘bail-ins’ and haircuts in the EU. It also soured Cypriots’ opinion of the EU, fueled by the view that they were the victims of the crisis and were unfairly blamed and punished for it.
With its business model destroyed, the country fell into a deep and painful recession, although the intensity of the recession did not turn out as bad as was predicted last spring and tourism didn’t perform nearly as bad as expected due to Russian tourists. In February 2014, the anti-reunification Democratic Rally (DIKO)’s cabinet ministers resigned and the Parliament did not pass a privatization program, which controversially privatized electricity, telecommunications and ports. A few days later, however, Parliament adopted a revised privatization program, which aims to raise €1.4 billion to pay back the next €156 million aid tranche. International creditors had threatened to withhold payments. The other part of the story behind DIKO’s resignation was its opposition to the reopening of talks with the Turkish Cypriot-controlled north (the TRNC); the issue has been at an impasse since Greek Cypriots in the south rejected the 2004 Annan Plan to reunify the island in a referendum right before it joined the EU, but Anastasiades and DISY were the only leading southern politicians to call for a yes vote in 2004 (Christofias and AKEL are pro-reunification, but Christofias had crucially failed to endorse the yes at the last moment).
The EP election saw extremely low turnout, by Cypriot standards. In 2004, turnout was 72.5%, but it fell to a low of 59.4% in 2009. For comparison, in the 2013 presidential election, over 80% of the electorate had turned out. This year, turnout collapsed below 50%, to 44% – an all-time low. The cause of the low turnout is likely political dissatisfaction and growing apathy – Cyprus hasn’t seen major social movements or protests against the austerity policies imposed, unlike Greece or Spain. As predicted by local pollsters, in a low turnout election, most voters were party loyalists who voted along the traditional party lines. The governing DISY won the election; Anastasiades has managed to shrug off the humiliation of March 2013. However, despite a strong victory, its actual number of voters – because of the low turnout – falls far short of what DISY won in 2009 or 2013. The major loser was the communist AKEL, the former ruling party, which suffered from the demobilization of its electorate, traditionally loyal, after the disastrous record of AKEL’s last term in government. AKEL’s anti-credibility also lacks in credibility. Cyprus stands out from the rest of Europe – and the world – for the strength of the communist movement on the island, which has been active since the 1920s and present in Parliament since independence. AKEL generally tended to support Archbishop Makarios’ government and oppose the enosist (union with Greece) far-right before 1974. DISY was founded as the most pro-Western and pro-NATO centre-right party in 1976 after the invasion, by Glafkos Clerides.
The two smaller parties, the anti-reunification DIKO and the social democratic EDEK (founded by Makarios’ physician and Greek nationalist Vassos Lyssarides in 1969; it ran in alliance with the Greens, KOP) lost votes. Smaller parties benefited from the political climate, but failed to win seats. The Citizen’s Alliance, an anti-corruption, Eurosceptic and anti-Turkish party, won 6.8% of the vote. Somewhat notable was the small success of ELAM (National Popular Front), a far-right/neo-Nazi party tied to Greece’s Golden Dawn (XA). It won 2.7%, a ‘major’ gain from 2009. With over 6,900 votes, ELAM actually won more votes than it did in 2013.
DISY won all districts. It won its biggest victory in the small Greek Cypriot portion of Ammochostos/Famagusta district, with 47.9%, but only 14,000 or so votes were cast. AKEL was defeated in Larnaca district, the traditional communist bastion on the island, with 33.7% to DISY’s 39.2%. In Pafos district, EDEK suffered major loses, losing 8% of the vote.
Turnout: 18.20% (-15.43%)
MEPs: 21 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 5% threshold (national constituency)
ANO 2011 (ALDE) 16.13% (+16.13%) winning 4 seats (+4)
TOP 09-STAN (EPP) 15.95% (+15.95%) winning 4 seats (+4)
ČSSD (S&D) 14.17% (-8.21%) winning 4 seats (-3)
KSČM (GUE-NGL) 10.98% (-3.2%) winning 3 seats (-1)
KDU-ČSL (EPP) 9.95% (+2.31%) winning 3 seats (+1)
ODS (ECR) 7.67% (-23.78%) winning 2 seats (-7)
Svobodní (EFD) 5.24% (+3.98%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pirate Party 4.78% (+4.78%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Green Party (G-EFA) 3.77% (+1.71%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Úsvit 3.12% (+3.12%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 8.24% (-12.79%) winning 0 seats (nc)
In the past five years, there have been huge changes in Czech politics, which may portend a realignment of the country’s partisan and political system, which is more unstable and exploded than ever before. For years, Czech politics were dominated by the centre-right and Eurosceptic Civic Democrats (ODS), close allies of the British Tories; and the centre-left Social Democrats (ČSSD); ideological differences became muted after the two rivals signed an ‘opposition agreement’ in 1998 in which the ODS agreed to tolerate a ČSSD minority government in return for government jobs and keeping access to the spoils. The 1998 agreement was immediately unpopular, and briefly boosted the prospects of the largely unreformed Communist Party (KSČM) and the centrists, led by the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). It is cited to this day as the moment at which the ODS and ČSSD agreed to share the spoils, betray the voters and allowed politics to become corrupted by a murky group of lobbyists and businessmen. Yet, the system did not collapsed: after both parties did poorly in 2002, they both gained votes after a very polarized and acrimonious closely-fought election in 2006. The ODS formed an unstable government reliant on the KDU-ČSL and the Greens, which fell in early 2009. The 2010 elections were the first sign of major cracks in the system: both the ODS and ČSSD, while still placing on top, won only 20% and 22% respectively, a major fall from 2006. Two new centre-right parties, the pro-European conservative TOP 09 and the ‘anti-corruption’ scam Public Affairs (VV), did very well, and entered government with the ODS, led by Petr Nečas.
Petr Nečas’ government agenda included fiscal responsibility, the fight against corruption and rule of law. It basically failed on all three counts, especially the last two. Rigid austerity policies – one-point increases in the VAT rates, a new higher tax on high incomes breaking the flat tax (introduced by a previous ODS cabinet), and allowed pensions savings to be diverted into a private fund – were unpopular, and some faced hostility from the right (President Václav Klaus, a controversial and brash Eurosceptic, opposed the VAT hike and disliked the pension reform). The Czech Republic suffered a double-dip recession, and is projected to start growing again – but slowly – only this year. The government turned out to be awash with corrupt politicians – it was revealed that VV was actually part of a business plan for a security company owned by the party’s unofficial leader and cabinet minister Vit Bárta, who also bribed VV MPs in return for their loyalty. VV split and rapidly collapsed. In June 2013, Nečas’ chief of staff and mistress (the two have since married), was arrested along with military intelligence officials and ODS MPs; she was accused of asking military intelligence to spy on three civilians, including Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ then-wife; and brokering a bribery deal to convince three rebel ODS MPs to resign to save the government on the VAT hike vote in 2012. Nečas, who had been known as ‘Mr. Clean’, was forced to resign and the ODS’ support, which had already collapsed to only 12% in the 2012 regional elections, fell in the single digits. President Miloš Zeman, a brash and sharp-elbowed former ČSSD Prime Minister (who later left the party), who won the first direct presidential election in early 2013, controversially appointed a cabinet of friends and allies which did not receive the confidence of the Chamber and forced snap elections in October 2013.
The October 2013 elections saw major political changes. The ČSSD, torn apart by a feud between the anti-Zeman leadership (Bohuslav Sobotka) and a pro-Zeman rebel group (Michal Hašek) and weakened by corruption of its own, once again sabotaged its own campaign and won an all-time low of 20.5% – although they still placed first. The ODS, worn down by corruption and the economy, collapsed to fifth place with 7.7%. TOP 09, a pro-European party which otherwise shares much of the ODS’ low-tax, small government and pro-business agenda, surpassed the ODS, taking 12%, although it lost 4.7% of its vote from the 2010 election. TOP 09’s unofficial leader and popular mascot is Karel Schwarzenberg, the colourful and popular prince and former foreign minister; the party’s actual boss is the far less glamorous Miroslav Kalousek, a somewhat slimy politico who came from the KDU-ČSL. The KSČM placed third with 14.9%, a strong result but not the party’s best; the KSČM has a strong and loyal core of support and it has always done well when the ČSSD is unpopular or discredited (in 2002 and 2004, for example, or in 2012), but the party, despite some evolution, remains a controversial pariah which has not officially supported or participated in a national government (but governs regionally with the ČSSD). The sensation, however, came from ANO 2011 – a new populist party founded and led by Andrej Babiš, a billionaire businessman (owner of Agrofert, a large agricultural, agrifood and chemical company in the country) of Slovak origin. Babiš campaigned on an attractive anti-system, anti-corruption, anti-politician and pro-business centre-right platform which denounced professional politicians, corruption, government interference in the economy and promised low taxes. But Babiš is a controversial man – during the campaign, Slovak documents alleged that he was a collaborator and agent of the communist regime’s secret police; Babiš has been compared to Silvio Berlusconi, and raised eyebrows when he bought the country’s largest media group before the elections. ANO 2011 placed second with 18.7%. Úsvit (Dawn of Direct Democracy), another new right-wing populist party founded by eccentric and idiosyncratic Czech-Japanese businessman and senator Tomio Okamura, won 6.9%. Described by opponents as ‘proto-fascist’, Úsvit, which called for direct democracy and a right-wing economic/fiscal agenda (low taxes, attacking people ‘a layer of people who do not like to work’), controversially called on ‘gypsies’ to be sent back to India. Úsvit’s anti-corruption outrage rings hollow, because one of its candidates (who lost) was Vit Bárta.
Government formation was complicated by tensions between the ČSSD and ANO, which had not had kind words for one another; and tensions within the ČSSD, where Hašek’s supporters, likely with Zeman’s underhanded support, unwisely and unsuccessfully tried to topple Sobotka. Despite Zeman’s obvious misgivings about Sobotka and his desire to continue influencing the government, in January 2014, he agreed to appoint Sobotka as Prime Minister at the helm of a coalition government with the ČSSD, ANO and KDU-ČSL. Notwithstanding some very real policy differences and partisan tensions between the two main partners, the coalition has agreed to a moderate platform, which aims to keep the budget deficit below the EU’s 3% limit, eliminate healthcare user fees, raise pension payments and the minimum wage, lowering the VAT on some products, rolling back the ODS’ pension reforms, tax breaks for families with children and may lower compensation payments to churches (the ODS government controversially signed a deal to return real estate valued at 75 billion CZK to churches and offer financial compensation of 59 billion CZK). It will also take a more pro-EU direction than the ODS, having pledged to ratify the European Fiscal Compact. ANO sends mixed messages on Europe, trying to be both pro-EU and sufficiently Eurosceptic at the same time. Babiš is finance minister in the new government, and his continued ownership of Agrofert has led to accusations of conflict of interest.
The EP election saw extremely low turnout, down from 28.3% in 2004 and 28.2% in 2009 (which was already low, even for low-stakes elections in the country), reaching only 18.2% of the vote. With a fairly popular government still in honeymoon with little controversies yet, there was likely even less motivation to vote this year. As in the last two EP elections, it appears that the electorate which turns out is to the right of the average voter: compared to national polling, the ČSSD and KSČM did slightly worse (they’re currently polling 19-21% and 14-17% respectively) while TOP 09, polling 8-11%, did quite well. ANO, which is polling very well nationally (20-28%), did not do as well; while it pulls mostly from voters who had backed the right in 2010, it is a more rural and regional base lacking the Czech right’s traditional well-off urban component. Turnout figures regionally confirm pro-right differential turnout, with the highest turnout being recorded in Prague, the right’s (TOP 09) stronghold, at 25.8%, while turnout was below 20% in every other region and very low (15%) in Moravia-Silesia, the Social Democrats’ strongest region (and 13% in Karviná district, a coal mining area where the party had won 32% in 2013). In Prague, TOP 09 received 27% against 14.5% for ANO.
ANO topped the poll with 16.1%, just ahead of TOP 09, which won 16%. The left – ČSSD and KSČM – did poorly because of low leftist turnout, winning only 14.2% and 11% respectively, in both cases this represents a substantial loss from the last EP election in 2009 (where the ČSSD had done poorly as well). The KDU-ČSL did well, winning nearly 10% of the vote and topped the poll in Vysočina, South Moravia and Zlín regions, dominating their traditional rural clerical Moravian strongholds. A small anti-EU party, Svobodní (Party of Free Citizens) won 5.2% and one seat; the party, which is close to UKIP and whose new MEP (and leader) is a former adviser to Klaus, supports a small government, low taxes and abolishing subsidies and income taxes. The party is anti-EU, wishing to transform it into a voluntary free trade association or to leave the EU to join the EFTA; it opposed Lisbon and the euro, and now opposes the European Fiscal Compact. Having won less votes than in 2013 (when it won 2.5%), the party likely owes its entrance into the EP to the higher turnout in Prague, where it won over 7% of the vote.
The map on the left shows the results by municipality. TOP 09 clearly dominated Prague, Brno and Plzeň; ANO was strongest, like in 2013, in right-leaning areas of Bohemia, outside the urban centres in towns and rural areas (and in places where Agrofert is a major employer); the ČSSD managed to top the poll in industrial Silesia but few other places; the KSČM was strongest in North Bohemia and other former Sudeten German territory (which was re-settled by Czechs post-1945); the KDU-ČSL dominated rural Moravia.
Ihned’s ever-useful data blog has a tool (in Czech, but Google Translate does fine) allowing you to see average results in towns based on certain sociodemographic filters. It confirms the link between turnout and stronger support for TOP 09: where turnout was above the national average, TOP 09’s vote share was 6.9% above its national average; the ODS, Svobodní, the Pirates and the Greens also performed better where turnout was higher, while ČSSD and KSČM clearly did poorer where turnout was higher. ANO did slightly better in areas with lower turnout. The other demographic filters give a good portrait of the voter base of each party. Unsurprisingly, the strongest correlation is between KDU-ČSL and religiosity in this very atheist country – in areas where the share of the faithful is above the national average (which appears to be 14%), the Christian Democrats placed first with 18.1%. The party’s support rise exponentially as the share of the faithful increase in any given area, taking 30% where it is above 28%, 36% where it is over 40% and 43.2% in the few municipalities where more than half of the population are religious. TOP 09’s traditional supporter was very urban, young, not married, very well educated (post-secondary), employed, living in a house and probably an entrepreneur or self-employed. The ČSSD and KSČM had a slightly older, less urban, less educated (especially the Communists) electorate which was also more likely to be unemployed (especially for the KSČM) and far more likely to be an employee. ANO’s support was fairly composite; with no clear core voter base: the party’s average voter is slightly more likely to be an entrepreneur or self-employed, a bit less likely to be unemployed but otherwise its support is less clear-cut than that of TOP 09, ODS and even Svobodní (the right-wing parties). Like in 2013, ANO likely attracted a very demographically and ideologically varied electorate.
Turnout: 56.32% (-1.38%)
MEPs: 13 (nc)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR (national constituency), seats distributed to alliances (separate lists with votes being pooled together) and then to independent lists (de jure 2% threshold)
O (DF) – Danish People’s Party (EFD > ECR) 26.61% (+11.33%) winning 4 seats (+2)
A (SD) – Social Democrats (S&D) 19.12% (-2.37%) winning 3 seats (-1)
V – Venstre (ALDE) 16.68% (-3.56%) winning 2 seats (-1)
F (SF) – Socialist People’s Party (G-EFA) 10.95% (-4.92%) winning 1 seat (-1)
C – Conservative People’s Party (EPP) 9.15% (-3.54%) winning 1 seat (nc)
N – People’s Movement against the EU (GUE-NGL) 8.07% (+0.87%) winning 1 seat (nc)
B (RV) – Social Liberals (ALDE) 6.54% (+2.27%) winning 1 seat (+1)
I – Liberal Alliance 2.88% (+2.29%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The right-wing populist/far-right Danish People’s Party (DF, or by its ballot paper abbreviation, O) won a remarkable victory – its biggest electoral success, both in terms of percentage and number of votes – in the party’s history, confirming that the party, on the upswing since the 2011 legislative election, is stronger than ever before and is now in a position to compete with the traditional parties of the left (Social Democrats, A) and right (Venstre/Liberals, V) for power.
The left bloc – led by the Social Democrats and made of the green/left-wing Socialist People’s Party (SF), the left-liberal Social Liberals (RV) with external support from the far-left Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten, Ø) – very narrowly won the 2011 elections, ending ten years of right bloc rule – by the centre-right Liberals (V) and Conservatives (C) with external support from the DF. It was already a somewhat Pyrrhic victory, because the SDs, led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, saw their support decline even further (to an historic low of 24.8%) while only RV – which gained 8 seats, to take 17 seats and Ø – which won an historic 6.7% ans 12 seats made gains (SF, which won an historic 13% in 2007, fell to 9%). The left’s victory owed mostly to the gains made its most right-wing and left-wing components, and general fatigue with a tired right-wing government. Helle Thorning-Schmidt (‘Gucci Helle’), the notoriously aloof and ‘snobby’ SD leader, was already fairly unpopular in 2011. Since then, the government, and the SDs in particular, has become badly unpopular.
The government, initially made up of ministers from the SDs, SF and RV, adopted a rather right-wing economic and fiscal policy which dismayed many of the left’s voters and led to major tensions with the Red-Greens, who provided outside support to the government. Soon after taking office, the new government was compelled to accept sharp cuts in the efterløn, a scheme which lets workers retire early on a reduced pension – the policy is popular with manual works in physically demanding jobs, but unpopular with white-collar workers and academics. The outgoing right-wing government, with the backing of the Social Liberals (whose economic and fiscal policy is fairly right-leaning and supportive of lower taxes and a slightly less generous welfare state), had passed a reduction in the efterløn and an increase in the retirement age; after coming into office, the SDs and SF accepted the new policy – after the SDs had vigorously campaigned against changes to the efterløn in the 2011 election. In June 2012, the government agreed to a tax reforms with the Liberals and Conservatives, which increased the top tax threshold (thus reducing taxes on the wealthy) and employment allowance (reducing the taxes on wages) and reduced state benefits (unemployment insurance, early retirement, child benefits); with the aim of increasing labour output, enticing Danes to work more and increasing the the economic benefit of working relative to receiving welfare. The government argued that it was taking difficult but necessary long-term measures to address demographic challenges to Denmark’s aging workforce, but the very neoliberal flavour of the tax reform infuriated the Red-Greens and threw SF, already criticized for having moved to the right to increase the party’s ‘respectability’, in a difficult position. Relations between the government and the Red-Greens were severely damaged; while an increasingly large number of SF voters (and some SD voters) defected to Ø, a process which actually begun in the 2011 election, when SF had lost a share of its most left-wing 2007 voters to Ø. At the same time, the right bloc took a decisive lead in polls; the SDs lost a number of working-class supporters to the DF and V, likely the result of voters disgruntled by the government’s shift on efterløn, a slight liberalization of tough immigration policies (under DF pressure, the previous VC government had adopted some of the EU’s strictest immigration laws, including the 24-year-rule, which imposes strict conditions on family reunification and spouses’ immigration; the left has largely kept these popular rules in place, while liberalizing the more contentious aspects, such as the heavily reduced social benefits for immigrants and detention centres for asylum seekers being processed), the mediocre economic situation, government scandals and mishaps and broken promises.
In September 2012, SF leader Villy Søvndal, who had led the party’s shift towards the centre and ‘respectability’ between 2007 and 2011 and supported close collaboration with the SDs in government, stepped down. In a high-stakes leadership race, Annette Vilhelmsen, a SF MP positioned on the party’s left, defeated health minister Astrid Krag, the candidate of the party’s ‘right’. Although Vilhelmsen dumped Thor Möger Pedersen, the young and unpopular (with the SF’s left) taxation minister and shifted rhetoric to the left, her election did not signal a major shift in the SF’s behaviour in government – it still played second-fiddle to the stronger SDs – nor did it turn around the SF’s sinking polling numbers (in 2013, SF’s numbers sank further, in the 3-5% range, while Ø polled up to 10-14%). The government – especially SD and SF – continued to be badly unpopular in 2013, with the right retaining a decisive lead (about 55-45 for the right bloc in total). A social assistance reform (which reduced benefits for young people and added more stringent eligibility rules; it was approved in August 2013 with the support of all four right-wing parties and the opposition of Ø) and the continued mediocrity of the economy (weak growth in 2013, unemployment at 7%) meant that the Social Democrats saw their support collapse even further, falling to 15-18% in early 2013 before edging back over 20% later in the year. V, which was still polling over 30%, DF and Ø all took their shares of SD voters. SF voters from 2011 divided between loyalty, moving to the left (Ø) or doing like some party members and parliamentarians did (move to the SDs).
In November 2013, the government passed its budget with support from V and C, after failing to bridge differences with Ø. The budget included millions in concessions to businesses and for higher job allowances. Although unpopular on the left, its effect was mitigated by V’s troubles, after the party’s leader and former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen was accused of spending over a million kroner on luxury flights and hotels in his capacity as chairman of the Global Green Growth Initiative – which is publicly funded by the Danish government. However, development minister Christian Friis Bach (RV) was forced to resign as well, after it turned out that he had lied about the government not approving the expensive travel rules).
In late January 2014, the government ran into yet another crisis with a deal to sell 19% of DONG Energy – Denmark’s largest energy company (of which the government owned 81%) – to the American investment bank Goldman Sachs. The deal attracted criticism from the left and DF because of Goldman Sachs’ role in the financial crisis and their plan to buy the shares via tax havens to pay less taxes in Denmark. The issue reopened the question of SF’s participation in government, and led to internal chaos in the party: the SF executive narrowly voted to accept the sale, some opponents of the deal in SF resigned, Ø pushed a parliamentary motion to postpone the sell to force SF MPs to take a stance and finally it culminated with SF leader Vilhelmsen announcing her resignation and that SF was leaving the government (but would continue to support it). Thorning-Schmidt shuffled her cabinet, creating a new government with the SDs and RV. SF voted in favour of the sale in committee, honouring the executive committee’s decision. Supporters of the government within SF ranks – largely supporters of former SF leader Villy Søvndal from the pro-SD ‘workerite’ right of SF – defected to the SDs, including defeated leadership contender Astrid Krag (who nevertheless lost her health portfolio) and former Communist stalwart Ole Sohn. Pia Olsen Dyhr, a member of SF’s ‘green right-wing’, was acclaimed as SF’s new leader.
A month after this crisis, the government ran into another hot potato which stoked Eurosceptic sentiments ahead of the EP election. The old right-wing government tried to limit EU nationals’ ability to receive child benefits by requiring that they have lived or worked in Denmark for two of the last ten years. In 2013, the EU Commission notified Copenhagen that this was not in accordance with EU law (as it discriminated against other EU nationals), and the Danish government began administering according to EU law, which takes precedence, and in February 2014 it proposed a law to amend Danish legislation to make it consistent with EU law. The opposition (V, C, DF, Liberal Alliance) and Ø (which denounced ‘bowing down’ to the EU and called on the government to follow Danish law) supported a motion reaffirming the Danish law. To mitigate the boost which DF received, at the expense of both V (which had some reticence about taking such a tough anti-EU stance) and the SDs, the government proposed tougher controls of EU citizens’ access to welfare benefits. In early May, the government was voted down on the motion on child benefits – with the opposition parties, including the Liberals, and the Red-Greens voting in favour of the motion and the government and SF voting against. In practice, the government will keep administering the law according to EU directives.
In this context, DF won a crushing victory. The party received 26.6% of the vote, by far the party’s highest vote share ever (the previous record, set five years ago, was 15.3%); but it also received the highest raw vote in its history – 605,889 votes, easily surpassing the previous record, which was 479.5k votes in the 2007 legislative election. DF benefited from national dynamics in its favour, but also a personality factor. Nationally, DF has been on an upswing since it lost votes and seats for the first time in its history in the 2011 election. Cashing in on the feeling of betrayal by the left of working-class voters, DF has made inroads with workers and SD voters: according to a study in February, 12% of SD voters from the last election would now vote for DF, along with an estimated 9% of SF and V voters from 2011. In the last weeks drawing up to the EP election, DF additionally benefited from two events: firstly, the political debate on child benefits for EU nationals and the application of EU law over the Danish law and secondly, a new scandal about V leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen using his party’s purse to pay for his clothes and a family vacation down south. In both cases, these events reflected badly on the Liberals, whose support in national polling has declined significantly as a result. In the first case, the child benefits debate increased latent Eurosceptic feelings and allowed DF to attract V supporters for the EP elections. In the second case, V was the target of attacks from the media and the right-wing partners (C, DF, Liberal Alliance). Secondly, DF had the strongest top candidate of all parties in this open-list election. Incumbent DF MEP Morten Messerschmidt is quite popular and he’s the most well-known MEP: already in 2009 he had broken the Danish record for most personal preferential votes in an EP election (set by former SD PM Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in 2004). This year, he broke his own record for most preferential votes in an EP election in Denmark, winning 465,758 preferential votes or 20.5% of all votes cast. His closest competitor, SD MEP-elect Jeppe Kofod won only 170,739 preferential votes (7.5%).
DF will probably not perform as well in a national election, but it is clear that the party’s fortunes are clearly really looking up these days. More than a few recent national polls have indicated that DF may become the largest right-wing party, ahead of the Liberals – some polls have even placed them as the single largest party nationally; if replicated in an election, it would be a phenomenal success for the party and create a highly interesting situation for government-formation. Most recent polls have placed DF party at over 20% – for comparison’s sake, DF won 12.3% in 2011 and its record high in a national election is only 13.8% (2007). Over the past few years, DF has successfully managed its first leadership transition in its history (DF’s founder and polarizing, but highly successful, leader Pia Kjærsgaard retired in 2012 and was succeeded by her dauphin, Kristian Thulesen Dahl) and a bid to make the party more respectable. Kjærsgaard had fairly successfully built up the party and given it its distinctive anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-multiculturalism, Eurosceptic and pro-welfare state (DF has more interventionist economic policies, by far, than the traditional right, supporting the welfare state and strong social benefits for Danish citizens) image. She gained significant influence over Danish politics by way of her influence over the previous VC government and particularly its immigration policies. Kristian Thulesen Dahl must give the party further respectability, perhaps with the aim of establishing DF as a major and leading force of the Danish mainstream right. The party is already highly disciplined and mature; it is now moving to adopt less extreme and more ‘respectable’ policies, notably on immigration. DF’s trouble is that, in first place, it would have a hard time finding allies, although some low-ranking SD members have expressed sympathy for a SD-DF coalition (which seems to exist locally in the working-class suburb of Hvidovre since the 2013 locals). DF is careful of who it hangs out with: it considers the French and Austrian far-right to be far too extreme and disreputable, and it has instead sat with UKIP in the EFD group and has now successfully courted the British Conservative-led ECR group. In the new EP, DF’s 4 MEPs will sit with the ECR group. It’s a major boon for DF; allowing it to compare itself to the Tories rather than be compared to the FN or FPÖ.
DF swept most of Denmark outside of Copenhagen and the city of Aarhus (and the island of Bornholm, which recorded a weird large swing to the SDs) – it won areas which have traditionally leaned to both the Social Democrats and the Liberals. DF won phenomenal numbers in Copenhagen’s suburbs – particularly the working-class and SD-leaning suburbs, such as Tårnby (35%), Brøndby (35%) and Hvidovre (34%), which were already DF strongholds; but DF also topped the poll in more middle-class SD suburbs such as Ballerup (32%), Rødovre (29.6%) and even the fairly affluent Lyngby in the right-leaning northern suburbs (18%). In Zealand, DF also performed remarkably well, with results over 30% in most districts. It also did very well in Lolland district (35.5%), an area with a rural working-class (sugar beets) and shipbuilding (Nakskov) tradition where SF was quite strong until recently. DF performed quite well in Jutland, especially so in the old industrial towns of Fredericia (35%) and Frederikshavn (35.1%). DF’s traditional electorate is old, blue-collar (and probably retired blue-collar) and with lower levels of education.
The Social Democrats lost one of their seats, and their vote fell by 2.4% to only 19.1%; however, things could have been worse for them: they placed second, ahead of an embattled Liberal Party and SD has not usually performed well in Danish EP elections, where some of its voters have sometimes tended to support other left-wing parties or Eurosceptic/anti-EU lists unique to EP elections. The SDs suffered from the unpopularity of the government, and the party’s situation remains difficult, but there was no collapse as there could have been. The main loser was instead V, which won only 16.7% and lost one of their 3 seats – ending up with only 2. The Liberals, in addition to the challenges mentioned above and DF/Messerschmidt’s attraction for V supporters, also had a mediocre top candidate who did not draw many votes to her name. V’s top candidate, Ulla Tørnæs, who only 6% of votes cast, is a former cabinet minister with a mediocre electoral record and reputation; she was chosen to replace the party’s stronger initial candidate, who got pregnant and over MEP Jens Rohde, who was too pro-EU integration for the party’s tastes. V’s terrible result placed significant pressure on the party’s leader, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, to resign at a crisis meeting of the party’s central committee. Although he was expected to resign, Lars Løkke Rasmussen survived the party’s meeting on June 3. The EP disaster and the scandals have hit the Liberals very badly: one shock poll from June 2 showed V in third, with only 14.5% support, while the government – for the first time since the election – led the opposition, 51.5% to 48.5%.
SF’s support naturally fell back from the party’s record performance in 2009, but with 11% of the vote, it remains a surprisingly strong performance for the party. Since leaving government, SF has gradually dug itself out of the hole it dug itself into, likely regaining the support of voters who left it for Ø during its stint in government – indeed, polls have shown that SF’s small gains (up to about 6%, which is still pretty bad) have mostly come at the expense of Ø, which is now under 10% in most polls. In the EP election, SF, which was defending only one seat after its second MEP defected to the SDs, was helped by incumbent MEP Margrete Auken, who won 6.7% of the preferential votes. Additionally, because Ø does not run in EP elections – its electorate usually supports the anti-EU People’s Movement against the EU (N, FolkeB) – some ex-SF voters who would now vote Ø nationally chose to vote SF for the EP. SF placed first support in the very left-wing downtown Copenhagen, after the party suffered major loses in the city in last year’s local elections.
The Conservatives (C) did quite well, all things considered. The party suffered a huge swing in the 2011 elections, when the party’s vote collapsed to an historic low of 4.9% (from over 10% in 2007 and 2003) and lost 10 seats, left with only 8 MPs. The party has been shackled with very poor leadership since 2008, and the Conservatives have lost a lot of their natural bases and key distinctive themes to other parties of the right: current C leader Lars Barfoed has taken the party in a more anti-DF and centrist (and ‘humanist’, in touch with C’s claim to be more socially-concerned and humanitarian than V) direction. In 2011, a fairly meaningless pact with the RV to cooperate across the centre worried the party’s right-wingers that it was shifting away from its traditional place in the bourgeois right-wing bloc. The Liberal Alliance, under current leader Anders Samuelsen, has shifted to the right in a libertarian direction, stealing C’s traditional call for lower taxes and small government in 2011; C’s other old core issue – national defense and patriotism – is a lesser issue, and national conservatives have likely gone over to the DF. Since 2011, the party has not made a recovery – it remains at its low levels from the last election, and polls have indicate that it has suffered from continued bleeding to the Liberals and the Liberal Alliance, the beneficiaries of C’s collapse in 2011. In the EP election, the Liberal Alliance ran a little-known candidate and did not join the V-C ‘electoral alliance’ (which would have made it easier for them to win a seat), and the party’s list got only 2.9%, compared to the 5% it won in 2011 and what it polls today (5-6%). The Conservatives also had a good top candidate: former C leader Bendt Bendtsen, who could be seen as the party’s last somewhat successful leader. He won 6.6% of preferential votes.
The People’s Movement against the EU(N) is an old left-wing anti-EU (it still seeks to leave the EU) movement, which only runs in EP elections, and is sometimes – inaccurately – seen as the EP equivalent of Ø. Its emphasis is more anti-EU – albeit from a clear leftist perspective (social dumping) – than ideologically far-left/socialist, and it likely has a somewhat broader electorate than Ø’s very left-wing base (while not all Ø voters may support N). N actually won the first EP elections in 1979, but its support declined consistently in every election after that until 2004, when the party reached a low of 5.2%. Between 1994 and 2004, it suffered from the competition of the anti-Maastricht (but not anti-EU membership) June Movement, which peaked at 16% in 1999 and lost its last seat in 2009. In 2009, FolkeB increased its support; it managed to do so again this year, despite being led by a little-known new MEP, Rina Ronja Kari. It likely benefited a bit, but not fully, from Ø’s popularity.
The Social Liberals, running in alliance with SD and SF, regained the seat it had lost in 2009, taking 6.5% of the vote.
Turnout was down on 2009, but remained high – by Danish EP election standards (not by national election standards) – at 56.3%. Like in 2009, a referendum likely drew out some more voters. This year, voters were asked to ratify Denmark’s participation in the EU’s Unified Patent Court. 62.5% voted in favour. DF and Ø had pushed the government to hold a referendum.
Turnout: 36.52% (-7.36%)
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: Open list PR (national constituency), no threshold
Reform Party (ALDE) 24.3% (+9%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Centre Party (ALDE) 22.4% (-3.7%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (EPP) 13.9% (+4.9%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Social Democratic Party (S&D) 13.6% (+4.5%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Independent – Indrek Tarand (G-EFA) 13.2% (-12.6%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Conservative People’s Party 4% (+1.8%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independent – Tanel Talve 3.1% winning 0 seats (nc)
Independent – Silver Meikar 1.8% winning 0 seats (nc)
Estonian Independence Party 1.3% winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.5% winning 0 seats (nc)
Estonia’s governing centre-right Reform Party won the EP elections and took two seats. The Baltic country’s economy is highly liberalized, something which has made it something of a ‘poster child’ for fiscal orthodoxy and economic liberalism on the right. Estonia introduced a flat tax in 1994, which remains in place at the rate of 21%, lowered from 26%. The country has been governed since 2005 by the Reform Party (RE), an economically liberal centre-right party which under Prime Minister Andrus Ansip (2005-2014) followed an orthodox fiscal policy which has paid off for the country – or at least in part. Estonia’s debt-to-GDP ratio is only 10%, the lowest in the EU, and it has only a tiny deficit of 0.4%. The country has a high rate of start-up businesses and a heavy use of new technologies (Estonia famously introduced e-voting, using a biometric ID card system, in 2007), and right-wing think tanks give the country splendid marks on rankings of ‘economic freedom’ or the ease of doing business. The economic stability allowed Estonia to become the first Baltic state to join the Eurozone, in January 2011. The country’s growth, nevertheless, has been patchy since the global recession hit: in 2009, the economy shrank by 14% due to a property bubble, after having solid growth between 6-10% between 2000 and 2007. In 2011, an export boom and the government’s fiscal policies allowed the country’s economy to recover, growing by 9.6%. But since then, growth has slowed to 0.8% last year and 2% projected for 2014. The country’s relatively strong economic performance has made it the focus of academic debates abroad: on the right, many hold it up as the success story of austerity policies (implemented in 2008-9) but others, notably Paul Krugman, pointed out Estonia’s ‘incomplete’ recovery (in Krugman’s case, it earned him a strong rebuke from the Estonian President)
The Reform Party was reelected in 2011, taking 33 seats in the 101-seat legislature (a small gain of three seats). Since then, however, the government and Ansip’s popularity tapered off, and RE’s polling numbers declined considerably in 2013, falling behind one or more of the three other important parties. A major cause of this rising unpopularity may have been ‘Silvergate’ – a former RE MP (Silver Meikar) alleged that the Reform Party received anonymous dubious donations. Although the government did its best to slide the issue under the rug, the justice minister was forced to resign in December 2012, having been accused of being aware and even involved in the illegal channeling of funds. It was the most important of several corruption scandals which weakened the government, along with rising voter fatigue in an increasingly arrogant government. In March 2014, Ansip resigned. It was expected that Siim Kallas, RE’s founding father and former Prime Minister (2002-2003) and EU Commissioner since 2004, would ‘swap jobs’ with Ansip, allowing Ansip to join the EU Commission while Kallas became Prime Minister. However, Kallas unexpectedly withdrew his names after negotiations with the Social Democrats (SDE) and instead Taavi Rõivas, who is only 34, became Prime Minister, in coalition with the SDE (replacing the conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, IRL).
Ideological differences are fairly muted in a fairly enclosed and elitist political system: the SDE, the fourth largest party, and the Centre Party (KESK), the main opposition party, both favour a progressive income tax but in both cases these parties are moderate and not markedly different from the government. The right-wing IRL is similar to Reform, with an added populist bent and more traditionalist, conservative outlook than Reform (a party of young-ish technocrats and professionals). SDE is not descended from a communist party, unlike a lot of its Eastern European partners, and some of its founding components even have right-wing roots; its policies are very moderate and left-wing socialist politics are toxic in Estonia. All four parties have been in government with Reform at some time since 2005.
KESK, the main opposition party, is controversial and divisive. Although sometimes identified as a ‘social liberal’ or left-liberal party, KESK is primarily a populist party whose positions are oftentimes hardly ‘socially liberal’. It is also something of a personal machine, with a heavy-handed strongman as its leader since 1991: Edgar Savisaar, a former Prime Minister (1992-1993) and the mayor of Tallinn. Savisaar has run his party with an iron fist, throwing out party members who have questioned his leadership, and has a bad reputation for corruption, nepotism and authoritarianism as mayor of the capital. KESK’s strongest support comes from the country’s Russian minority, a fact which adds to the party’s divisiveness in the country. Russians make up 26.1% of the population, with a significant minority (37%) in Tallinn and a large majority (73%) in the easternmost county of Ida-Viru, which borders Russia. Although a small minority of Russian Old Believers (about 8% of the population in the 1930s) were present prior to the Soviet Union’s invasion and annexation, the bulk of the Russian minority moved forcibly or voluntarily to Estonia under Soviet rule, which has made them illegal immigrants in the eyes of the most radical Estonian nationalists. In 1992, Estonia, like Latvia, restored citizenship to those who had Estonian citizenship prior to the 1940 invasion and their descendants (on the basis of state continuity); this left most Russians without citizenship, and the option to choose between naturalization (requiring basic knowledge of Estonian, the constitution and the citizenship act), acquiring Russian citizenship or remaining ‘undetermined’. Most have opted for naturalization, but in 2014, 6.5% of residents remained with ‘undetermined citizenship’ and 9.2% were foreign nationals (mostly Russians). Relations with Russia and the issue of the Russian minority remains a highly contentious and divisive issue both diplomatically and domestically. Savisaar has been accused of ties to Russian politicians and KESK has received donations from Russian companies and is said to have close ties with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. In 2012, six MPs and the party’s two MEPs left the party, opposing Savisaar’s leadership.
The Reform Party, with EU Commission-hopeful Andrus Ansip as its top candidate, topped the poll, gaining 9% over its weak performance in 2009. Ansip was the most-voted individual candidates, receiving over 450,000 votes. Kaja Kallas, the daughter of Siim Kallas and a RE MP, won a second EP seat for the party, taking nearly 21,500 votes. The Centre Party was the only major party to suffer loses, losing nearly 4% of its support from 2009 and its second MEP seat. Notably, KESK leader Edgar Savisaar failed to win a seat: Yana Toom, a naturalized former Russian citizen, was elected as KESK’s only MEP, with 25,251 votes while Savisaar received only 18,516 votes. KESK’s support remained highly localized, topping the poll in only two locations: in Ida-Viru county, with 59.5% and in the city of Tallinn, with 31.6%. The two smaller parties, IRL and SDE, gained ground and held their single MEP mandate. Independent candidate Indrek Tarand, a colourful former civil servant, journalist and TV personality, was elected to the EP in 2009 on an anti-establishment protest vote, following the decision to switch to closed lists for the 2009 EP election. He won a remarkable 25.8% in 2009, and would have won a second seat if he had another candidate on his list (the seat instead went to SDE, which won only 8.7%); he drew votes across the board, except from KESK. Tarand joined the G-EFA group and has voted with his group colleagues the vast majority of the time. Tarand was reelected with 43,369 votes or 13.2% of the vote.
Turnout: 41% (+0.7%)
MEPs: 13 (nc)
Electoral system: Open list PR (votes for candidates only, not party lists; national constituency), possibility for alliances (see Denmark)
KOK (EPP) 22.6% (-0.6%) winning 3 seats (nc)
KESK (ALDE) 19.7% (+0.6%) winning 3 seats (nc)
PS (EFD > ECR) 12.9% (+3.1%) winning 2 seats (+1)
SDP (S&D) 12.3% (-5.2%) winning 2 seats (nc)
Greens (G-EFA) 9.3% (-3.1%) winning 1 seat (-1)
VAS (GUE-NGL) 9.3% (+3.4%) winning 1 seat (+1)
SFP-RKP (ALDE) 6.8% (+0.7%) winning 1 seat (nc)
KD (EPP) 5.2% (+1.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Pirates 0.7% (+0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.2% (+0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The senior governing party, the liberal-conservative National Coalition Party (KOK), topped the polls in the EP elections, while the right-populist and Eurosceptic Finns Party (PS) won a strong but unremarkable result.
Finnish politics were shaken up in the 2011 legislative elections by the remarkable performance of Timo Soini’s Finns Party (formerly known as the ‘True Finns’, until we figured out that we were translating the Swedish name of a party opposed to the active use of the Swedish language), a populist and Eurosceptic party which surged from 4% to 19% between the 2007 and 2011 elections. The Eurozone crisis provoked a surge in latent Eurosceptic sentiments in Finland – a fairly propserous state, but which had suffered from the recession in 2009 (Finnish economic growth fell by over 8.5% in 2009). Voters opposed the European bailouts to Greece and Ireland, with Soini’s PS seizing on the idea that Finnish taxpayers were unjustly burdened with the costs of bailing out reckless spenders in the EU; these bailouts were approved by the then-government, led by the Nordic agrarian Centre Party (KESK). A populist party, the Finns Party mixes social conservatism with economic interventionism and a strong defense of the Finnish welfare state; it is also nationalist and anti-establishment, strongly opposed to the EU and NATO, while critical of Finland’s traditional consensus-driven and coalition-based politics and tight-knit political elite. PS is opposed to multiculturalism and mass immigration, and has proposed much stricter laws on asylum seekers, but unlike a lot of the parties it is compared to, immigration is not the focal point of PS campaigns (although it obviously plays an important role). Compared to the right-populist spectrum in Europe, PS is quite moderate. It claims to be a centrist party and indeed grew out of Finland’s strong Nordic agrarian centrist tradition (where ‘centrist’ does not have the same meaning as elsewhere in the EU), and by its policies and behaviour, it tends to align with other relatively moderate right-populist parties such as DF in Denmark. However, the PS caucus includes oddballs with a penchant for racist and xenophobic comments, so that aspect of right-populism is certainly absent from PS.
In the 2011 election, PS managed to ride a wave of popular dissatisfaction with the three leading parties (which had, in the recent past, all polled within a few percent of one another) – the urban centre-right KOK, the rural Nordic agrarian KESK and the centre-left Social Democrats (SDP) related to the Eurozone bailouts, economic worries at home and protest against Finnish consensual politics. The party drew a composite electorate: from the SDP, it gained traditional working-class voters in mill towns; it ate into KESK’s culturally conservative and isolationist rural base – after all, PS grew out of a rural protest party (SMP) which had peaked at 18 seats in the early 1970s. As a result of this shellshock election, in which the three major parties – but also minor parties such as the Greens (Vihr), the Left Alliance (VAS) and the Christian Democrats (KD) – lost votes, PS ended up a strong third (but only a bit over 1% away from first place) with a record 39 seats. The governing KESK suffered the most, losing 7% of its vote and winning a disastrous fourth place with 15.8%. Timo Soini’s non-negotiable opposition to the Portuguese bailout, however, meant that his party was not included in cabinet, which was led by KOK, the pro-European and pro-NATO party which placed first and which supported the bailouts.
The government formed in June 2011 was a very heterogeneous and broad-based coalition including no less than six parties: led by KOK and chaired by Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, it included the SDP, Greens, VAS, the KD and the Swedish People’s Party (SFP-RKP, a liberal party representing Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority, a member of every government since 1972). The PS became the largest opposition party, while the KESK, which has historically been included in most government coalitions because of its place as a ‘hinge party’, joined the opposition. Although PS was not a member of the government, the meanings of its remarkable electoral success in 2011 was not lost on Katainen’s new government. Finland took a ‘hardline’ stance in the Eurozone on the issue of bailouts. It was the only country to demand collateral in exchange for agreeing to the second Greek loan and the Spanish bailout; the government submitted the Portuguese and Spanish bailouts to a parliamentary vote; it has favoured rigid requirements for the use of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and opposed using the ESM to purchase bonds on secondary markets. Within the government, finance minister Jutta Urpalainen, the leader of the traditionally pro-European SDP’s leader, took a tough stance on the euro and bailouts. In the opposition, KESK, which had approved the Greek and Irish bailouts while in power and had been broadly pro-European under centrist Prime Ministers Matti Vanhanen and Mari Kiviniemi, signaled a partial return to its historical Eurosceptic roots upon joining the opposition. KESK’s candidate in the 2012 presidential election – senior politician Paavo Väyrynen, a long-standing member of KESK’s Eurosceptic wing – ran a Euro-critical campaign, claiming that the Eurozone would dissolve and supporting a Finnish exit from the common currency. However, while PS’ success in 2011 signaled the existence of a strong Eurosceptic electorate, the 2012 presidential election showed that most Finnish voters remained pro-EU and pro-euro. Timo Soini won only 9.4% as PS’ presidential candidate; Väyrynen won 17.5% of the vote, failing to qualify for the runoff, which opposed eventual winner Sauli Niinistö (KOK) – a very popular pro-European leader – and Pekka Haavisto, the Greens’ progressive and pro-European candidate.
Finland remains a stable, prosperous country with famously high standards of living, a generous welfare system and an excellent educational system. It remains one of the select few countries in the world with an AAA credit rating, and it has jealously sought to protect it. However, Finland suffered from the recession in 2009, and recovery has been slow and difficult – slower than it has been in Sweden, whose economy has performed better (outside of the Eurozone) since the first recession. Finnish GDP contracted by 1% in 2012 and 1.4% in 2013. Finland’s economy has been negatively impacted by Finnish giant Nokia’s financial troubles, and it is burdened with urgent issues such as a rapidly aging population and a major increase in unit labour costs. The government implemented austerity policies, largely made up of spending cuts with some tax increases (the VAT); in 2013, it did cut corporate taxes by 4% to 20%, which was criticized by VAS, which also forced the government to re-evaluate changes to dividends taxation. The government is planning to advance a €9 billion plan to boost employment and productivity through structural reforms to tackle costs stemming from an aging population. These measures include a social and health reform which would place healthcare management in regional, rather than municipal hands; municipal mergers and incentives to extend careers (but under SDP pressure, raising the retirement age from 63 to 67 appears off the table).
In February 2014, amid austerity backlash due to the struggling economy and pressure from VAS, the government announced that it would drop a target to halt debt growth (spending cuts) – either walking back on some austerity measures, spreading cuts over a longer period or balance them between tax hikes and spending cuts. In late March 2014, VAS decided to leave the government, protesting a new austerity package of €2.3 billion worth of tax increases and spending cuts (including benefit payments to families with young children) to balance the books by 2018 and halt growing indebtedness (now over 60% of GDP). VAS had not performed too poorly in opposition, despite vocal opposition to its partaking in a right-leaning government from some far-left parties and party dissidents, but the government’s austerity measures had become too much for the party. The party which has been ruined by government participation is the SDP, the largest junior partner. SDP leader Jutta Urpalainen, was already a fairly mediocre leader before 2011, and the SDP has been in a sorry state for quite some time – its 2009 EP result (17.5%) was the worst SDP performance on record in a national election and in the 2011 it sunk to only 19.2% support. The SDP struggled in government, as Urpalainen implemented austerity policies and took a hard stance on Eurozone matters, somewhat at odds with the SDP’s base; the SDP’s polling declined from 19% in 2011 to 15-16%. This year, Urpalainen was challenged for the party’s leadership by Antti Rinne, a former trade union leader who engaged the SDP’s base with traditional left-wing rhetoric against austerity. Rinne defeated Urpalainen for the SDP leadership on May 9, 2014 and will replace Urpalainen as finance minister. Rinne favours interventionist pro-growth policies, and is critical of some of the government’s policies – he would like to expand a €600 million stimulus package announced a few months ago.
Jyrki Katainen is set to step down in June 2014, eyeing a EU or international job. Three KOK cabinet ministers have lined up to fight a leadership election in June 2014, which will determine Katainen’s successor as Prime Minister and leader of Finland’s largest party.
KOK remained the single largest party in the EP elections, taking just below 23% of the vote and holding its three seats in the EP. The pro-EU centre-right party’s vote is actually up 2.2% on its 2011 result, although because of low turnout it received over 200,000 votes less than it had in 2011. The ruling party received a strong boost in Finland’s candidate-centered electoral system from EU minister Alexander Stubb, a leading contender to succeed Katainen as Prime Minister. He won 148,190 votes, the most votes received by an individual candidate in this election. In 2009, the most popular candidate was Timo Soini, who had won over 130,000 votes. Stubb’s support was evenly distributed throughout southern Finland, the most urbanized and populated part of the country and KOK’s traditional base; he did particularly well in urban centres – Helsinki, Helsinki’s suburbs in Uusimaa region, Tampere, Lahti and suburban Turku. Other KOK MEPs had more localized support: transport minister and MEP-elect Henna Virkkunen dominated around her hometown of Jyväskylä in central Finland while incumbent MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen was strong around Hämeenlinna.
KESK placed second, with a performance similar to 2009 but recording a 3.9% improvement on KESK’s disastrous result in the 2011 election. The Centrists have likely recovered rural voters who had abandoned them for the PS in 2011. In this election, KESK, which includes both a more liberal pro-European wing and a traditionally Eurosceptic and isolationist wing, conciliated both factions in the party with its leading candidates. Olli Rehn, the EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs (known as an advocate of austerity policies) won 70,398 votes – coming in as the third most voted candidate in Finland. Paavo Väyrynen, a former cabinet minister and 2012 presidential candidate from the party’s Eurosceptic wing, won 69,360 votes. Väyrynen boosted KESK’s support considerably in his native Lapland, where he won the most votes of any candidate and where KESK’s support increased by 9.6% since 2009 and 11.8% since 2011 to 44%. KESK also gained 6.4% from 2011 in Oulu region. Incumbent MEP and former Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki was KESK’s third MEP, finding most of her support in and around her hometown of Lapua in Southern Ostrobothnia.
The Finns Party had, like in the 2012 municipal elections, a mixed result. With 13% of the vote, it is a distant third ahead of the SDP, and PS recorded the second strongest vote increase since 2009 of any party – a gain of 3.1%, and also a gain of a second seat in the EP. However, PS’ result is down 6.2% and over 337,000 votes lower than in the 2011 election, where PS won 19% of the vote. It is, in this sense, an unremarkable and underwhelming performance for the right-populist and Eurosceptic movement, which – unlike DF in Denmark – has not increased its support from the last election. At the same time, however, it still shows that PS has solidified itself as a major party in a system which now has four, instead of three, parties in competition for power. At the national level, PS is still polling strongly, generally in the 17-18% range. Its support has not collapsed as some had predicted in 2011. In the EP election, PS’ underperformance likely owes to lower turnout (some anti-EU protest voters may not have showed up, feeling disconnected from and not concerned by the distant issue) but also the lack of Timo Soini, who is a major boost for PS. PS’ top two candidates and MEPs-elect – Jussi Hallo-aho, a PS MP famous for his anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism positions; and Soini’s successor as MEP, Sampo Terho – lacked Soini’s profile, although the fairly prominent and controversial Hallo-aho did draw some strong support throughout Finland, likely with anti-immigration voters. He won over 80,700 votes nationally – the second most voted candidate. PS has been accepted into the more moderate ECR group, ditching UKIP’s EFD (like DF).
The main loser was the SDP, whose support fell by over 5% from 2009 and 6.8% from 2011 (both of which were already record-setting lows). It lost over 348,700 votes since the 2011 election. Although it saved its two MEPs, 12% of the vote remains an unmitigated disaster. Despite a tougher rhetoric to win back disoriented left-wingers and blue-collar males who have defected to PS, the SDP’s new leader Antti Rinne failed to make an impact and himself admitted that his party had taken a slap in the face. The SDP’s leadership contest likely hurt its campaigns: the SDP was deeply divided and its policies a complete mess, because Rinne attacked the fundamentals of the government which the SDP has been a part of since 2011. Worryingly for the party, the SDP’s support with young voters – already a weak demographic for a party with an aging electorate – and middle-class city dwellers has declined, shrinking the SDP to an increasingly old electorate. And with poor results being confirmed in successive elections of all types, this bad result is not a deviation – it’s part of a wider trend, which has seen the SDP’s support decline significantly in recent years. So far, Antti Rinne hasn’t been able to correct that. VAS, on the other hand, had a good election: with 9.3% of the vote, it regained a seat which it had lost in 2009, when the VAS vote declined to 5.9% (and had no alliance with another party to help it out). The party improved its support by 3.4% since 2009 (the most of any party) and by 1.2% from the 2011 election. VAS ‘ presence in government surprisingly turned out fairly well until the party left the government, which allowed it to gain even more support. Unlike the SDP, VAS has successfully communicated its message and renewed itself; distancing itself from its roots in Finland’s powerful pro-Moscow communist party of the Cold War years. It has renewed its electorate somewhat, with a young and urban electorate (students, low-wage employees, social workers) adding to a traditional base of working-class unionized workers. Unlike the SDP, which has failed to respond to change effectively. In this election, VAS overtook the SDP in Helsinki (12% vs 11.7%) and Turku (15.6% vs. 13%).
The Greens lost one seat and over 3% from 2009, which had been an exceptionally good year for the Greens (who took over 12% and gained a seat). The Greens’ result, however, is up 2% on what they polled in 2011, a disappointing year for the party. The SFP, the liberal party representing Finland’s Swedish minority (about 5% of the population), saved its single MEP. During the campaign, SFP was said to be at risk of losing its seat, which it had held since the first Finnish EP election in 1996. Instead, the SFP increased its support by 0.7% from 2009 (and over 2% from 2011). This is due to stronger turnout in Swedish municipalities in Ostrabothnia and the 90%-Swedish Åland archipelago; very likely motivated to save the SFP’s seat against the PS, which has strong anti-Swedish (against bilingualism) stances against which Finnish Swedes have mobilized. In the Åland archipelago, turnout increased from 48% to 57%, while the SFP won no less than 90.5% of the vote against 2.4% for the SDP.
The KDs lost their sole MEP, even if they ironically took their best result in an EP election. Incumbent KD MEP Sari Essayah won 61,264 votes – the fifth most voted candidate in Finland. However, in 2009, the KDs had salvaged their seat thanks to an electoral alliance with PS. This year, the small socially conservative party ran without an alliance with another party, and thus lost its seat.
YLE has a map showing the preferential votes for the candidates by municipality, while their results interface allows you to drill down to the municipal level for some party results (and also offers maps of party support and turnout). The patterns were nothing unusual. KESK won the vast majority of the land area, by virtue of the party’s solid base in the bulk of sparsely populated rural municipalities and small towns in Finland. KESK won its best results in the Finnish municipalities in rural Ostrobothnia (Oulu and Vaasa constituencies) – a religious and conservative rural region. However, KOK won nearly every major city in Finland except the northern city of Oulu (which went to KESK): Helsinki (28%), Espoo (a wealthy suburb of Helsinki, with 39.5% for KOK), Vantaa (a less affluent Helsinki suburb, 27%), Turku (26%), Tampere (27%), Jyväskylä (20.7%), Lahti (29%) and even topped the poll in some traditionally left-leaning industrial towns such as Pori, Rauma, Lapeenranta and Hämeenlinna. The largest city which the SDP won is Imatra, a mill town of some 28,000 people. It won 20.9% in Rauma, a major harbour and industrial city; but in Pori, a neighboring industrial city of over 83,000 people, the SDP placed third with 17.3% (PS won 18.7%, it had won the city in 2011). The SDP was also third in Kotka, a major harbour for the lumber industry (PS won 21%, in second behind KOK; the SDP won there in 2011); fourth in the railway town of Kouvola (14.3%, PS won 20% but was nearly 8% lower than in 2011); and third in Lapeenranta (with 15%, down over 10 points from 2011), an old mill town. In Joensuu, an old lumber town in Northern Karelia which is now a college town, the SDP placed second (behind KESK) with 19.3%, ahead of the Greens whose fell fell by 9 points to 15%. Overall, the SDP won 19%, its best result, in Northern Karelia. The Greens did very well (but less so than in 2009) in college towns and major cities: Helsinki on top with 19.8%, but also Tampere (16%) and Joensuu (15.4%). VAS did well in the cities, college towns too but also in industrial towns (13.7% in Pori) and northern Finland. The north of the country has a tradition of ‘backwoods communism’, with strong communist (now VAS) support from loggers and the rural working-classes. VAS placed second in Lapland and Oulu. In this election, VAS did very well around Suomussalmi (50.7%) and Kajaani (41%) in the northeastern region of Kainuu – this is a personal vote for VAS’ new MEP, Merja Kyllönen, a former transportation minister, MP and former municipal councillor from Suomussalmi. She dominated the field of candidates in the region.
Later: Germany, Greece, Hungary and Italy
Federal elections were held in Austria on September 29, 2013. All 183 members of the National Council (Nationalrat), the lower house of the Austrian Parliament, were up for reelection.
The National Council is elected by proportional representation using partially open lists. For electoral purposes, Austria is divided into nine regional electoral districts (the nine federal states) and further subdivided into 39 local electoral districts. Political parties submit regional, state and federal lists; voters then cast their vote for a party, but they may also indicate their preference for one regional list candidate and one local list candidate. If they cast their vote for one party but then attribute their preferences to other lists’ candidates, only their vote for the party stands and their preferential votes are not counted. A statewide electoral quota, calculated by the Hare method, is used to allocate seats at both the regional and state levels; seats won by a party at the regional level are accordingly subtracted from its corresponding statewide seat total, and the remaining mandates come from the party’s state lists. Finally, all 183 National Council seats are distributed at the federal level by the d’Hondt rule; seats won by a party at the state level are then deducted from its corresponding nationwide seat total, and the remaining mandates are allocated from the party’s federal lists. A party must receive at least 4% of the vote or win at least one local mandate to secure representation.
Candidates may be ‘moved up’ the list through preferential votes if they win 14% in the regional constituency, or 10% in the state constituency or 7% federally.
The upper house, the Federal Council (Bundesrat) is, similarly to Germany, intended to provide representation for the states in Austria’s federal system. The 61 members of the upper house are indirectly elected by proportional representation by each state’s legislature (Landtage), with each state holding between 3 and 12 seats dependent on its population. Unlike in Germany, where the Bundesrat is rather powerful, the Austrian Bundesrat is weak and its powers are limited. It only has an absolute veto power over constitutional laws limiting the powers of the states, laws relating to the Bundesrat and treaties concerning the jurisdiction of the states. On other issues, it only has a dilatory veto, which the National Council can override easily. The weakness and near-irrelevance of the upper house in day-to-day politics has led to calls for it to be abolished or strengthened on the model of the German Bundesrat.
Austria’s party system
Between 1945 and the 1990s, Austria had a stable two-party system, dominated by the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). Since the 1990s, Austrian politics became far more competitive, pluralist, depillarized (like in the Netherlands) and unstable with the rise of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) on the right of the spectrum and the growing weight of the Greens on the left.
Austrian society was pillarized (similar to Belgium or the Netherlands) until the 1960s and marked by a “two-camp mentality”. The two main camps, the ‘reds’ (Social Democrats) and the ‘blacks’ (Catholic conservatives), were more than two political parties: they formed tightly-knit and highly organized social milieus whose influence extended to the social, cultural and economic spheres. There were well-defined ‘red’ and ‘black’ trade unions, radio/TV stations, newspapers, student unions, recreational organizations, aid organizations, youth and pensioner organizations and typical leisure activities (skiing for the right, football for the left). During this era, political allegiances were rather solidly set in stone – there were no dramatic changes in the parties’ results from one election to another, and the main parties won fairly similar results in elections between 1945 and the mid-1980s.
On a geographic level, state governments reflect this tradition of solid political allegiances. ‘Red Vienna’ has been governed by Social Democrats since 1945 (and, with the exception of 1934-1945, since 1919), who even held an absolute majority between 1945 and 1991 and between 2001 and 2010. The Social Democrats have also governed Burgenland since 1964. On the other hand, the conservative ÖVP has governed the states of Upper Austria, Lower Austria, Tyrol and Vorarlberg since 1945 (and, except for Lower Austria, the conservatives governed those states during the entirety of the First Republic, 1918-1934).
As a relic of this almost entirely bygone era, Austria still has the highest rates of political party membership in the EU (alongside Cyprus) – in 2008, about 17% of the electorate were members of a political party – compared to less than 2% in France and the UK and 2.3% in Germany. It must be noted, however, that Austrian party membership (specifically in the ÖVP) is often acquired indirectly through membership in allied organizations such as the Austrian Workers ‘and Employees’ Federation (ÖAAB), the Austrian Business Association (ÖWB) and the Austrian Farmers’ Federation (ÖBB).
One of the main hallmarks of Austrian politics since 1945 has been the concept of ‘Proporz’, the proportional representation of parties in the government, the public service and the nationalized economy in accordance with their share of the vote at the polls. Proporz was established at the federal level after World War II, as to prevent a repeat of the political polarization and class warfare which had destroyed Austrian democracy in the inter-war era. Proporz was intended to mediate differences and mutual skepticism between the two parties, by allowing all major parties a share of the cake and to produce political stability and post-war prosperity through close bipartisan cooperation.
The Proporz principle not only involved the division of cabinet positions between the parties in proportion to their strength and traditional ‘profiles’ (the Ministry of Agriculture as a conservative position, the Ministry of Labour as a social democratic position); it also meant dividing public sector employment and positions in economic chambers, trade unions or state-owned businesses.
Depillarization led to increasing discontent with the Proporz system. Ideological differences between the two major parties became increasingly blurry, leading to a process of depoliticization and vegetative and corrupt politics in which the two main parties alternated in power and divvied up power like baronies. Proporz created political stability and a strong democracy, but it also created and entrenched nepotism and patronage at almost all levels of the state. The rise of the FPÖ in the 1980s/1990s represented the first major challenge to Proporz on the electoral scene.
Salzburg and Tyrol, to be joined by Styria, have abolished mandatory Proporz at the state level and allowed for free coalition building. Vienna and Vorarlberg never had mandatory Proporz.
The Social Democratic Party of Austria (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, SPÖ) is Austria’s oldest party and the major party of the left.
The party finds its roots in the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP), founded in 1888 under the moderate leadership of Dr. Victor Adler. Socialists and workers’ movements, heavily influenced by similar movements in Germany, had begun meeting in 1874 but divisions between moderates and more radical anarchists prevented unification until 1888. The Social Democrats greatly benefited from the introduction of universal suffrage in the Austrian crown lands (Cisleithania) in 1907, becoming the second-largest faction in 1907 and the largest faction in the 1911. The Social Democrats operated in all parts of Cisleithania, even the non-German speaking provinces, and it supported a federal democratic state with minority rights and regional autonomy. This did not prevent the different nationalities to gradually form their own Social Democratic groups – for example, Czech, Italian or Polish Social Democrats sat in different groups than German Social Democrats. The Czechs split from the party in 1912, other groups followed with the outbreak of war and the eventual demise of Austria-Hungary.
With the Austro-Hungarian defeat in World War I in 1918, SDAP leader Karl Renner convened a provisional national assembly in October 1918 and proclaimed the Republic of German-Austria in November 1918. The SDAP won a plurality in the February 1919 elections to the constituent assembly, winning about 41% of the vote and 72 seats against 69 seats for their main rivals, the Christian Socials (CS). Karl Renner was confirmed as Chancellor, forming a Grand Coalition with the Christian Socials. Renner’s cabinet, which lasted until July 1920, introduced the 8-hour workday, workers’ councils, the creation of the Austrian Chamber of Labour and negotiations for a republican constitution which was adopted in November 1920. The SDAP, unlike the CS, were largely in favour of union with Germany (Anschluss) and the Republic of German-Austria’s provisional constitution expressly stated its intent to join the Weimar Republic. However, the Allies opposed Anschluss and, in the Treaty of Saint-Germain (September 1919), Austria was forced to renounce Anschluss and change its name to Austria instead of German-Austria. The SDAP were close allies of their German brothers, the SPD, and they hoped union with Germany would strengthen the socialist movement.
The SDAP lost the 1920 elections to the CS, taking 69 seats to CS’ 85 seats. Thereafter, the SDAP was excluded from government (the CS governed in coalition with the Pan-Germanist Greater German People’s Party) and remained in opposition for the rest of the democratic First Republic and was forced underground under the Austrofascist dictatorship (1934-1938) and Nazi rule (1938-1945). However, the SDAP dominated local politics in Vienna until the advent of Engelbert Dollfuβ’ Austrofascist regime in 1934, the so-called ‘Red Vienna’ era (1920-1934). SDAP mayors in the Austrian capital built large public housing projects (Gemeindebau) and provided social and health services which significantly ameliorated living conditions.
The First Republic (1920-1934) was a violent and fractious period politically, marked by an opposition between left and right – both politically and militarily through paramilitary organizations (the SDAP’s Republikanischer Schutzbund and the right-nationalist Heimwehr). In July 1927, for example, SDAP supporters protested the acquittal of right-wing paramilitaries accused of killing a veteran and a child; the chief of police, a former CS Chancellor, called on the police to breakup the protest, killing over 80 protesters. The SDAP’s intransigence aggravated the political crisis; for example in 1932, SDAP chairman Otto Bauer, leader of the party’s left-wing (Austromarxist), refused to form a Grand Coalition with the CS.
In February 1934, civil war (in Vienna and parts of Styria) erupted between the SDAP’s Republikanischer Schutzbund and Chancellor Dollfuβ’s authoritarian conservative government. Within a few days, with the intervention of the federal army, Dollfuβ put down the revolt and the SDAP was forced underground and persecuted by the government. The SDAP remained illegal until the end of World War II.
In April 1945, the party was refounded as the SPÖ and Karl Renner, with Stalin’s tacit approval, declared Austrian independence and formed a provisional government with the conservatives (ÖVP, ex-CS) and communists (KPÖ). Renner convinced Stalin to accept him as provisional leader of Austria, presenting himself as the only one who could reach an agreement with both communists and conservatives, and apologizing for his past support for the Anschluss (in 1938, Renner supported Hitler’s annexation of Austria). The Western Allies were skeptical of Renner, whom they viewed as a potential Soviet puppet, and held out recognition of the newly independent Austria until October 1945. The SPÖ was defeated in the November 1945 elections, in which the conservatives won an absolute majority while the communists won only 5.4% and 4 seats. The SPÖ remained an influential junior partner in ÖVP-led governments until 1966. These governments, fairly moderate, guided Austria through Allied military occupation (which ended with the State Treaty in 1955) and post-war reconstruction. The bases of the welfare state were laid, many industries nationalized and the communists were gradually entirely sidelined from the Austrian political scene. Crucially, the SPÖ chose to ally with the ÖVP rather than the KPÖ, and downplayed Otto Bauer’s Austro-Marxism.
The ÖVP, led by Josef Klaus, won an absolute majority in the 1966 elections and formed the first single-party government in post-war Austrian history. The SPÖ, however, returned to power only four years later, forming a minority government supported by the FPÖ. Bruno Kreisky, a former foreign minister of Jewish descent forced into exile by the Nazis in 1938, became Chancellor. A year later, in a snap election in 1971, the SPÖ won an absolute majority, which it held until 1983. Kreisky pursued a reformist-progressive agenda; on moral/cultural issues (decriminalization of abortion and homosexuality, moves towards separation of church and state, language rights for Slovene and Croat minorities), economic/social issues (expansion of the welfare state, 40-hour workweek, expanding employee benefits, gender equality in the workplace, 4-week paid vacation) and other issues (democratization of education, shorterning military service). He unsuccessfully tried to introduce nuclear energy in Austria, but voters narrowly rejected nuclear power in a referendum in 1979. Kreisky’s wide-reaching reforms came at a cost: under his chancellorship, the Austrian debt increased dramatically. His government increased spending (through deficit spending) in areas such as education or healthcare; Austria also had a large nationalized economy.
Economic woes, scandals, bungled policy decisions and the emergence of the Greens caused the SPÖ to lose its absolute majority in the 1983 election. Kreisky resigned and was replaced as Chancellor by Fred Sinowatz, who formed a coalition with the liberal FPÖ. Sinowatz’s short tenure (3 years) was largely clouded by scandals and the crisis caused by the heavily indebted nationalized industries. He resigned following Kurt Waldheim’s victory in the presidential election, having been highly critical of Waldheim because of his concealed Nazi past (he had served in the SA). He was replaced by Franz Vranitzky, who called snap elections for November 1986 when the FPÖ’s right-wing took control of the party in September 1986. The SPÖ sustained major loses in the elections but remained the largest party, allowing them to remain in power, through a Grand Coalition with the ÖVP. The SPÖVP Grand Coalition governed until 1999.
Under Vranitzky’s chancellorship, Austria entered the EU in January 1995, but Austrian neutrality – espoused since 1955 and the Cold War – was reaffirmed. During the Grand Coalition era, both major parties were confronted by the rise of the far-right/right-populist FPÖ led by Jörg Haider. Vranitzky kept his distance from Haider, denounced by the latter as a policy of exclusion.
Vranitzky resigned in 1997 and was replaced by Viktor Klima. Under Klima’s short chancellorship, a number of state-owned industries were privatized and cut several public services. The SPÖ suffered significant loses in the 1999 election, seeing their share of the vote fall to only 33%, although they remained in first place. Negotiations to renew the Grand Coalition failed, and the ÖVP, led by Wolfgang Schüssel, formed a highly controversial ‘black-blue’ coalition with Haider’s FPÖ in February 2000, despite attempts by Klima to organize EU opposition to such a coalition. The right blamed the SPÖ and the President for the EU ‘sanctions’ and questioned their loyalty to the country.
The SPÖ gained ground in the 2002 elections (but the main winner was the ÖVP), but remained in opposition. In 2006, the SPÖ suffered small loses in the election, as a result of a big scandal involving BAWAG, a major bank owned by the SPÖ-aligned trade union. Nevertheless, the SPÖ placed first and its leader, Alfred Gusenbauer, became Chancellor in an uneasy Grand Coalition with the ÖVP. The Grand Coalition barely lasted two years, wracked by consistent disagreements between the two partners and Gusenbauer’s weak leadership. New elections were held in September 2008, and both the SPÖ and ÖVP suffered substantial loses – the SPÖ lost 6.1% of its vote share, winning a paltry 29.3%, although it remained in first place. Lacking any other realistic options, the SPÖVP Grand Coalition retained power, with SPÖ leader Werner Faymann becoming Chancellor. This time, the SPÖVP coalition has managed to survive its full term, despite some policy disagreements between the two partners.
Austria’s economy has performed relatively well in the past years, again in contrast with other troubled EU economies. Close ties to Germany and a traditionally prosperous economy. GDP growth has been positive since 2010, although it slowed to 0.9% in 2012 and is projected to stand at 0.4% in 2013. Growth, however, should pick up again in 2014. Unemployment is very low, at 4%. The country’s deficit, at 2.5% of GDP, is below EU guidelines and the government is projecting a return to fiscal balance in 2016.
Faymann’s government has received some international attention for his Keynesian policies, although the SPÖVP government also adopted austerity measures, most recently in March 2012. Faymann’s government pushed through work-training legislation which provided strong unemployment benefits and guaranteed paid training internships for young apprentices.
In 2012, the government adopted an austerity package worth €27.9 billion in tax increases and spending cuts (pensions, public sector, sector subsidies). This followed the loss of Austria’s Triple-A credit rating in January 2012. In June 2013, however, the coalition announced a €1.59 billion stimulus package for the next 3.5 years (until 2016), on the heels of the insolvency of Alpine Bau, Austria’s second-largest construction company. Without dropping its objective to reach fiscal balance in 2016, the government’s stimulus package envisions bringing forward public works projects and promoting housing construction.
The SPÖ is a traditional European social democratic party, although perhaps a bit more left-wing than other social democratic parties whose shifts towards the centre have been even more pronounced. The SPÖ says that they are the party of social justice, and their 2013 platform was fairly left-leaning.
One of the SPÖ’s main planks this year was a much-debated proposal to introduce a “millionaire’s tax” (estate, inheritance and gift taxes, 0.5%-1% levy) on all wealth and inheritances in excess of €1 million. The SPÖ argues that its tax proposals would fund concomitant tax reductions on labour incomes and provide €2-3 billion in revenues to fund the welfare state. The Social Democrats claim that the tax is also a fair contribution from the wealthiest Austrians, and a tool to fight income inequality. The SPÖ also advocated for higher contributions to the healthcare system from higher-income voters.
The SPÖ also wished to extend an existing bank levy to help pay for embattled lender Hypo Alpe Adria.
The SPÖ’s labour and social policies included calls for more investments in community housing, increasing the minimum wage in regulated industries to €1,500/month (there is no national minimum wage, collective bargaining in regulated industries currently set a minimum wage of €1,000/month), AMS (Austrian Labour Market Service) support for groups particularly affected by unemployment (elderly, health impaired, beginners, those with inappropriate or inadequate qualifications), expanding and improving childcare, proving paid paternity leave (for a month).
The party also opposes equalizing the retiring age for men and women (women may retire at 60 instead of 65 for men) before the scheduled timeline of 2024-2033. The different retirement age, the party argues, is compensation for the social, family and economic burden of women.
On educational issues, the SPÖ proposed lengthening compulsory education until the age of 18 (currently 15) and it has supported the creation of ‘new secondary schools’ for students between the ages of 10 and 14; these are to be new common, comprehensive schools which will replace lower secondary schools; the aim is to eliminate the separation of children into educational avenues too early on. The SPÖ opposes tuition fees in university, and, alongside the Greens and FPÖ, voted to abolish tuition fees in 2008 (that law was overturned and the SPÖVP failed to reach an agreement by the court’s deadline, creating a mess). The SPÖ also proposed introducing an Austria-wide training fund for apprentices to provide financial incentives to companies excelling in the training of young apprentices.
The SPÖ is traditionally pro-European. However, in 2008, SPÖ leaders Werner Faymann and Alfred Gusenbauer, in an open letter to the very popular Eurosceptic and populist newspaper Kronen Zeitung, said that any further modifications of EU treaties which would affect Austrian treaties would need to be ratified by the Austrian electorate. Seemingly, they have dropped that posturing since then…
The SPÖ and ÖVP crossed swords recently on the issue of the draft (compulsory 6-month military service or alternative civilian service), which was decided by voters in a referendum in January 2013. The SPÖ’s leadership, including Faymann, supported abolishing the draft and creating a professional army. However, the proposal divided the SPÖ itself (the governors of Salzburg and Styria gave tacit support to the status-quo) and proved unpopular with (older) voters, who appreciate draftees’ roles in emergency/disaster relief efforts and who were concerned about defending Austrian neutrality. With about 49% of voters turning out, nearly 60% voted in favour of the draft. The issue is dead for the moment and did not feature in the electoral campaign.
The Austrian People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP) is Austria’s main centre-right party, founded in 1945.
Although the ÖVP is a post-war creation, it is the clear successor of the Christian Social Party (Christlichsoziale Partei, CS), founded in 1891. The Christian Socials were a clerical-conservative party which originally opposed capitalism, liberalism and consistently opposed socialism. Besides clericalism and, later, close ties to the Catholic Church, the CS came to be strongly associated with political anti-Semitism (although it was by no means the sole preserve of the CS). The CS used strongly anti-Semitic rhetoric in its early denunciations of capitalism and tied their liberal and later socialist enemies to ‘the Jews’. The CS’ original policies were not, ironically, all that far removed from the Social Democrats: they both were anti-capitalist, competed for working-class support and promised social reforms. The CS’ social agenda was strongly influenced by the Papal encylical Rerum Novarum. In their early years, the CS received a cool reception from the old elites and even some of the Church hierarchy.
However, after World War I, the CS emerged as the dominant Catholic conservative party. The CS won the 1920 elections, and thereafter became the dominant force in federal politics until 1934/1938. The CS governed in coalition with the pan-German GDVP and the agrarian Landbund; however, during the 1920s and 1930s, the CS opposed Anschluss (union with Germany), having been naturally reluctant to join Catholic Austria with predominantly Protestant and Prussian-dominated Germany. During the First Republic, the CS built a strong base of support through an alliance with the Catholic Church and leading Austrian industrialists. The Heimwehr, a right-wing paramilitary group, was also a part of this ‘system’; although they were a diverse group, with the Styrian and Carinthian groups eventually leaning towards the Nazis, they came to be closely identified with the CS (or the pan-Germanists) and the CS strengthened them as a de facto ideological military. The CS’ leader for most of this era was Ignaz Seipel, a Catholic prelate who served as Chancellor between 1922 and 1924 and 1926 and 1929.
The CS suffered major loses in the 1930 elections (-12.6%), losing votes to the pan-Germanists, the Heimatblock (political wing of the Heimwehr) and the Austrian Nazis. Following substantial Nazi gains and CS loses in regional elections in 1932, Karl Buresch’s government resigned and the President called upon his young agriculturte minister, Engelbert Dollfuβ, to form a cabinet in May 1932. During the Great Depression, CS leaders (including Ignaz Seipel), on the basis of the Papal encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, came to favour the implementation of a corporatist government modelled on Italian fascism. In March 1933, faced with the Depression, Hitler’s accession to power in Berlin and domestic political violence and instability, Dollfuβ took advantage of a procedural crisis in the Nationalrat to suspend the legislature and subsequently barred its members from reconvening.
Henceforth, Dollfuβ ruled by decree and granted his government authoritarian powers. The government censored the press, arrested opponents and quickly dissolved the SDAP’s Republikanischer Schutzbund, the Communist Party and the Austrian NSDAP. In September 1933, the CS and other nationalist groups merged into the Fatherland Front (Vaterländische Front) which became the authoritarian ruling party. Following the Austrian Civil War in February 1934, Dollfuβ’ government banned the SDAP.
In May 1934, Dollfuβ promulgated the May Constitution, which created the so-called ‘Ständestaat‘ (Corporative State). This period has come to be referred to by some as Austrofascism. Dollfuβ’ ideology and his regime was strongly influenced by Italian fascism (corporatism) but also from traditional Austrian political Catholicism (which entailed a strong opposition to Anschluss and union with Protestant Germany); Austrofascism bears strong resemblance to António de Salazar’s Portuguese Estado Novo, Miguel Primo de Rivera’s 1920s dictatorship in Spain and, later, the first decades Francisco Franco’s regime in Spain.
Dollfuβ’ main goal was preserving Austrian independence and fighting Hitler’s expansionist designs over his native country. Rhetorically, Austrofascism promoted a clerical view of Austrian nationalism which emphasized Austria as a ‘better German nation’ and drew a clear line between Catholic Austria and largely Protestant Germany. In practical terms, Dollfuβ found a strong ally in Italy’s Benito Mussolini. Prior to 1936, Italian relations with Nazi Germany were fairly cool, notably because Rome was hostile to the idea of Anschluss and wanted to preserve Austrian independence as to provide it with a weak buffer state.
Dollfuβ was assassinated by Austrian Nazis in July 1934, but the Nazi coup attempt failed – in large part because a furious Mussolini threatened war with Germany if Hitler invaded Austria. Hitler stood down, and Dollfuβ was succeeded by Kurt Schuschnigg. Schuschnigg sought to defend Austrian independence by seeking Italian backing, but by 1936, with Rome moving closer and closer to Berlin after the Ethiopian invasion, Vienna lost its main ally and Schuschnigg was forced to give in to Hitler’s successive demands (amnesty for imprisoned Nazis, including Nazis in cabinet, appointing Austrian Nazi leader Arthur Seyss-Inquart as interior minister etc). In February-March 1938, Schuschnigg tried last-ditch attempts to salvage Austrian independence, but to no avail. Schuschnigg was unwilling to put up any resistance when Hitler demanded his resignation and replacement by Seyss-Inquart. Austria was quickly annexed by the Third Reich and Schuschnigg, among others, sent to concentration camps.
The post-war ÖVP was the clear successor of the Christian Socials, with the important difference that the ÖVP rejected authoritarianism and anti-Semitism. The ÖVP eventually became a traditional post-war European Christian democratic party, which embraced parliamentary democracy and gradually became less sectarian. The ÖVP became the strongest party in the Nationlrat following the 1945 elections, and held the chancellorship until 1970 – in coalition with their former sworn enemies, the Social Democrats, until 1966. Under the Grand Coalition, the Austrian ‘social partnership’ model – the elaboration and formulation of social and economic policy in close collaboration with social partners – was entrenched.
The ÖVP went through a long and tortuous period in opposition, federally, between 1970 and 1986. The ÖVP reentered government, as the SPÖ’s junior partner, following the 1986 elections, a role it kept until 1999. However, during this period, the ÖVP, badly hurt by the rise of Haider’s far-right FPÖ, saw its support drop by well over 10 points. In the 1999 elections, the ÖVP placed third behind the SPÖ and FPÖ, with 26.9%. Nevertheless, after SPÖ-ÖVP talks failed, ÖVP leader Wolfgang Schüssel formed a controversial governing coalition with Haider’s FPÖ. The formation of a coalition with a far-right party led to EU ‘sanctions’ on Austria (mostly a concerted boycott of the Austrian government). However, the ‘sanctions’ failed and largely had the opposite effect: many Austrians were alienated from the EU and rallied behind Schüssel. In the 2002 elections, the ÖVP cashed in on this phenomenon and the collapse of the FPÖ, increasing its vote share by over 15 points and winning 42.3%, its best result in years. Schüssel continued his coalition with a weakened FPÖ, later BZÖ. His government was marked by a strong economy, privatizations, a major pension reform including pension cuts and an increase in the retirement age and tough new immigration/integration policies. Today, the Schüssel government has been increasingly tainted by revelations of corruption scandals involving former ÖVP and FPÖ/BZÖ ministers.
In an unpleasant surprise for the party, the ÖVP placed a close second behind the Social Democrats in 2006, with 34.3% of the vote. The ÖVP resigned itself to becoming the junior partner in a Grand Coalition with the SPÖ, which collapsed after a bit more than two years. Like their governing partner, the ÖVP suffered major loses in the 2008 elections, falling to a record low 26%, down 8.4% since 2006.
The ÖVP’s leader since 2011 has been Michael Spindelegger, the Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister. The ÖVP also holds the important portfolios of finance, interior and justice.
The ÖVP is, as aforementioned, a run-of-the-mill Christian democratic centre-right party. It emphasizes traditional Christian democratic values such as the social market economy (which the ÖVP rebranded, in the 1990s, as the ‘eco-social market economy’ to highlight a preoccupation with environmental issues) and support for European integration, as well as broader centre-right themes such as freedom, responsibility, rule of law and subsidiarity.
The ÖVP campaigned hard against “Faymann’s taxes” (particularly the millionaire’s tax), highlighting the fact that Austria already has one of the highest tax burdens in the OECD (48.9%, fifth place), and that further taxes would create an additional burden on the middle-class and hinder the country’s economic competitiveness (a claim which the SPÖ roundly denies). The ÖVP often claims that foreign companies are turning away from Austria or outsourcing jobs because of the tax burden (despite the fact that the ÖVP has been in power since 1987). Instead, the ÖVP says it wants to lower taxes with the aim of pushing the tax burden below 40%. They proposed to introduce a tax-free allowance of €7,000 per child and a child tax credit.
The ÖVP, like the SPÖ, wishes to balance the budget by 2016, but it prefers to balance the budget through spending cuts rather than tax increases.
On economic policy, the ÖVP’s platform focused on simplifying business creation, job creation (42,000 by 2018), reducing bureaucracy and reducing regulations. One of their main proposals was flexible working hours, and a more flexible retirement model to allow seniors to remain active in the labour force longer if they wished to do so. On the whole, the economy – particularly ‘restoring’ the country’s competitiveness, promoting entrepreneurship (especially among the youth) – played a prominent role in the party’s campaign, which sought to paint itself as the party for “hard-working citizens” or promoted Austria as the “land of explorers” in campaign posters which looked like tourism campaigns.
Another point of contention with the SPÖ in this campaign was the equalization of men and women retirement ages: the left sticks to the long-term timeline (2024-2033), while the ÖVP wants to bring it forward immediately.
The ÖVP recognizes the role the government has to play in ensuring social cohesion and providing a social safety net, but they feel that such safety nets create dependency. The party proposed to introduce means-testing for social benefits and sanctions for beneficiaries who, for example, turned down a job opportunity. The party also seeks to strengthen the voluntary sector.
On education policy, the ÖVP supports the current two-tier system for general secondary education (grades 5-8), while the SPÖ and the Greens tend to favour a comprehensive school system. The party’s platform proposed to make the second year of kindergarten free but also mandatory for children with learning deficits. On post-secondary education, the party has clashed with the SPÖ numerous times in the past years over the issue of tuition fees – the ÖVP favours reintroducing them.
The Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ), a far-right or right-populist grouping, is probably Austria’s most famous and most polarizing and controversial party.
The FPÖ was founded in 1956, but it is the post-war incarnation of the old German national-liberal or German nationalist ‘camp’ (lager) in Austrian politics, which was born following the 1848 Revolutions. In the multiethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire, German national-liberal advocated for the union of German-speaking peoples in a single, Greater Germany. The German liberal base – the anti-clerical intelligentsia and middle-classes of German Austria – feared that they would be overwhelmed by Slavic peoples in the Austro-Hungarian empire. The German national movement emerged in 1879, following the collapse of the hitherto dominant but increasingly moribund and stale German Liberal Party.
These ideas were expressed by numerous leading German Austrian politicians – future SDAP founder Victor Adler and radical German nationalist and anti-Semite Georg von Schönerer – in the 1882 Linz Program, which opposed ‘attempts to convert Austria into a Slavic state’, defended German as the official language and proposed ‘splitting off’ ‘foreign’ regions such as Galicia, Bukovina and Dalmatia to retain only the core German crown lands of Austria, Bohemia and Moravia which would, they hoped, become part of the Greater Germany. Many of Georg von Schönerer’s erstwhile followers abandoned him, but his pan-Germanism, rabid anti-Semitism and fiery opposition to political Catholicism (he founded the ‘Away from Rome!’ movement advocating conversion to Lutheranism) had a deep influence on Adolf Hitler years later. The German nationals were some of those who lost out with the introduction of universal suffrage in 1907, but they retained a significant electoral presence in several German-speaking regions of Cisleithania including Carinthia and Styria.
In the inter-war era, the Greater German People’s Party (Großdeutsche Volkspartei, GDVP) was the largest pan-Germanist party, although the agrarian Landbund expressed similar opinions. The GDVP advocated for Anschluss, free trade, the creation of Volksgemeinschaft and was still rabidly anti-Semitic. They governed in coalition with the CS between 1921 and 1929, while the Landbund remained in most CS-led governments until the official end of the First Republic and the advent of Austrofascism in 1933. After 1930, the GDVP, like the DNVP in Germany, lost significant support to the Nazis and most GDVP members went on to join the NSDAP after the Anschluss in 1938.
World War II discredited pan-German ideas (guilt by association), and Austria developed its own national identity – one which was in good part built around the “first victim” idea – Austria as the first, unwilling, victim of Nazism; a controversial concept to this day which many say has allowed Austrians to wash their hands of any responsibility in relation to Nazi atrocities, in which Austrian citizens partook. Regardless, most Austrians identify as Austrians today rather than as Germans, and even within the FPÖ, pan-Germanists form only a small minority. Nevertheless, the FPÖ has retained some of the ideological markers of German nationalism (notably opposition to non-German minorities, such as Carinthian Slovenes) and some politicians retain close ties to German nationalist student fraternities (Burschenschaften).
The FPÖ’s direct predecessor was the short-lived Federation of Independents (Verband der Unabhängigen, VdU) founded in 1949, winning 11.7% of the vote in the second post-war election in the Second Republic. In the 1945 election, about 500,000-700,000 ex-Nazis were barred from voting, but they regained their voting rights in the 1949 election. The VdU, a national-liberal and ‘third camp’ party, won most of their votes. The VdU also recruited former Nazi officers, including Luftwaffe colonel Gordon Gollob and Waffen SS Obersturmführer Friedrich Peter. However, ex-Nazis did not only flow to the ‘third camp’ – a significant number joined the SPÖ, ÖVP and even KPÖ. In 1970, SPÖ Chancellor Bruno Kreisky’s first cabinet ran into controversy because it included four former NSDAP members, one of whom (agriculture minister Hans Öllinger) was forced to resign. That same year, Kreisky – despite being of Jewish descent and having been forced to flee into exile in 1938 – strongly defended Friedrich Peter, by then leader of the FPÖ (a potential coalition partner), when he came under attack from ‘Nazi hunter’ Simon Wiesenthal who had revealed that Peter had served in the Einsatzgruppen (which killed hundreds of thousands of Jews in Eastern Europe in 1941, although Peter denied taking part in mass killings). Kreisky even directly attacked Wiesenthal, going as far as calling him a Gestapo agent.
The FPÖ was founded in 1955/1956, and its first leader was Anton Reinthaller, a pre-war Austrian Nazi leader (although fairly ‘moderate’, non-violent) who served in Nazi public administration and the SS after 1938. He was replaced by Friedrich Peter in 1958, who held the party’s leadership until 1978. Peter, despite his Nazi past, gradually moved the party towards the centre, presenting the FPÖ as a modern liberal party. His successor as party leader, Norbert Steger, maintained a similar direction. Steger envisioned to transform the FPÖ into a liberal party similar to the German FDP, emphasizing free-market economics and anti-statist policies.
However, Steger was unable to transform the FPÖ into such a party. Firstly, the FPÖ was an ideologically heterogeneous party which included a mix of moderate free-market liberals, ex-Nazis, German nationalists and other more right-wing types. Under the SPÖ-FPÖ coalition government (1983-1986), for example, FPÖ defense minister Friedhelm Frischenschlager attracted much controversy when he shook hands with Nazi war criminal Walter Reder, responsible for the Marzabotto massacre in Italy, upon his return to Austria. Secondly, under Peter and Steger’s leaderships, FPÖ support had declined from the post-war high of 10-11% to only 5-6%. In the 1983 election, the FPÖ won an all-time low of 5%.
Steger was overthrown at a leadership conference in Innsbruck by Jörg Haider, the leader of the Carinthian FPÖ, who was backed by the German nationals in the FPÖ. Under his leadership, the FPÖ started clawing its way to the top – winning 9.7% in 1988, 16.6% in 1990, 22.5% in 1994, 22% in 1995 and the historic high of 26.9% in 1999. In 1989, Haider’s Carinthian FPÖ saw its vote share in the state elections surge by 13 points, placing second with 29%. In coalition with the ÖVP, Haider became Governor of Carinthia in 1989, a position he lost in 1989 after he commented positively on the Third Reich’s ’employment policies’. On a similar register, Haider, in his career, also praised Waffen SS men and described the Austrian nation as an ‘ideological miscarriage’. Haider would regain his gubernatorial office in 1999, when the FPÖ claimed 42.1% of the vote in the state election, placing first.
Although Haider gained publicity for his comments about anything and everything Nazi, pan-Germanism and Nazi nostalgia played little to no role in the FPÖ’s campaigns. Instead, Haider’s leadership was marked by opposition to immigration, the European Union and populist attacks on the political leadership and Austria’s cozy political system.
Within the FPÖ, Haider’s right-wing populist leadership alienated the liberal minority, led by Heide Schmidt, which split off from the party in 1993 and founded the Liberal Forum (LIF). The liberals disagreed with Haider’s leadership style and his right-populist direction on issues such as immigration or the EU. The LIF achieved initial electoral success in the 1994 election, but it soon saw its support decline and effectively died out by 1999.
The FPÖ’s historic result in 1999 and the formation of a coalition government with ÖVP in which the FPÖ held key portfolios including finance, defense and justice, created an uproar in the EU. The EU considered that the FPÖ’s cabinet participated legitimized the European far-right and they saw it as a breach of the traditional cordon sanitaire around the far-right in other European countries – although it should be pointed out that EU outrage was far tamer after the post-fascist AN/MSI entered the Italian government in 1994.
At any rate, the EU boycott of Austria was counterproductive and the FPÖ soon found itself steamrolled by its far more experienced coalition partner. Besides, the FPÖ struggled to adapt to its cabinet participation after having gotten there on an anti-establishment drive. Blue-collar supporters disliked the ÖVP’s neoliberal economic reforms and the government lost support when a tax reform, a major demand of the FPÖ, was postponed. The FPÖ lost support in state elections as early as 2000.
Jörg Haider did not enter the government, preferring to stay on as governor of his home state and influencing the party and coalition from the outside. In 2000, Haider officially stepped down from the party’s leadership and was replaced by Susanne Riess-Passer, the Vice-Chancellor. At least twice, Haider announced his definite retirement from politics, before changing his mind within days. Despite being formally removed from the FPÖ leadership, Haider remained the ‘true’ leader of the party. He created uncomfortable controversies for the government in 2002 when he caused a crisis with the Czech Republic by demanding the closure of a Czech nuclear facility and later by his controversial visit to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (Haider was well known for his close ties to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi).
Haider’s involvement in government business came to irk the FPÖ’s cabinet ministers, who adopted a more pragmatic and moderate attitude while in government. In August 2002, he criticized the government for delaying tax reforms due to major floods, while Riess-Passer backed the government’s policy on tax reform. The FPÖ’s right-wing, backed by Haider, organized a leadership conference at Knittelfeld (Styria) in September 2002, at which the party’s anti-government right-wing disavowed its cabinet members. The next day, Riess-Passer, the FPÖ finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser (who later defected to the ÖVP) and parliamentary club leader Peter Westenthaler, resigned from their positions. This crisis led to snap elections in November 2002 in which the FPÖ’s support plummeted to 10.1% of the vote and lost 33 seats. A much weakened FPÖ remained in government.
The FPÖ’s internal crises and electoral annihilation did not end there. The party suffered even more severe loses in state elections after 2002, and it collapsed to only 6% in the 2004 EU elections. Once again, the FPÖ’s cabinet participation and electoral failures led to an internal crisis in the party, except that Haider was now the one being opposed by the party’s right. In 2005, FPÖ chairwoman and Haider’s sister Ursula Haubner saw her position threatened by the party’s right, led by Vienna FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache. In April 2005, Haider, Haubner and Vice-Chancellor Hubert Gorbach (among others, including most of the FPÖ caucus) quit the FPÖ and founded the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), which was almost immediately marginalized in comparison to the FPÖ in two state elections in 2005. The black-blue coalition became a black-orange (BZÖ) and completed its term in 2006.
The regrouped FPÖ was led by Heinz-Christian Strache, who reoriented the party on a more radical, far-right orientation focusing on immigration, integration, Islam and the EU. In the 2006 elections, Strache’s FPÖ won 11% of the vote, a low result but nevertheless a small improvement on the united FPÖ’s result in 2002 – despite the loss of its Carinthian stronghold to Haider’s BZÖ. In 2008, the FPÖ won 17% of the vote, a significant improvement.
Haider’s untimely death shortly after the 2008 elections, in which the BZÖ had won 11% of the vote, did not reunite the divided Austrian far-right, as the federal BZÖ took a right-liberal turn. However, the Carinthian branch of the BZÖ, dominated by ‘Haiderites’ closer to the far-right, broke away from the BZÖ and founded the Freedom Party in Carinthia (FPK), which became the FPÖ’s state branch in a CSU/CSU-type of relationship.
The past five years have been a mixed bag for the FPÖ, which polled up to 27% (its 1999 record) but saw its support drop to the high teens-low twenties more recently. In 2010, Heinz-Christian Strache won 25.8% of the vote in the Vienna state elections, more than predicted by polls and close to its 1996 Viennese record. In January 2012, the FPÖ’s support temporarily declined after Strache’s controversial “new Jews” comment – saying that his supporters were the “new Jews”, likening the troubles they faced because of protesters outside a controversial far-right ball in Vienna to the persecution of the Jews under Nazi rule. The FPÖ’s support declined considerably, below 20%, starting in the summer of 2012 – a mix of Frank Stronach’s new party joining the scene and corruption scandals badly hurting the Carinthian FPK but also senior FPÖ parliamentarian Martin Graf (accused of swindling a 90-year old woman). Following the spectacular loses suffered by the FPK in the March 2013 Carinthian state elections, there were divisions between the FPK and the FPÖ which led to the FPK merging into the FPÖ in June 2013.
The FPÖ, like other successful European far-right parties, strongly polarize public opinion. Strache and the FPÖ are disliked by a large majority of voters, and the party’s strongest critics brand it an extremist, xenophobic and racist party. On the other hand, the FPÖ has a fluctuating but relatively robust core of voters, who see in it a party either close to their ideology or, more often, a protest option against the corrupt and stale major parties.
The FPÖ’s campaign have traditionally focused on immigration, asylum and integration issues, although less so in this election. Social and economic issues, which the FPÖ often ties to its criticism of immigration, have always been central to the FPÖ’s ideology as well. The party’s tagline is die soziale heimatpartei, or ‘the social homeland party’. In this election, the FPÖ’s slogan was liebe die nächsten (love thy neighbor), although that was followed by für mich sind das unsere österreicher (for me, that’s our Austrians). One of their posters even featured a sweet grandmother embracing Strache.
The party has tough stances against immigration, asylum seekers and Islam. The ÖVP-FPÖ government introduced stricter laws on asylum, immigration and integration while they were in government; a 1999 law forced non-EU foreigners residing in Austria to take German classes (half of which they would pay for from their own pockets) and threatened with losing social benefits and their right of residency if they refused.
The FPÖ wishes to limit asylum, which it feels should only be temporary, and wants to crack down on asylum abuse, by immediately deporting those who abuse the system. Furthermore, the party wants to deny asylum to all those who come from a safe third country or those whose asylum requests have previously been rejected by a safe third country.
The FPÖ’s platform accused the SPÖ and ÖVP of bringing more and more immigrants into Austria on the pretext of jobs, something which the FPÖ said endangers Austrian jobs, fuels social dumping and is destroying the educational system. It wants to close the labour market to workers from the east.
Closely related to these issues, the party has often campaigned hard on issues of national identity and against ‘Islamization’, denouncing Islam as contrary to Europe/Austria’s ‘Judeo-Christian values’. The FPÖ platform called on limiting/stopping immigration from outside the EU, opposed Turkish membership in the EU, denounced Islamization and promoted the German language. The FPÖ has often rhetorically associated immigration with criminality. They want to automatically deport foreign criminals, and to fight all crime, they want more means for the police and stiffer sentencing.
In the past, the FPÖ ran into some controversy with its very blunt language on those issues. In the 2010 Viennese elections, Strache’s campaign posters included slogans such as Mehr Mut für unser Wiener Blut (more strength for our Viennese blood), Zu viel Fremdes tut niemandem gut (too much foreign[ers] does no one good) or Wir bewahren unsere Heimatstadt. Die SPÖ macht sie uns fremd (we maintain our hometown. The SPÖ makes it foreign). In the 2006 Viennese elections, the FPÖ posters stated that “Vienna must not become Istanbul” (previously, under Haider, “Vienna must not become Chicago”).
Some of the party’s immigration/asylum proposals also significantly isolate them from the other parties: they are the only party favouring the detention of asylum seekers’ children pending deportation or creating a separate healthcare system for non-EU foreigners.
In this campaign, however, the FPÖ ran a comparatively tame campaign with feel-good slogans like “love thy neighbor” (though foreigners apparently don’t count as neighbors) or “high time for charity” – the party branded its policy as one ‘Nächstenliebe‘ (charity). Socioeconomic issues were high on the FPÖ’s agenda, which has often been described as a contradictory mix of economic liberalism and interventionism. However, in this campaign, Strache focused a lot on defending the welfare state (for ‘real’ Austrians), criticizing the SPÖVP government for its policies on matters such as pensions,
The FPÖ wants to reserve full benefits for Austrian citizens and stop the ‘export’ of family allowances abroad. It also conditions its ‘charity’ by saying that it only wants to help those who want to help themselves but cannot do so on their own.
The party’s platform called for increasing family allowances, tax relief for families with children, rent reduction, investments in social housing, increasing the monthly minimum wage to €1,600, solidarity tax for millionaires, an entitlement to a markdown-free pension after 45 years employment, fixing the legal retirement age for men at 65, keeping women’ retirement age at 60 and an increase in minimum pensions. On a more liberal line, the party’s platform emphasized lower taxes: lowering the tax rate for the lowest income bracket from 36.5% to 25% and tax breaks for small/medium businesses. It also accussed the two major parties of favouring big corporations and banks, and promised to relieve small/medium businesses by reducing bureaucracy, exempting them from compulsory contributions and promoting subsidized bank loans for domestic businesses.
The party takes conservative stances on moral/societal issues such as same-sex marriage, religious symbols in classrooms (the crucifix) and is critical of the use of gender quotas or penalties to promote gender equality in business (the left-wing parties favour gender quotas).
The FPÖ is Eurosceptic – Strache insists he’s pro-European, but also says that the EU has not created social peace. In this campaign, the FPÖ aimed its Eurosceptic fire at the so-called “liability madness” and advocated withdrawing from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and reducing Austria’s contributions to the EU. It is also opposed to Eurobonds, and wants to support the Eurozone into a ‘strong’ northern Euro and ‘weak’ southern Euro. Under Strache’s leadership, the FPÖ has become more pro-Israel; the party is also pro-Russian and pro-Serbian.
As an anti-establishment party, the FPÖ is also pretty big on issues like direct democracy: its wants to introduce binding popular initiative referendums (250,000 voter signatures), veto referendums and promoting direct democracy through the internet.
The Greens-The Green Alternative (Die Grünen – Die Grüne Alternative or Die Grünen) are Austria’s green party. In the past three elections, the Greens won between 9.5% and 11% of the vote, making them one of the consistently strongest green parties in Europe.
The opposition against the construction of the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant in 1978 (resulting in the defeat of nuclear energy in a 1979 referendum) and popular mobilization against plans to build a power plant on the Danube at Hainburg in 1984 are often cited as the events which led to the formation of the Austrian Greens. The modern-day Greens were founded in 1986, in an attempt to unite a leftist green movement and a right-wing green party, both of which had run separate lists in the 1983 elections (1.9% for the conservatives, 1.4% for the leftists). Proto-green politicians, however, had been winning some seats at the local level since 1977, beginning in Salzburg.
A Green list won 4.8% of the vote and 8 seats in the 1986 elections. Political inexperience, tensions between the parliamentarians and the base (a constant in the history of many early green parties), internal divisions and a knack for provocative statements/actions marked their first term in the Nationalrat. In the 1990 elections, the Greens kept their share of the vote and took 10 seats. In the 1994 elections, after presenting themselves as a “constructive opposition” (in contrast to the FPÖ’s intransigence) and as a bulwark against the FPÖ (the Greens had been active in fighting the FPÖ’s first anti-immigration actions), the Greens increased their support to 7.3% and 13 seats. In snap elections in 1995, the Greens proved unable to find their voice in a campaign which did not hit on their core themes, and their support fell to 4.8%. Reorganized under the leadership of Alexander van der Bellen, who remained Green leader until 2009, the Greens returned to the 1994 levels in 1999 (7.4%) and increased their vote to 9.5% in 2002.
The Greens won their best result in 2006, with 11.1% and 21 seats. Their support fell slightly in the 2008 election, winning 10.4% and 20 seats. Eva Glawischnig is the Green leader since 2009 and was the party’s top candidate in this election.
The Greens are often cited as a potential coalition partner for either the SPÖ or the ÖVP (or both) at the federal level, but the Greens have not yet participated in a federal governing coalition. At the state level, however, the Greens currently govern in coalition with the SPÖ in Vienna (since 2010), with the ÖVP in Upper Austria (since 2003), Salzburg and Tyrol (both since 2013) and with both parties in a coalition within Proporz in Carinthia (since 2013).
The Austrian Greens are often described as a centrist party, which attempts to appeal to dissatisfied voters from both the ÖVP and SPÖ. There are differences between the state parties in terms of ideology: the Viennese Greens are widely seen as the most left-wing branch of the Austrian Greens.
Traditional green themes such as environmental and economic sustainability, solidarity, human rights, feminism, grassroots democracy and non-violence are at the core of the party’s ideology.
The environment was, naturally, atop the Greens’ platform and remained the key preoccupation for most of their voters. In this elections, the Greens targeted 100% use of renewable energies by 2035. To reach this goal, the Greens proposed a ‘get out of oil’ plan, a €1 million solar rooftop panels program. Another key Green initiative, which is due to be implemented in three states starting next year, is the 365 Euro-Öffi-Ticket – a plan to reduce public transportation costs to a maximum of €1,095 per year (€1/day for transportation within one state, €2/day for transportation across one state border, €3/day across Austria). Other key parts of their environmental agenda included: increasing the truck toll to shift goods transport to rail, promoting public transit and non-polluting forms of transportation, entrenching animal welfare in the constitution, ending factory farming, promoting organic farming and shifting to 100% organic food in kindergartens, schools and hospitals.
The Greens’ socioeconomic policies in this election were rather left-leaning. The party wants upper rent limits, more social housing, opposition to the ‘two-class system in medicine’, creating a needs-based basic income to close gaps in the existing welfare system and ensure a ‘decent living for all’, no tuition fees for universities, a statutory universal minimum wage of €8.50/hour, full social insurance for all employees, increasing the cost of overtime hours, mandatory rest periods.
Naturally, the Greens take liberal positions on moral/societal issues: they favour same-sex marriage and adoption rights, legalizing soft drugs, creation 10,000 “women jobs” and linking government funding/contracts for business to the promotion of women. They also tend to have liberal attitudes on immigration: jus soli citizenship (if the parents are permanent residents) or granting work permits to asylum seekers as soon as they have applied for asylum (something which almost all parties, including the SPÖ oppose). Originally opposed to EU membership, the Greens are now strongly pro-European, in line with most other continental green parties.
Corruption and transparency were the other major Green theme this year, following a number of scandals which have involved the ÖVP, SPÖ, FPÖ and BZÖ. The party’s platform called for immediate examination of corruption suspicions, banning risky monetary transactions with taxpayers’ money, more funding for fighting corruption, an independent prosecutor and a fundamental right to information.
The Alliance for the Future of Austria (Bündnis Zukunft Österreich, BZÖ) is a right-liberal party founded in 2005 by Jörg Haider and other FPÖ dissidents.
The impetus for the BZÖ’s foundation in 2005 was a pushback against the FPÖ’s government participation and its negative effect on its electoral results led by the FPÖ’s right-wing against Carinthian governor Jörg Haider and his followers (notably his sister who was the then-leader of the FPÖ). The BZÖ’s ideology under Haider differed only slightly from that of the FPÖ, with the notable exception that the BZÖ (which took the FPÖ’s place in Schüssel’s government until the 2006 elections) was seen as more ‘responsible’ and ‘fit’ for government than the radicalized FPÖ and the BZÖ adopted more economically liberal positions than the HC Strache-led FPÖ (favouring a flat tax, for example). On immigration issues, Haider’s BZÖ recycled the anti-immigrant stances of Haider’s FPÖ.
As often happens in the party splits, the BZÖ took the bulk of the pre-division party’s caucus but, at the polls, voters preferred the old party rather than the splinter. The BZÖ badly lost two state elections in 2005 (Styria, Vienna), failing to enter the Landtage and falling behind the FPÖ. In the 2006 federal elections, with Haider retreating to Carinthia, the BZÖ’s top candidate was Peter Westenthaler. The BZÖ won only 4.1% of the vote and 7 seats – almost all of it due to its regionally-concentrated strength in Carinthia, where it won 25% of the vote.
When Westenthaler was found guilty of perjury in the summer of 2008, Haider returned to the forefront and became the BZÖ’s top candidate in the 2008 elections. With a campaign largely focused on immigration issues, the Haider-led BZÖ experienced a spectacular electoral breakthrough, winning 10.7% of the vote (a combined 28.2% of the vote for the two far-right parties) and 21 seats. It won 39% of the vote in Carinthia, and won over 10% in Salzburg, Styria and Vorarlberg.
However, Haider was killed in a car accident (speeding and DUI at cause) on October 11 in Carinthia, a bit more than ten days after his party’s electoral breakthrough.
Haider’s death led many to question the future of his party: would the BZÖ survive its founder/leader’s death or would Haider’s death mean the demise of the BZÖ and HC Strache’s FPÖ becoming the sole far-right party in the country. In any event, the Carinthian BZÖ fared extremely well in the March 2009 state elections in Carinthia: Governor Gerhard Dörfler’s party won 44.9% of the vote, an increase on the Haider FPÖ’s 2004 state election result. That was, however, the BZÖ’s last hurrah.
Josef Bucher, the BZÖ’s parliamentary club leader and a former businessman, was elected BZÖ leader in April 2009. Under Bucher, the party re-positioned itself as a right-wing liberal party, with a liberal emphasis on economic issues while retaining conservative views on immigration and Euroscepticism. The new orientation displeased the large Haiderite Carinthian branch, led by Haider loyalists such as Governor Gerhard Dörfler and chairman Uwe Scheuch. In December 2009, they split from the party to create the FPK, which aligned with federal FPÖ as a regional ‘sister party’ (a la CSU). The BZÖ’s leaders in Styria and Lower Austria also criticized the new liberal direction. As a result of internal divisions, defections, loss of support to parties like Team Stronach, the weakness of Bucher as a leader, the weakness of his liberal positioning and scandals hurting the BZÖ, its support fell to 2-3% in polls. The Carinthian BZÖ, a rump party led by Bucher, managed to win 6.4% and 2 seats in state elections earlier this year.
The BZÖ is a right-wing, economically liberal and moderately nationalist party – located somewhere between the FPÖ and ÖVP, but with far more right-wing (neoliberal) views on economic issues than the FPÖ.
On economic issues, the BZÖ focuses on low taxes – no new taxes, cutting or abolishing some existing taxes (fuel tax, legal fees, commissions to real estate agents paid by renters/buyers, energy tax etc), limiting municipal taxes and utility prices and flattening the tax system (44% flat rate on incomes over €11,000, with a €9,000 deduction for each child). One of their well-known recent slogans has been Genug gezahlt! (paid enough!). The party’s platform proposed over €10 billion in savings through major administrative reforms, including privatization, massive reduction in bureaucracy (including cutting many civil service positions). As a liberal party, the BZÖ also places much emphasis on encouraging entrepreneurship and helping start-ups and small businesses. In fact, the party presents itself as the ‘only party’ which represents small business owners.
On social policy, the party’s landmark proposal this year was a “citizen’s income”, set at a third of the minimum wage (to encourage initiative and reduce dependency), which would replace current social benefits. The party also wants tax-free overtime, a flexible retirement age, supports healthcare privatization, and introducing €1,000/year tuition fees.
The BZÖ has retained more conservative views on immigration issues (though it no longer prioritizes them) and is Eurosceptic. However, its immigration views are a bit more moderate than the FPÖ – recognizing the need for skilled migrants, the BZÖ supports a ‘Green card’ model and a point system.
Team Stronach (TS or FRANK) is the Austria’s political newcomer, founded in September 2012 by Austrian-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach. Although it is vague on a number of issues, it is a right-wing liberal, populist and Eurosceptic party.
Frank Stronach, aged 81, was born in Styria before moving to Canada in 1954. He started his own company two years later in Toronto, and in 1969 his company got its first automotive parts contract and merged with Magna Electronics. Stronach made his fortune (estimated at US$ 1.2 billion) in the automotive parts industry in Ontario (Canada), where he was CEO of Magna International. Stronach set up Magna activities in his native Austria, with the creation of Magna Europe in 1986 and the 1998 acquisition of Steyr Daimler Puch, now Magna Steyr, an automobile manufacturer based in Styria. Stronach also owned Magna Entertainment, which was North America’s largest thoroughbred racing company – Stronach’s horses won several races in the 90s and 00s.
Stronach, and his Canadian-born daughter Belinda Stronach, were previously active in Canadian politics. Stronach himself ran for the federal Liberal Party in the 1988 federal election in York-Simcoe, but lost to the Progressive Conservative candidate. Magna International was noted for its connections to both the Ontario Liberal Party and the Ontario Progressive Conservatives. Belinda Stronach, who replaced her father as CEO of Magna International, ran for the leadership of the newly-founded federal Conservative Party in 2004 (as a moderate, Red Tory, candidate), placing a distant second to Stephen Harper. She was elected as a Conservative MP for the suburban Toronto riding of Newmarket-Aurora in the 2004 federal election, but she crossed the floor to join Prime Minister Paul Martin’s governing Liberal Party in May 2005 and became Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. Her move allowed the Liberal minority government to survive a few more months. Although the Liberals lost the 2006 federal election, Stronach held her riding as a Liberal by a comfortable margin. She did not run for the Liberal leadership in 2006 and retired at the next election in 2008.
Her father ended speculation about his future in Austrian politics in August 2012, when he announced that he would return to Austria and create his own party – Team Stronach – which was found in September 2012. It was joined by SPÖ, BZÖ and ex-BZÖ defectors. At dissolution, Team Stronach held five seats in the Nationalrat and was recognized as a parliamentary club (seven MPs defected, but two later joined state governments).
Team Stronach ran in the four state elections held earlier this year. In Carinthia and Lower Austria (March 2013), TS took 11% in Carinthia and nearly 105 in Lower Austria (with Stronach himself as their top candidate). It failed to enter the Tyrol Landtag in April 2013, winning only 3% of the vote – hurt by internal divisions and competition from local independent conservative parties. In Salzburg, in May, TS won 8% of the vote and formed government with the ÖVP and the Greens. TS also has Proporz government seats in Carinthia and Lower Austria, although it is not part of the unofficial governing ‘coalitions’ in those states.
TS has been extensively criticized for the lack of details about its policies, as well as how many of their policies came out as random thought bubbles by Stronach. Nevertheless, what is clear is that TS is a right-wing populist party emphasizing strongly liberal/libertarian views on economic and fiscal policy, mixed in with Euroscepticism and opposition to the Euro. On economic issues, TS’s platform emphasized themes such as free enterprise or creating “business-friendly climate”; in concrete terms, this means a 25% flat tax (‘fair tax’), reducing bureaucracy, reducing the debt and eliminating deficits, reducing the size of Parliament (with term limits), flexible opening hours for shops, a reduced 10% tax rate for companies which invest their profits locally and abolishing the mandatory ORF broadcasting fees. It also criticized the pension system as unfair and opaque, arguing for a ‘fair pension’ and motivating people to work beyond 65. It is critical of the Austrian social partnership, particularly of the roles of unions in businesses – it wants to reduce if not eliminate union’s powers and allow employees to share in their company’s profits.
Stronach’s platform said they were pro-European but anti-Euro. It is unclear whether or not the TS wants to leave the Euro and return to the schilling, or if they want a ‘flexible exchange rate’ for the Euro where an Austrian Euro is worth more than a Greek, Portuguese or Spanish Euro.
Unlike the FPÖ, TS is not anti-immigration – it has fairly conservative views on asylum, but supports qualified immigration.
Needless to say, TS is very much a personalist party and one man’s electoral machine. The campaign played heavily on Frank Stronach; specifically his bio as a ‘self-made businessman’ or ‘incorruptibility’. The party’s campaign posters almost all included Stronach’s picture, and often featured short slogans such as ‘incorruptible Frank’, ‘honest Frank’ or ‘social Frank’. The party’s core message was also tailored to reach out to dissatisfied or protest voters, with ideas such as ‘the main parties have divided the country, we need to bring it back together’ or ‘time for change’ (a theme shared, naturally, with the Greens, the FPÖ, BZÖ, NEOS etc…), but also campaigning hard on the issue of ethics and corruption.
Stronach polled up to 12% or so in the polls, and attracted a large numbers of protest voters who had previously considered voting for the FPÖ.
Team Stronach spent nearly €11 million on its campaign (which is more than the €7 million spending limit), but its campaign still ended up as one of the poorest on record. The party was constantly dogged by questions about the ‘details’ of its platform, weakened by Stronach’s poor performance in some TV interviews and debates (his ‘Styrian-Canadian English accent’!) and bizarre thought bubble policies – late in the campaign he came out in favour of the death penalty, before finding out that even his own party colleagues didn’t agree with him on that one.
NEOS – The New Austria (Neos – Das Neue Österreich) is the other newcomer on the Austrian political scene, although much less publicized than Team Stronach. NEOS, which ran in coalition with the remnants of the Liberal Forum (LIF) and the LIF’s former youth wing, the Young Liberals (JuLis), is a centrist party with liberal views on both economic and moral/societal issues.
NEOS was founded in October 2012 by Matthias Strolz, a former member of the ÖVP from Vorarlberg who had been critical of the established parties and political system. It formed a coalition with the Liberal Forum (LIF), the liberal FPÖ splinter which ran in 2008, winning only 2.1% of the vote, and the Young Liberals (JuLis), the former youth/student wing of the LIF which is represented in the student union ‘parliament’.
One of NEOS’ most prominent supporters and financial backers is Hans Peter Haselsteiner, the billionaire chairman of construction giant Strabag and former LIF MP (1994-1998). Haselsteiner started by endorsing the party and funding it, but later accepted to be the party’s ‘top candidate’ although he did not run for office himself.
NEOS is a liberal party, with fairly liberal views on economic and fiscal issues, but also liberal views on moral/societal issues (a major difference with TS and the BZÖ, with whom it shares economic liberalism). The other major difference with TS and the BZÖ is on Europe: NEOS is strongly pro-European, promoting a federal Europe.
The new party presented a “9 1/2 point plan for Austria” – these points are lower and flatter taxes (reducing average taxation from 44% to 40%, simplify the tax system, raise the threshold for the maximum rate, , education reform (more school autonomy, less political interference), pension reform (flexible retirement age, create private pension plans, reduce benefits), debt reduction (less bureaucracy, spending cuts, government pay freeze, reduce grants/subsidies), solidarity (creating a new needs-based citizens’ benefit to replace all social benefits), sustainable businesses (less bureaucracy, more R&D spending, more entrepreneurial freedom, eco-friendly development), childcare/families, electoral/political reform (reducing party financing by 75%, direct democracy, transparency, abolish the Bundesrat, more open list voting, MMP) and European federalism (a more democratic EU, European federalism).
Education and pension reforms ranked high for NEOS, which argued that the current pension system is unsustainable in the long-term. On education, it wants less bureaucracy, political control and ‘paternalism’ and more autonomy for schools. In more concrete terms, its platform called for comprehensive all-day schooling (which is often a left-wing position in Austria, where schools run from 8am to 1pm) and extending compulsory education to the age of 18. On pension issues, it wants to explore private pension plans, introduce a higher and flexible retirement age, equalize the retirement age between genders and reduce benefits.
It takes liberal stances on moral/societal issues or immigration: NEOS supports same-sex marriage and adoption, legalizing soft drugs and is pro-immigration.
Two other parties gathered enough signatures to run in every state: the Communist Party and the Pirate Party.
The Communist Party of Austria (Kommunistische Partei Österreichs, KPÖ) is one of Austria’s oldest party, having been founded in 1918. Unlike communist parties in neighboring Germany and Italy, the Austrian Communists never achieved major electoral successes – in 1945, a peak year for European communist parties, the KPÖ won only 5.4% of the vote.
The party had little influence during the First Republic; already in 1918, revolutionary movements – unlike in Germany or Russia – were unsuccessful outside of a handful of densely populated industrial or urban areas. The party was banned by the Austrofascist dictatorship in 1933, and took part in the Austrian Civil War of 1934. The KPÖ was fairly moderate and avant-gardiste for its time in the 1930s, criticism Moscow’s anti-social democratic (‘social fascism’) phase in the 1920s and early 1930s. Breaking with the Austrian mainstream, the KPÖ opposed union with Germany, claiming that “view that the Austrian people are a part of the German nation” was “theoretically unfounded”.
The KPÖ played a very active role in the Austrian resistance to Nazi rule during World War II, and could claim that it had done more than any party to fight Nazi rule. Therefore, in 1945, the Soviet Union had high hopes and expectations for the Austrian Communists and other Austrian parties felt that the KPÖ was a force to be reckoned with. The party was represented by seven members in Karl Renner’s provisional government (vs. 10 SPÖ and 9 ÖVP). However, in the 1945 elections, the KPÖ won a paltry 5.4% and 4 seats – this remains the party’s historic high. Despite its weak showing, which led the Soviet Union to lose interest in the creation of a communist state in Austria (or creating a GDR-like partitioned state in the Soviet occupation zone), the KPÖ was still represented by one minister in Chancellor Figl’s government. They were forced to leave cabinet in 1947, the watershed year in which the Italian and French Communists were pushed out of their respective countries’ cabinets.
The KPÖ masterminded and led the August 1950 strikes in Austria, a huge wave of strikes and protests against the conservative government’s post-war reconstruction/economic policies. The KPÖ and strikers received only halfhearted support from the Soviets; the police dispersed the strikers, and the SPÖ-affiliated unions firmly opposed the KPÖ-led strikes.
The KPÖ’s support declined in the 1950s. Unable to push Moscow to accepting a partition of the country (like in Germany), the KPÖ decided to push for Moscow’s preferred option (Austrian neutrality), which was ultimately accepted by the two main parties. The KPÖ’s support fell to 4.4% (3 seats) in 1956, and, hurt by its Stalinist line in the emerging Cold War and the 1956 Hungarian uprising, the KPÖ lost all seats in 1959 (3.3% of the vote). It remained represented in Landtage until 1970, but the party became a fringe party at the national level. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it flirted with eurocommunism – going as far as condemning the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, but then moved back towards dogmatic positions in the 1980s. The fall of communism and the loss of East German financial support led to internal struggles and divisions in the 1990s, which resulted in a near-total loss of support in elections (0.3% in 1994 and 1995).
Since 2003-2005, the KPÖ has enjoyed a brief revival of popular support – although one which is localized and personality-dependent. Under the leadership of Ernest Kaltenegger, the KPÖ have become very strong in Graz (Styria) – councillors donated parts of their salaries to charity and were actively involved in social housing. The KPÖ won 20.8% in the 2003 municipal elections in Graz, and it took 6.3% in the 2005 state elections in Styria, winning 4 seats in the Landtag. Its support declined in the 2008 Graz elections (11.2%) and 2010 Styrian elections (4.4%, but retained their seats), but it won 19.9% in the November 2012 municipal elections in Graz, placing second behind the ÖVP (ahead of the SPÖ, Greens, FPÖ…). The KPÖ also holds a total of three seats in three borough assemblies in Vienna since 2010. At the federal level, its support has picked up somewhat (1% in 2006, 0.8% in 2008) but it remains weak, even in Styria.
The KPÖ leader is Mirko Messner, a Carinthian Slovene. The KPÖ platform calls for a €10 minimum wage, increased unemployment benefits, an active wage policy, a reduction in working hours to 30 hours/week without loss of pay, affordable housing (more social housing etc), nationalization of the banks, reversing pension reforms, comprehensive all-day schools throughout the compulsory education period, elimination of tuition fees, gender equality, same-sex marriage rights and is strongly pro-immigration. The party says that it fights for a ‘caring society’ and criticizes increasing poverty, declining real wage levels, lower pensions and the ‘dismantling’ of the European welfare state.
The Pirate Party (Piratenpartei Österreichs) was founded in the summer of 2006, but this was their first candidacy in a national election. Indeed, the party failed to gather the required number of signatures to run in the 2006 or 2008 federal elections, and its first candidacy in any election appears to have been a municipal election in Bregenz in 2010.
The party has not experienced the same (short-lived) wave of support its German colleagues enjoyed in 2012, but they have met small electoral successes at a local level. It won 3.8% and one seat in the April 2012 local elections in Innsbruck (Tyrol) and 2.7% and 1 seat in the November 2012 local elections in Graz (Styria). It won about 1% of the vote in the Carinthian, Lower Austrian and Salzburg state elections earlier this year.
Like most Pirate parties, the Austrian Pirates are organized along a fairly horizontal, non-hierarchical and grassroots model. The LiquidFeedback software is quite important for internal decision-making and the party has no single leader, it is led by a five-member executive.
Their core issues are democratic reform, freedom, privacy and internet policy. It is opposed to data retention and endorses copyright reform, legalization of private copying, non-commercial use/sharing of digital data, prevention of censorship, patent reform and promotion of open-source materials (notably in education). These traditional Pirate themes are their main focus, but they also have positions on other issues. Some of their more prominent ‘other’ proposals include drug legalization, an unconditional basic income, lower taxes on labour income, higher taxes on speculation and capital gains, same-sex marriage, free public transit and a more flexible education system.
Corruption ranked highly in voters’ minds and was addressed by almost every party. Over the past few years, all major Austrian parties except for the Greens and the new parties (TS) have been hit by corruption scandals or case of woeful mismanagement. Corruption was an even larger issue in two state elections earlier this year (Carinthia and Salzburg).
In Carinthia, the far-right FPK state government and most of its senior leadership were hit hard by corruption allegations. Former FPK leader and Vice-Governor Uwe Scheuch, was accused of granting the Austrian citizenship to Russian investors in return for illegal donations to Scheuch’s then-party, the BZÖ. Scheuch was forced to resign in August 2012 after allegations that he, and other senior Carinthian politicians including the then-leader of the state ÖVP were involved in a kickback scheme to profit from the 2007 sale of the embattled Hypo Alpe Adria bank to a Bavarian bank. The Carinthian BZÖ and ÖVP received millions in illegal money from the scheme. The FPK Governor of the state, Gerhard Dörfler, was accused of using public funds to send out a large mailer to all households in the state before the 2009 state elections. These scandals, first and foremost the Hypo Alpe Adria scandal, led to snap elections in the state back in March.
Federally, senior ÖVP and ex-FPÖ/BZÖ politicians have been caught up in the Telekom scandal, a wide scandal involving bribed politicians and cabinet ministers from Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel’s government between 2004 and 2006. In 2011, FPÖ/BZÖ infrastructure minister Hubert Gorbach was expelled from the BZÖ after it was revealed that he had modified a law in Telekom Austria’s favour in return for €264,000. Former senior managers, lobbyists and independents consultants have been found guilty or or charged with cheating Telekom Austria with hundreds of thousands of Euros in funds, which were paid out to the FPÖ/BZÖ or politicians from the ÖVP, FPÖ/BZÖ and even SPÖ.
From the same era, the Eurofighter scandal has created headaches for the ÖVP and its former far-right coalition partners since 2006, when the SPÖ and the Greens launched a parliamentary investigation into the purchase of Eurofighter planes. Politicians from the then-governing parties are suspected to have received bribes from the contractors.
Former ÖVP interior minister and MEP Ernst Strasser was recently convicted of bribery after a 2011 investigation by the British Sunday Times masquerading as lobbyists caught Strasser willing to accept a €100,000 bribe in return for amendment to EU laws.
Corruption has also hurt the SPÖ. Chancellor Werner Faymann and his former chief of staff were investigated by prosecutors in 2011 on suspicion of embezzlement and abuse of office; one of Faymann’s confidantes is suspected of pressuring the state-owned railways company to begin an advertising campaign for the SPÖ.
In late 2012, the Salzburg state government (then governed by the SPÖ in coalition with the ÖVP) had lost €340 million in public funds by privately speculating on high-risk derivatives. The state’s finance minister (SPÖ) had been aware of the losses since the summer, and had dismissed the employee responsible (but then asked for her help a few months later for a budget presentation). The state employee responsible for the losses, a member of the ÖVP, had started work in 2000, when the ÖVP still ruled the state. She received permission from ÖVP ministers and later SPÖ ministers. Although the state later recouped its loses and actually made a profit. Nevertheless, the behaviour of politicians from both major parties and their perceived incompetence in the face of the scandal seriously eroded voters’ trust and support.
The Salzburg scandal led to snap elections in May 2013. The SPÖ and ÖVP both lost very heavily (-15.6% and -7.5% respectively), with the Greens being major benefactors – the Greens, who ran on a strongly anti-corruption/anti-mismanagement platform, won 20.2% of the vote. The FPÖ increased its vote share and Stronach’s party won about 8%.
Turnout was 74.9%, down 3.9% from 2009. This is the lowest turnout in a national election since the end of the war. The full results were:
SPÖ 26.82% (-2.44%) winning 52 seats (-5)
ÖVP 23.99% (-1.99%) winning 47 seats (-4)
FPÖ 20.51% (+2.97%) winning 40 seats (+6)
Greens 12.42% (+1.99%) winning 24 seats (+4)
Team Stronach 5.73% (+5.73%) winning 11 seats (+11)
NEOS 4.96% (+2.87%) winning 9 seats (+9)
BZÖ 3.53% (-7.17%) winning 0 seats (-21)
KPÖ 1.03% (+0.27%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 0.77% (+0.77%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.25 (-2.99%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Chancellor Faymann’s governing SPÖ won the ‘race for first place’ which pitted them against their coalition partner, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spindelegger’s ÖVP. The ÖVP’s objective had been to place first, a result which would have allowed its leader to become Chancellor and senior party in government rather than junior partner. However, neither of these two parties can be counted as the real ‘winners’ in this election. In fact, both party once again won record low results, as in 2008.
Together, the two parties which have dominated Austrian politics since 1945 (and even prior to that, since 1919) won only 50.8% of the vote between themselves; in 1975, the two parties had taken 93.3% of the vote amongst themselves, and in 2006 they had still polled 69.6% together. Once again, it is yet another historic defeat for the two parties at the centre of Austrian politics for decades, and another success for existing ‘third parties’ and new parties.
Although Austria, like Germany, is doing quite well economically and voters are generally fairly optimist about their country’s economic future (likely much more so than in 2008), the two governing parties failed to capitalize on this. Instead, both the SPÖ and ÖVP are associated in voter’s minds with the corrupt, nepotistic and stale political system which has governed Austria for much of its post-war history.
The far-right FPÖ and the Greens both did well, with the Greens winning their best in their short history and the FPÖ breaking 20% for the first time since 1999.
There was much sensationalism in the foreign press about the FPÖ’s result. While this is undoubtedly a strong result for the FPÖ, and a sign that HC Strache’s party is gradually gaining ground and continues eating into the main parties’ electorates, just like Haider had done in the 1990s leading up to the 1999 election. Nevertheless, 20.5% is not the FPÖ’s strongest result – it had done better in 1994, 1995 and naturally 1999 – and both history and polling shows that the FPÖ is far from hitting its potential ceiling.
The FPÖ can be pleased with such a result, considering that its polling numbers throughout most of late 2012 and 2013 were fairly poor (often below 20%). The FPÖ gained ground during the campaign, likely as a result of Stronach gradually losing ground for the original wave of support which greeted his party’s creation. After a strong result in the 2010 Viennese election, things had been looking even brighter for Strache’s FPÖ – the party was polling first in a lot of polls, often polling at or above its 1999 level. In 2012, the FPÖ’s support declined considerably with the creation of Frank Stronach’s party and the damaging corruption scandals surrounding the Carinthian FPK but also the FPÖ at the national level.
The FPÖ has a high ceiling, but as the contrast between 1999 and 2002 showed, it also has a very fickle electorate which is, by and large, not tied to the party itself. While the FPÖ has a fairly robust 10-15% base consisting of ideologically far-right voters, who are more closely drawn and tied to the party; a large part of the FPÖ’s electorate also consists of protest voters, which are less closely drawn to the FPÖ and are theoretically willing to vote for any appealing protest party. Stronach, originally, represented an appealing protest alternative to those voters who aren’t as far-right as the FPÖ itself. Stronach adapted parts of the FPÖ’s traditional anti-establishment/anti-system rhetoric, with some ideological/political differences (more economically liberal, less hostile to immigration), and with his image as a ‘self-made businessman’ and ‘incorruptible outsider’ was in a very strong position to draw on the FPÖ’s potential electorate. Of course, Stronach’s shine wore off quite quickly, especially after a botched campaign which allowed some of those erstwhile Stronach voters to drift back towards the FPÖ.
Without being able to predict the future, the storyline here bears at least some superficial similarities to the 1990-1999 situation. A SPÖVP Grand Coalition, winning reelection despite both parties consistently shedding support to other parties (mostly the FPÖ); a young, charismatic, telegenic and energetic FPÖ leader gradually gaining ground and moving his way up to to the top. Analysts had already noted in 2008 that HC Strache was rather similar to Haider in his style, rhetoric and personality. Now, with Haider (and the remnants of his party) out of the picture and Stronach nearly out of the picture as well, Strache is in a strong position to continue building on the FPÖ’s support.
The Greens performed well, winning 12.4% of the vote, which is their best result in a national election to date. The Greens benefited from the relative unpopularity of the SPÖVP government, and likely from its strong focus on corruption and ethics. However, despite a strong campaign, the Greens underperformed compared to their polling numbers. They had been polling between 13 and 15% in most recent polls. Green support in most countries usually tends to be fairly soft, with a number of potential Green voters changing their mind in the final days or at the polling station, preferring to vote for major parties or other minor parties.
Frank Stronach won 5.7% and 11 seats. This is a disappointing result for Stronach’s new party, which likely hoped to perform much better than that – especially given that it had been polling up to 12-15% support in a few polls last year, and which hadn’t performed too badly in state elections earlier this year. Stronach was still able to draw on protest voters and other disappointed voters, but he fell far short of his potential. Despite spending the most of any other party in this election (about €40 per vote, by far the highest of any parliamentary party), Stronach ran a botched campaign in which Stronach himself performed poorly on TV debates and interviews and in which the party was dogged by questions about his party’s incomplete or insufficiently detailed platform. In the end, a failure for Stronach.
Rather, the main winners amongst the ‘newbies’ were NEOS, the much less publicized (and much less affluent) liberal centrist party founded late last year. Surprisingly, NEOS broke the 4% threshold and won nearly 5% of the vote. The party had seen its polling numbers lift off the ground during the campaign, but it ran a comparatively low-key and shoestring campaign (€900,000, the least of any of the top seven parties). It did receive press coverage (likely more than the Pirates or Communists) and it had the advantage of being financially and politically supported by businessman Hans Peter Haselsteiner, but it did not participate in the major TV debates between the party leaders.
Unsurprisingly, the BZÖ collapsed and the party’s future is extremely dire at this stage, being outside of the Nationalrat and being represented in only one state legislature. Not only was the party badly hurt by the loss of its founder and most famous member, Jörg Haider, only days after its strong showing in the 2008 election, it then collapsed into chaotic internal divisions which led to the departure of its largest, most powerful and dominant state branch (the Carinthian FPK). The party was further hurt by corruption scandals dating back to its days in government (2005-2006) and it was unable to mobilize support on a new platform, less far-right and more liberal, given its divisions, a poor leadership and above all Stronach’s party campaigning on a very similar platform.
SORA is usually the exit pollster which everybody, notably the Austrian media, refers to for post-electoral analyses. One of my readers recommended that I look at another, less prominent, polling institute (Ecoquest, full PDF of its exit poll here) as well.
Ecoquest found that 38% of voters were late-deciders, meaning that they made up their mind in the ‘intensive campaign’, while 58% had made up their mind earlier. This is a significant finding, which speaks to the increasing volatility and unpredictability of Austrian politics, which were, until 1986, so stable and predictable. In 1983, only 8% of voters decided who they would vote for during the campaign and 92% had already made up their mind – a sign of the former pillarization of Austrian politics around two camps. Since then, according to Ecoquest’s data, the proportion of late deciders has increased almost consistently in every election: 16% in 1986, 18-20% between 1994 and 1999, 23-24% in 2002 and 2006 and 33% in the last election.
What is more, 29% of voters made up their mind in the last few days (9% in the 1-2 weeks before the election). Austrian voters, like voters in other depillarized countries such as the Netherlands, are extremely fickle: their preferences are not set in stone, and they jump around a lot before making their choice. This is, obviously, especially the case for swing voters: Ecoquest found that 58% of swing voters were late deciders, against only 25% of regular voters.
Their breakdown further shows that the ÖVP was badly hurt by the campaign period: of former ÖVP voters (’emigrants’ from the ÖVP), 61% of them were late deciders. NEOS voters, similarly, were largely made up of late deciders: three-quarters of them decided they would vote as they ultimately did during the campaign, including 34% in the final days.
Swing voters also make up an increasingly large part of the electorate: 25% of the voters were considered ‘swing voters’ by Ecoquest, down from 28% in 2008, although the general trendline since 1975 shows a strong increase in swing voters (3% in 1975). Similarly, about half of voters considered voting for another party than the one they ultimately voted for; most wavering was within the same ideological family (SPÖ voters considering the Greens, FPÖ voters considering Stronach and vice-versa etc).
Unsurprisingly, swing voters don’t end up voting for the two major parties. My educated guess is that swing voters tend to be younger voters, with no attachment to either of the two old parties. In this election, according to Ecoquest, 20% backed the FPÖ, 17% voted Stronach, 15% for NEOS, 14% for the Greens and only 11% and 10% for the SPÖ and ÖVP respectively. In 2008, Ecoquest tells us that swing voters had given 28% to the FPÖ, 25% to the Haider BZÖ, 12% to the Greens and 11% and 8% to the ÖVP and SPÖ respectively.
Vote transfers (2008-2013)
If you’ve read my posts on German elections in the past (or the big one just below), you know that I think that vote transfer analyses, albeit certainly flawed, imperfect and to be taken with a grain of salt, are literally the best things to come out of exit polls.
Table 1: Vote transfers since 2008 (SORA)
Table 2: Vote transfers since 2008 (Ecoquest)
SORA’s analysis appears to be the most complete, given that they also estimate the number of votes lost to abstention since 2008 (methodology info in German here).
The Social Democrats held about 1,047,000 votes from 2008 to 2013, losing most heavily (154,000) to abstention, and losing roughly similar amounts to all other parties: 51,000 to the FPÖ, 47,000 to Stronach, 43,000 to the Greens and 35,000 to their coalition partner. According to Ecoquest, which does not seem to have been able to estimate non-voters’ behaviour, the SPÖ held about three-quarters of their 2008 votes, and the FPÖ and the Greens were the two parties which received most of their lost support.
Conversely, the SPÖ drew in a few additional votes from 2008 BZÖ and FPÖ voters (59k and 42k votes respectively), and smaller numbers of 2008 ÖVP or Green voters (34k and 22k), as well as some who had backed other parties (26k) or had not voted in 2008 (28k). Ecoquest found a fairly substantial contingent of 2008 Green voters (8%) voting SPÖ.
The ÖVP held 949,000 votes from 2008 in 2013; like the SPÖ they held about three-quarters of their 2008 voters. It lost most voters to abstention (69,000), NEOS (58,000) or the Greens (47,000). Both NEOS and the Greens, with an electorate similar to parts of the ÖVP’s urban electoral base, are attractive options for centrist or right-of-centre middle-class, well-educated and affluent voters in urban areas (notably Vienna). The ÖVP also lost significant support to NEOS in Vorarlberg, a conservative stronghold. The ÖVP lost fewer voters to Stronach (41,000), the FPÖ (38k) or the SPÖ (34k). It gained a few extra votes from about 38,000 2008 FPÖ voters, 36,000 other party voters, 35,000 2008 SPÖ voters and 31,000 non-voters.
The FPÖ held between seven in ten to three-quarters of its 2008 voters. About 72,000, or 8%, of its 2008 voters did not turn out this year. Some 42,000 backed the SPÖ instead, a similar amount (41,000) joined Stronach’s party this year and another 38,000 voted ÖVP. There were negligible transfers, unsurprisingly, between 2008 FPÖ voters and 2013 Green or NEOS voters. These loses were compensated by heavy gains from the moribund BZÖ; 173,000 of those who backed Haider’s party in the last election (a full third of them) voted FPÖ. About 58,000 2008 non-voters and 51,000 SPÖ supporters further enlarged the FPÖ’s electorate in 2013. Furthermore, 14% of those who had backed other parties in 2008 voted FPÖ this year, worth about 42,000 ballots.
The Greens held between 65 and 70% of their 2008 voters. Those 2008 Greenies who didn’t back the Greens again this year mostly did not vote altogether (9% of them, 48k) or backed NEOS (11% of them, or 54k). The Greens did not lose much support, comparatively, to either of the two major parties and lost almost no votes to the FPÖ or BZÖ. The Greens drew their additional voters from a broad range of horizons: 18% (54k) of other party voters, 8% (!) of BZÖ voters (41k) and 3-4% of SPÖ and ÖVP voters (43k and 47k).
A mere 64,000 (barely 12%) of the BZÖ’s 2008 supporters repeated their 2008 vote in 2013. A third of them voted FPÖ, returning to ideological roots, and 68,000 joined Stronach. Non-negligible amounts of their 2008 vote also flowed to the SPÖ (59k – likely as a result of the SPÖ’s strong performance in Carinthia) and the Greens (41k). NEOS and the ÖVP did not profit much from the BZÖ’s collapse. Finally, a full 14% of them (71,000) did not vote at all this year. The BZÖ did manage to win a few additional votes from voters who hadn’t backed Haider’s party in 2008 – perhaps the loss of Haiderite far-right/protest voters were partially (very partially) compensated by more moderate voters, attracted by the BZÖ’s new ideological orientation? 26,000 2008 ÖVP voters, 18,000 2008 FPÖ voters, 18,000 2008 non-voters and 17,000 2008 SPÖ voters backed the BZÖ this year.
Team Stronach’s drew from the SPÖ, ÖVP, FPÖ and especially the BZÖ. 68,000 of 2008 BZÖ voters backed Stronach, making about a quarter of his total vote. 17.5% of his vote came from 2008 SPÖ voters (47k), 15.2% (41k) from the ÖVP and FPÖ each, 11.9% from non-voters and 10% from those who had voted for other parties in 2008. Only 4.8% of Stronach’s vote came from 2008 Greenies.
NEOS drew mainly from the ÖVP and the Greens. 24.9% (58,000) of its vote came from 2008 ÖVP voters, 23.2% from Green voters, 14.6% from other party voters from 2008 (LIF?) and 11.2% of its 2013 voters had not voted in 2008. Smaller shares came from the SPÖ (9.4%), BZÖ (8.6%) and FPÖ (8.2%).
Sociodemographic voting patterns (exit polls)
The exit poll details by sociodemographics reveal some rather interesting factoids – and disagreements between SORA and Ecoquest’s exit polls.
SORA showed a very big gender gap. The SPÖ did 7 points better with women (29% vs 22%), and the ÖVP did a full 10 points better with women (29% vs 19%). The FPÖ, on the other hand, did 12 points better with men (28%) than with women (16%). That the two main parties did better with women while the far-right was preferred by more men than women is not too surprising. The far-right, in Austria but also in other European countries (such as France), usually performs better with men than women (although 12 points better is a bit spectacular). A variety of reasons have been advanced to explain this phenomenon; including socioeconomic differences (more working-class, blue-collar men in industrial jobs; more women staying at home and those employed tend to work in non-industrial sectors such as services), education (large share of women in post-secondary education and universities), religiosity (women tending to be more religious than men) or different gender reactions to the far-right rhetoric (the far-right’s traditional messages of ‘strength’ and ‘violence’ tend to be associated with masculinity and appeal less to women; both J Haider and HC Strache could be seen as representative of a fairly macho culture, with their personality and behaviour).
The Greens did 3 points better with women (13% vs 10%), Stronach did 4 points better with men (8% vs 4%). The other parties did not show a pronounced gender gap.
Ecoquest showed a much less remarkable gender gap. The SPÖ did do 6 points better with women (30% vs 24%); but they actually found the ÖVP did best with men (23% vs 21%), and the gender gap for the FPÖ was only 3 points (23% with men, 20% with women). The Greens still did 4 points better with women, the other parties did not show a pronounced gender gap.
SORA showed even more spectacular gender gaps within age groups. Men under 29 voted 32% FPÖ, 19% ÖVP and 18% for the SPÖ and Greens (8% TS, 4% NEOS). In stark contrast, women under 29 voted 27% Green, 26% ÖVP, 25% SPÖ and only 10% FPÖ (nearly tied with NEOS, 9%) and 1% for Stronach. With middle-aged men (30-59), the FPÖ still led the SPÖ by a full 9 points (30% vs 21%), with the ÖVP at 19%, the Greens at 10% and Stronach at 9%. Women of the same age, however, preferred the main parties: 30% SPÖ, 26% ÖVP, 19% FPÖ, 13% Greens, 5% apiece for NEOS and Stronach. Older men (60+), finally, preferred the SPÖ by 11 points over the FPÖ (35% vs 24%) and 12 points over the ÖVP (23%). The BZÖ and Stronach each won 5% of their votes, the Greens only 4% and NEOS only 3%. Older women (60+), however, preferred the ÖVP by 4 points over the SPÖ (36% vs. 32%); the FPÖ took only 14%, against 6% for the BZÖ and the Greens. Older men are probably far more likely to include a large contingent of retired manual workers and other industrial workers, who remain loyal to the old party of the working-class; older women probably include a number of retired women who were employed in secretarial positions, services, non-industrial sectors or stayed at home (I would guess Catholic religious practice should be quite high, comparatively, with older women).
Ecoquest did not provide a similar breakdown by gender/age. They did break down by age. They found that all voters under 30 were nearly split four way: 21% ÖVP, 20% FPÖ, 19% Green, 17% SPÖ – SORA showed an even closer four-way split (23% FPÖ, 22% ÖVP, 22% Green, 21% SPÖ). NEOS also did well (6% Ecoquest, 10% SORA) and Stronach basically at par with his average. Ecoquest showed that voters aged 30 to 44 preferred the FPÖ by 3 points over the SPÖ (27% vs 24%), the ÖVP a distant third with 19% and not too far ahead of the Greens (14%). With those aged 45 to 59, the SPÖ led by 8 – this time over the ÖVP (30 to 22), the FPÖ at 18%, the Greens at 15%. Voters over 60 preferred the two old parties (34% SPÖ, 26% ÖVP), but a fair share (21%) still voted FPÖ, but few voted Green (6%, behind TS, 8%). SORA’s 30-59 sample showed the FPÖ and SPÖ tied at 25%, with the ÖVP at 22% and the Greens at 11%, much lower than with Ecoquest. Stronach, SORA found, also did best with these voters (7%, 5% in the other age groups) and NEOS did just as well with those 30-59 than with those under 30 (6%). Ecoquest, however, found NEOS doing disproportionately well with voters under 30 (10%) and uniformly poorly (3%) with all other ages. They also found that Stronach’s strongest support, at 8%, came from those 60+; polling 6% uniformly with the other age groups.
SORA tells us that the FPÖ beat the SPÖ by 9 points with workers (arbeiter) – 34 to 25, with the ÖVP far behind at 18%, Stronach at a strong 10% and the Greens/NEOS very weak (5% and 3%). It is clearly no secret that the FPÖ has made major inroads, since the 1990s, with working-class voters, largely at the SPÖ’s expense. But did they really win them by 9? Ecoquest tells us that no, the arbeiter and skilled workers preferred the SPÖ by 7 points over the far-right (36 to 29), although they confirm SORA’s findings on the ÖVP, Greens and NEOS support with these voters and come close to SORA on Stronach’s performance (7% they say).
The two pollsters come close to agreement on the voting preferences of employees and officials/civil servants (beamte): SPÖ and FPÖ basically tied (27-25 for SORA, 24-24 for Ecoquest), with a weak ÖVP (18-19%) and Stronach (4% or 3%) but strong Greens (15% or 17%) and NEOS (5% or 6%).
Self-employed persons (selbständige), liberal professions and farmers showed a clear preference for the ÖVP – unsurprisingly. In SORA, the ÖVP won 36% of their support, running miles ahead of the FPÖ (18%), NEOS (13%), TS (13%) and Greens (12%). The SPÖ was extremely weak (5%). In Ecoquest, the ÖVP took 44%, against 16% for the Greens, 15% for the FPÖ, 8% for TS, 6% for the BZÖ and 5% apiece for the SPÖ and NEOS.
Austrian pensioners disproportionately favour the two old parties. In SORA, the SPÖ took 34% against 31% for the ÖVP; the FPÖ took only 17%, with the Greens and NEOS being very weak (6%, 2%). In Ecoquest, the SPÖ won 35% of pensioners’ votes, versus 25% for the ÖVP, 21% for the FPÖ and only 6% for the Greens.
SORA’s detailed breakdown of the vote by education levels was quite interesting. The SPÖ’s support decreased with higher qualifications; the Greens had the exact opposite pattern. The SPÖ did best, with 34%, with those voters who only completed compulsory education. It took 28% with those who followed apprenticeship training in the dual system (Lehre), 24% with those who completed school-based training in secondary technical and vocational schools (BMS), 19% with those with the Matura, the academic high school leaving examination and only 9% among those with a university education. The Greens, on the other hand, won only 8% with those with compulsory education, 5% with those who were in part-time vocational schools for apprentices, 14% with those who graduated from a BMS, 19% with those who obtained a Matura and won the most votes of all parties (30%) with university-educated voters.
The ÖVP’s support had relatively little to do with education. It did poorly with those with compulsory schooling (23%), graduated from a part-time vocational schools for apprentices (20%) or have a Matura (21%); but did quite well both with university grads (29%) and especially BMS grads (34%). From my cursory understanding of the German-Austrian system, BMS schools are focused on fields such as engineering, business, tourism, fashion, social services or agriculture/forestry; the dual system part-time schools provide to more blue-collar or service/retail fields including woodworking, metals, textiles, catering, retail, construction or commerce/transports. This might serve to explain the ÖVP’s results but also the FPÖ’s very strong result with dual system grads (35%) and weaker results with the BMS (21%). The far-right also did poorly with those with only compulsory education (15%) – I might guess these people are disproportionately older/retirees; and about at its national average with those who got the Matura (19%). Unsurprisingly, the FPÖ was extremely weak – only 4% – with university grads.
Stronach did best (9%) with those with compulsory education, but also took 7% with those with the Matura. His support was fairly evenly spread out. NEOS did worst with those with apprenticeships or BMS (3%, 2%), and extremely well with those holding a Matura (10%) and even better with university grads (12%).
Ecoquest’s educational breakdown was not as detailed, but findings were similar. The SPÖ’s support declined with higher qualifications (31-21-14), the Green vote was the opposite (6-24-35), ÖVP support was balanced and the FPÖ did best (26%) with those with compulsory education/vocational-technical education, and poorly (11%) with Matura holders and university grads alike. NEOS did best (10%) with both these groups. Stronach’s support followed a similar trendline than that of the SPÖ.
Ecoquest reported interesting results on unionization and religiosity. With union members, the SPÖ won 36%, a full 16 point lead over the ÖVP (20%), the FPÖ (17%) did quite poorly too with unionized voters, as did Stronach (4%). With non-unionized voters, however, the SPÖ placed third with only 21%, the FPÖ led with 24% to the ÖVP’s 23%. The Greens (13%) and Stronach (7%) did quite well too.
Religious practice still plays an important role in vote choice, as Ecoquest found. Among all Catholics, results were of course similar to the national numbers, but with ‘core’ Catholics (those attending mass every Sunday or regularly), the ÖVP won 46% to the SPÖ’s 24% and the FPÖ’s 12% (Greens and Stronach: 7%). With Catholics who seldom attend services, the ÖVP fell into third with only 20% against 26% for the SPÖ and 25% for the FPÖ. The Greens won 12%. The SPÖ won 36% with Protestants, against 17% for the Greens, 13% for the ÖVP and 10% each for the FPÖ and BZÖ; but the sample size is very small. With irreligious voters, the SPÖ led the Greens by 8, 30 to 22, with FPÖ on 19% and the ÖVP irrelevant at only 10%.
Ecoquest found that while only 36% of Austrians regularly used the internet for their political news, NEOS and Green supporters were far more likely to use the internet for political news: 45% used it daily or several times a week for political news. On the other hand, the FPÖ and Stronach’s supporters rarely use the internet for that purpose (72% and 80% rarely/never use it for that).
Voter motivations, major themes and issues
SORA and Ecoquest both asked why a party’s voters voted the way they did, and both used different perspectives/angles on the question.
Table 3: Vote motivators (SORA)
In Ecoquest, 46% of ÖVP voters said they were loyal ÖVP supporters and/or liked its platform, 24% said the party had done a good job/had good candidates, 35% cited economic/fiscal reasons (good for business, low taxes, controlling the debt), 21% said the party was honest or represented stability, 10% voted strategically against a red-green coalition and 13% cited Spindelegger.
In Ecoquest, 50% of SPÖ voters said their party represented ‘the common man’, workers or social groups along those lines, 44% said they were loyal SPÖ voters or liked its platform, 29% said the party had gone a good job/had good candidates/they were happy with the party, 16% said they were responsible and/or honest or represented stability, 11% voted strategically to prevent a black-blue coalition and 10% cited Faymann.
No one reason clearly came out of FPÖ voters’ motivations – not a surprise, given that as a protest party they attract a more diverse base than either of the two major parties. 35% of the FPÖ’s voters cited disapproval/protest against the Grand Coalition or saw the FPÖ as a lesser evil, 31% cited approval of the party’s immigration policies, 28% liked the party because it brings ‘a breath of fresh air’ or took daring/brave stands, 22% said they were regular FPÖ voters or liked its platform, 14% cited Strache, 12% cited its EU/Eurozone policies.
For the Greens, the environment and the party’s energy/climate/environment policies were cited by a full 45%, 39% cited corruption/the Greens’ anti-corruption stances/disapproval-protest of the Grand Coalition, 28% said they were happy with the Greens’ performance or brought new ideas, 20% liked their platform or were regular Green voters, 17% cited education polices and another 17% cited Green top candidate Eva Glawischnig.
SORA has no details on TS or NEOS voters’ motivations, but Ecoquest cited a few reasons. For Stronach’s party, Frank Stronach himself was cited as a reason by 29%, 15% said the party brought a ‘fresh wind’, 10% said it was a protest vote and 7% cited Stronach’s economic competence. Half of NEOS’ voters said it was a protest vote, 29% said they hoped for change, 13% cited liberalism or the platform and 9% cited NEOS candidate Haselsteiner.
In SORA’s results we can point out: the weaker impact of the platform for FPÖ voters, the importance of voters’ appreciation of a party’s performance for the SPÖ and ÖVP, the major importance of the Greens’ role in controlling abuses in their voters’ eyes, and a ‘candidate bonus’ for all candidates except ÖVP leader Spindelegger.
Table 4: Top issues (SORA)
|Cost of living||32%||34%||28%||42%||28%|
|Housing and rent||21%||28%||16%||29%||17%|
In terms of issues, SORA found that SPÖ supporters were most concerned by social, economic and daily life issues such as jobs, pensions, healthcare, cost of living, housing or taxes. No one issue, however, clearly stood out. For ÖVP voters, no one issue stood out as particularly important – in fact, no one issue was cited above the national average by ÖVP voters. FPÖ voters rated a whole lot of issues as very important – jobs, taxes, economy, pensions, corruption, cost of living, housing and above all immigration and safety/criminality. Green voters were very much concerned about education, the environment, corruption and to a lesser extent transportation. Some of the top SPÖ socioeconomic concerns were notably less important for Green voters.
Ecoquest and SORA asked additional questions related to political dissatisfaction, the country’s direction or Europe. FPÖ voters, unsurprisingly, showed higher than average rates of annoyance/disappointment with parties, the state of political debate, the country’s direction, the benefits of EU membership and dissatisfaction with Austrian and European policies. According to SORA, the FPÖ won 35% with voters who felt Austria has gone in the wrong direction since 2008 (only 9% with those who felt it has gone in the right direction), 40% among those who disapproved of both Austria and the EU’s response to the economic crisis (vs 9% with those who approved of both Vienna and Brussels’ reactions).
Stronach and NEOS supporters also expressed deep dissatisfaction with political parties.
Ecoquest found a sharp drop in positive perceptions of the EU since 2008: those saying it has brought more advantages dropped from 65% to 47%, those who said it has brought more disadvantages increased from 32% to 41%. 71% of FPÖ are in the latter side, as are 60% of Stronach’s voters. About three-quarters of Green and NEOS supporters, however, expressed positive views of the EU.
SPÖ voters were upbeat and positive about the country’s direction and its response to the crisis, but were split in their attitudes towards the EU’s policies, albeit half of them expressed positive views of the EU. ÖVP voters were fairly optimistic and happy about the country’s direction and its response to the crisis, but also more strongly pro-EU than SPÖ voters.
The SPÖ was the strongest party in ‘Red Vienna’, the red state of Burgenland, Upper Austria and… Carinthia. The ÖVP predominated in conservative Tyrol and Vorarlberg and topped the poll in Lower Austria and Salzburg. The FPÖ was the strongest party in Styria. It also placed second in Carinthia, Tyrol, Vienna and Vorarlberg.
On the one hand, general patterns of Austrian electoral geography held tight. The SPÖ found its strongest support in industrial neighborhoods or towns, railway towns, the Upper Styrian steel districts, Viennese hinterland/commuterland and the old SPÖ stronghold of Burgenland (governed by the SPÖ since 1964). The ÖVP did best in Catholic and clerical rural areas (parts of Lower Austria, Tyrol/East Tyrol etc) and more affluent urban or suburban areas. It remained weak in most of Vienna, the Upper Styrian districts, Carinthia and industrial towns.
The SPÖ and FPÖ are usually the strongest parties in industrial, working-class towns or neighborhoods. In the manufacturing centre of Steyr (Upper Austria), the SPÖ won 38% to the FPÖ’s 21.6%; the ÖVP placed fourth (12.4%), behind the Greens (12.9%). Of course, 38% for the SPÖ in Steyr isn’t exactly strong; as recently as 2006, the party won over 50% of the vote there. In the former industrial town of Wels (Upper Austria), the SPÖ won 32.5% to the FPÖ’s 27.1%, with the ÖVP a very distant third with only 14.4%. The SPÖ did well in the old industrial towns (salt mining, soda works) in the Salzkammergut: 44.1% in Ebensee, 44.8% in Gosau, 42.9% in Hallstatt and 37.2% in Laakirchen (these are old Socialist strongholds, of course: the 1934 civil war extended to Ebensee, also in Steyr etc). The FPÖ placed second in Laakirchen (20.9%), Ebensee (16.8%) and Bad Goisern (20.4%), but their results were not exceptionally strong; likely due to the importance of tourism in the region and an older population.
In Linz, overall, the SPÖ placed first with 33.8% against 19.4% for the FPÖ, 17.1% for the Greens and 15.2% for the ÖVP; similarly to Vienna, the SPÖ and FPÖ did best in traditionally working-class and low-income neighborhoods, while the Greens were very strong in the inner-city area, including some affluent areas.
The FPÖ did much better in the Innviertel in northwestern Upper Austria, a region which has close cultural and economic ties to Bavaria, winning over 25% in all three districts in the regions. These districts were amongst the FPÖ’s best districts in the country. In the very famous industrial town of Braunau am Inn (which is not famous for economic reasons!), the SPÖ won 33% against 26.2% for the FPÖ and 16% for the ÖVP. The far-right even topped the poll in Ried im Innkreis and Andorf.
Another closely disputed state was Lower Austria, an ÖVP stronghold at the state level but often quite marginal in national elections. This year, the ÖVP won the state with 30.6% to the SPÖ’s 27.6% and the FPÖ’s 18.8%. The diverse state includes both SPÖ bastions and some of the strongest ÖVP regions in Austria. The SPÖ does best in industrial centres such as Sankt Pölten, which it won with 37.6% to the ÖVP’s 20% and the FPÖ’s 17.9% (again, the SPÖ was over 50% as recently as 2002); Wiener Neustadt (33% vs 23.5% FPÖ, 17.4% ÖVP) and most of the industrial areas in the Industrieviertel, located south of Vienna. The SPÖ also performs strongly in isolated industrial or railway centres, such as the railway town of Gmünd on the Czech border (40.1%); Amstetten, another railway junction town (34.4% SPÖ, FPÖ second), St. Valentin (40.8%), Stockerau (32.5%). On the other hand, the ÖVP polls very well in rural Catholic areas: the party won nearly 50% in the district of Zwettl, and over 40% in Horn and Waidhofen an der Thaya.
Styria had a very sharp swing away from both governing parties, which both 5% of the vote compared to the 2008 election. The FPÖ gained 6.7% and won 24% of the vote, placing 0.2% ahead of the second-placed SPÖ. Frank Stronach’s native state was also, by far, his best state: Team Stronach won 10% of the vote in Styria, only 0.6% behind the Greens. He won 15.8% in Weiz district, where he was born (about 20% in the town he was born, and he won 25% in the town next door). At cause for this sharp swing against the SPÖVP in Styria seems to be a local reaction to the SPÖVP state government’s unpopular municipal reforms, which led a number of rural SPÖ and ÖVP mayors to call on their constituents to boycott the election or vote for parties other than the SPÖVP. The FPÖ did very well in Leibnitz and Graz-Land district, winning about 27% of the vote; both in places which had voted ÖVP and SPÖ in 2008. The SPÖ saved face – barely – by placing first in Upper Styria, a solidly leftist industrial area (steel, mining, industries etc). The SPÖ won 48% in Eisenerz, 34.5% in Leoben, 40.7% in Mürzzuschlag, 40.4% in Kapfenberg and 36% in Bruck an der Maur. Keep in mind that while the SPÖ won over 35% in the districts of Leoben and Bruck-Mürzzuschlag, it had won over 50% in both as recently as 2006.
Graz, the Styrian capital and Austria’s second largest city, the Greens topped the poll with 21.7% against 19.3% for the FPÖ, 18.5% for the SPÖ, 17.1% for the ÖVP, 7.3% for Stronach and 7% for NEOS. As an industrial centre with a large working-class population, Graz used to favour the SPÖ – not anymore. The FPÖ and the KPÖ have taken a lot of the SPÖ’s old blue-collar support, while the Greens have polled well with middle-aged middle-class voters and academics in this university town. The results by borough in Graz shows a city split by the Mur river: the FPÖ won the poorer, working-class districts on Graz’s west side, while the Greens won the downtown core and the wealthier districts on the east bank of the river. Compared to 2008, you can notice that the FPÖ won all but one of the districts which the SPÖ had carried, while most ÖVP districts went Green except two affluent boroughs which stayed black.
The Greens did best (31.3%) in St. Leonhard district, a trendy university district which they had already carried back in 2008. The FPÖ did best (31.5%) in Puntigam, a young low-income district. They also did well in working-class districts such as Eggenberg (26.8%) or Liebenau (26.5%).
While the FPÖ did very well in Styria, it did poorly in Carinthia. The FPÖ won only 17.9% of the vote in Carinthia, hurt, it is true, by the BZÖ still pulling 10.8% in Haider’s home state. However, the FPÖ/BZÖ total fell far short of the FPÖ/BZÖ total from 2008, which allowed the SPÖ to record fairly substantial gains (+4.3%) and place first, as it had in 2006. The ÖVP also increased its vote share by 0.7% and the Greens increased theirs by nearly 5% (with nearly 12%, this is a very strong performance for the Greens). The Carinthian far-right is still reeling from the spectacular collapse of the ‘System-Haider’ back in March, a shock defeat which led to public divisions in the FPK/FPÖ. The SPÖ did best in the Carinthian Slovene towns along the Slovenian border, Villach (35.5%) and old industrial or mining towns such as Sankt Viet an der Glan (37.9%) or Hüttenberg (41.3%). Josef Bucher, the BZÖ’s (now former) leader will be happy to know that the BZÖ topped the poll in his hometown of Friesach (with 31.6%).
The ÖVP won the states of Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg; the latter two of which are conservative strongholds in which the ÖVP polled over 50% in better years for the party. The SPÖ narrowly won the city of Salzburg itself (23.7% to the Greens’ 20.7% and the ÖVP’s 20.3%); the SPÖ and FPÖ won a few towns in the Salzach river valley; in some of those places there’s a lot of tourism and skiing, but also, I think, some old industries or railway towns in places such as Lend, Saalfelden, Bischofshofen. The ÖVP did best in mountainous or rural areas.
In Tyrol, the Greens won the university town of Innsbruck, taking 24.2% against 21.2% for the ÖVP. The ÖVP and SPÖ both increased their vote shares since 2008 in Tyrol, the ÖVP vote was up 1 point and the SPÖ vote by a tiny 0.3%. At cause is the disappearance of a local conservative list, led by Fritz Dinkhauser, who had run in the 2008 federal elections fresh from his big success in the 2008 Tyrolean state elections (second place, about 18%); he was unsuccessful federally (1.8%) but he still won nearly 9% in Tyrol, most of those votes from the ÖVP (which had won 44% in 2006). The Greens did well in Innsbruck suburbia while the SPÖ and FPÖ won a few industrial islets in the Inn valley (FPÖ won Kufstein, Wörgl; SPÖ won Kirchbichl). The ÖVP did very well in more mountainous and remote towns, notably in the exclave of East Tyrol, a district where the ÖVP won 40% of the vote.
Similarly, in Vorarlberg, the ÖVP did well in mountainous villages and ski resorts, but the vote was far more divided in the densely populated valleys which include the state’s three major cities (Bregenz, Dornbirn, Feldkirch).
NEOS won 13.1% of the vote in Vorarlberg, something which nobody saw coming. Was it largely a favourite son vote for the party’s leader, Matthias Strolz? NEOS won 14% in his hometown of Bludenz but topped the poll in three towns nearby. NEOS’ success in the state was a major drag on the ÖVP and Green vote, the ÖVP’s support dropped by 5 points from 31% to 26%, while the Green vote fell back 0.2% to 17%.
The FPÖ, historically strong in Vorarlberg (which has the highest foreign population outside of Vienna), did quite well – gaining 4 points to reach 20.2%. The party won a number of suburban towns outside Bregenz and two old textile towns in Dornbirn district (22.2% in the district).
The city of Innsbruck’s report on the elections analyzed the results by precinct in the city from various interesting angles. Breaking precincts down by sociodemographic ‘type’, we find that the Greens did best in downtown precincts, with a high proportion of students and middle-classes (31.7%) and in highly-educated, affluent residential areas (29%). With the exception of the downtown-type precincts, which are strong only for the Greens, the Greens did well in areas where the ÖVP also did well, showing the relatively high socioeconomic status of many Green voters.
The FPÖ did well in the same kind of places where the SPÖ also did well, but poorly in places where the Greens and ÖVP did well. The FPÖ’s best results came from high-density residential precincts with ‘ordinary people’ and large apartment towers or social housing (29.2%, these were also some of the SPÖ’s strongest areas, with 30% of the vote).
I am quite sure these observations in Innsbruck also apply to other cities in Austria. The correlation between SPÖ and FPÖ strength certainly applies in Vienna as well.
The SPÖ won ‘Red Vienna’, albeit with only 31.6%, down 3% since 2008. The Greens and FPÖ have, over the years, seriously weakened the SPÖ in its old stronghold. The FPÖ placed second with 20.6%, but this will be a disappointing result for HC Strache, who had won over 26% in the 2010 state elections and was likely hoping for a strong result in his hometown. The FPÖ has always been banging on the red-green government which governs the city since 2010 and which has attracted some controversy for its transportation policies.
One of the more interesting aspects of Viennese geopolitics is the correlation between the SPÖ and the FPÖ’s support in the city: the FPÖ’s strongest districts tend to be some of the SPÖ’s strongest districts. The FPÖ’s best result this year came from Simmering (31.1%) in southern Vienna, a working-class district with a substantial immigrant population (but not huge; it also has white low-income areas where I suspect the FPÖ does best) which was also the SPÖ’s best district this year (39.9%). The FPÖ won its second best result next door in Favoriten, winning 28.7% to the SPÖ’s 39.8%. The FPÖ (and, you guessed it, SPÖ) also did well on the other side of the Danube, in Donaustadt (36.5% SPÖ, 26.8% FPÖ) and Floridsdorf (37.2% SPÖ and 28.6% FPÖ); two low-income and traditionally working-class districts, with a fairly low immigrant population. Both parties again did well in Liesing, Meidling and Brigittenau; working-class districts close to large concentrations of immigrants or immigrant-heavy themselves.
The FPÖ’s support, however, has declined in the most immigrant-heavy parts of the city; notably Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus, where the FPÖ won 25.7% in 1994 but only 18.3% today (the FPÖ vote citywide was about 2% lower in 2013 than in 1994). This is also the case in Margareten (24.5% in 1994, 15.1% today), Ottakring (25.5% in ’94, 20.1% today) or Leopoldstadt (25.3% in 1994, 16.7% today). These districts have some of the highest immigrant populations in Vienna, and parts of Leopoldstadt, Ottakring and Margareten have seen gentrification in recent years, which has brough along stronger Green support. FPÖ has indeed fallen off since the ’90s in the Greens’ inner-city districts, their weakest terrain. On the other hand, their results in the outer blue-collar suburbs aforementioned are nearly all-time highs – in fact, the FPÖ vote in 2013 in Simmering and Floridsdorf was even higher than in 1999 (even if city-wide support was down 4% on 1999).
The Greens won 16.4% in Vienna, up 0.5% and enough to take third place ahead of the ÖVP (14.5%, down 2.2% and winning their worst Viennese result in any national election). Both parties were hurt by NEOS, which won 7.6% of the vote in Vienna. Indeed, the Greens’ result is mediocre considering their national average; in 2006, the Greens won 17.3% in Vienna.
NEOS did best in the Innere Stadt, an extremely costly and affluent professional district in the heart of Vienna (it has a small population, but in the daytime its population swells due to the government and business centered here) which is the city’s ÖVP stronghold. The ÖVP won 30% of the vote in the Innere Stadt, down nearly 9% on 2008 (the ÖVP won 42.9% in 2006…). The Greens’ support declined as well: down nearly 3% on 2008, to 17.2%. NEOS won 15.6%, and the results clearly confirm that NEOS hurt the ÖVP and the Greens without having much effect on the SPÖ (its weak support up 0.2%) and likely no effect on the FPÖ.
NEOS did very well in the rather affluent, very well-educated and ‘bobo’ inner-city Green strongholds (which form a ring around the Innere Stadt): 13.3% in Josefstadt, 12.8% in Alsergrund, 12.3% in the Neubau, 12.1% in Wieden and 11.8% in Mariahilf; all of which were won by the Greens (as in 2008). The Greens lost votes in two of their inner-city strongholds: -1.4% to 28% in Josefstadt, -0.2% to 32.4% in Neubau; and they were stagnant in Alsergrund, Wieden and Mariahil. And in any case, they fell short of their 2006 levels.
NEOS also did well in more suburban affluent districts, which are also good for the ÖVP. NEOS won 13% in Währing (24% ÖVP), 11.9% in Döbling (24.7% ÖVP) and 11.9% in Hietzing (27% ÖVP). The swing against the ÖVP and the Greens were even larger in these districts than city-wide.
On the results of this election, a continuation of the SPÖVP Grand Coalition which has ruled since 2006 is by far the most, if not only, realistic option for forming a government. In fact, even before the election, most people thought that the Grand Coalition would be renewed for another go-round after the election. The SPÖ and ÖVP have their disagreements and during the campaign both parties made sure to make voters think that they hadn’t actually governed together for seven years. Yet, no other option had the numbers and/or was acceptable enough to the parties involved.
Black-blue and red-green both fell short (especially the latter), and a black-blue coalition was unlikely even if it did have the numbers. The ÖVP has said that the FPÖ will need to change its positions on the EU and be less hostile towards immigration if they want to serve in government with them. A right-wing government made up of the ÖVP, FPÖ and TS do hold an absolute majority, albeit pretty thin to make it vulnerable to defections. Anyhow, that option hasn’t even been considered seriously by the parties involved. Red-blue, which is not as ‘out there’ as some foreign observers might assume, is still even less likely.
There were talks of extending the Grand Coalition into a Super-Grand Coalition with the inclusion of the Greens and/or NEOS, but nobody seemed to take that too seriously or be overly keen on it.
In conclusion, this election will likely bring about very few changes in governance: the main changes could be in the attribution of cabinet portfolios, with a rumour that Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger (ÖVP) might switch from foreign affairs to finance, removing the rather unpopular ÖVP finance minister Maria Fekter. The ÖVP’s extremely popular Sebastian Kurz, the 27-year old state secretary for integration (Kurz received more preferential votes than Spindelegger) will likely receive a major promotion.
Nevertheless, with the continuation of the Grand Coalition – once again made up of parties which ‘lost’ the election (as Strache was quick to point out) – means that Austria seems to be, again, on route to a 1999-like election with a very strong FPÖ.
The FPÖ will be helped by the fact that the BZÖ is now basically dead and by the rapid implosion of Team Stronach. TS was always destined to be a flash in the pan, because Stronach is quite old and already is too busy living most of the time in Canada to actually lead a political party on the other side of the pond (he can’t stay over 70 days in Austria because he’d need to pay all his taxes in Austria). Since the election, Stronach, who has run TS with an iron hand, has already sacked three TS state leaders, other state leaders are angry at Stronach, the Carinthian TS wants to split from the federal party, the Vorarlberg TS has basically imploded and Stronach has moved back to Canada and let the new TS parliamentary leader, Katrin Nachbaur, to deal with the mess. TS has seen its support collapse to 2% in post-election polls, while the FPÖ has already been pegged at 25% in one poll (tied for first). In the meantime, NEOS’ support has steadily increased to 6-8%… a new political force to reckon with?
Thanks for bearing with me as I try catching up on backlog… stay tuned for Nova Scotia (Oct 7) and Luxembourg (Oct 20) coming up next.
Carinthia and Lower Austria 2013
State elections were held in the Austrian states of Carinthia (Kärnten) and Lower Austria (Niederösterreich) were held on March 3, 2013.
The Carinthian state legislature (Landtag) has 36 members elected to five-year terms in four constituencies through proportional representation with a 5% threshold. The Lower Austrian landtag has 56 members elected to five-year terms in 21 constituencies corresponding to the state’s district and cities, the threshold is 4%.
In Carinthia and Lower Austria (along with Burgenland, Styria and Upper Austria), the state government is formed on the basis of the Austrian proporz principle, where each party which won over 10% of the vote receives seat(s) in the state government in proportion to their share of the vote. Although all major parties govern in coalition and hold seats in the state government, there may be unofficial working agreements/unofficial coalitions between parties in the state government to form an absolute majority in the legislature and government, leaving a smaller government party as a de facto ‘opposition’. The state governor (Landeshauptmann) is elected by the state legislature, and often comes from the largest party in the legislature and government.
Carinthia is a largely alpine state in southern Austria, the state capital is Klagenfurt. Historically, the state’s main industries included agriculture, forestry, manufacturing and mining. Today, the state’s economy is more reliant on tourism, electronics (Philips and Seimens have large operations in the state) and engineering. Carinthia has the second largest Protestant population in Austria after Burgenland, representing 10% of the population. Some rural areas in the state resisted the Counter-Reformation which nearly wiped out Protestantism in modern-day Austria.
Of lesser demographic significance but of far more political significance is a small Slovene minority in Carinthia, concentrated in the south of the state between the Karavanke mountain range (the modern border between Austria and Slovenia) and the Drava river. In the nineteenth century, about a third of the Carinthian population was Slovene; in the 2001 census, the official figure was 3% (Slovene minority groups claim that the data is flawed and underestimates the minority). Events which took place in Carinthia immediately after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 have had a major effect on the state’s contemporary political tradition. In 1918, Yugoslavian troops invaded the predominantly Slovene region between the Karavanke and the Drava river, forcing the German-Austrian state government to flee Klagenfurt. After armed clashes between both sides, the Entente powers stepped in to arbitrate a ceasefire. The parties involved agreed to hold a plebiscite in the predominantly Slovene region of the state to resolve the issue. In a 1920 plebiscite in the majority-Slovene ‘Zone A’, 59% of voters chose to remain part of Austria – a significant number of Slovenes, particularly those in the Klagenfurt basin, voted to remain with Austria rather than join the new Yugoslav state.
Despite the resolution of the issue, the armed conflict between Carinthia and Yugoslavia in 1920 (Kärntner Abwehrkampf) has played a major role in forming the state’s contemporary political traditions, by breeding pan-German nationalism and anti-Slavic/anti-Yugoslavian sentiment. Since the days of the Austrian First Republic in the interwar period, Carinthia has been a hotbed of (pan-German) nationalism. During the interwar years, the pan-German national liberal Landbund, which had a strong base with Protestant farmers, often placed second with decent results.
However, during the interwar era and during most of the post-war era, Carinthian politics were dominated by the Social Democrats (SPÖ), strong in the state partly because of its industrial and blue-collar nature. The SPÖ won the most votes in every state election between 1945 and 1999, and even won over 50% of the vote between 1970 and 1984. The longtime SPÖ Governor, Leopold Wagner (1974-1988), was very popular with Carinthian voters because of his populist and nationalist (often anti-Slovene) positions, which often put him at odds with the federal leadership of the SPÖ. However, throughout the post-war era, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) – an erstwhile national liberal party (which welcomed a lot of former Nazis) which has since become Austria’s leading far-right party – was much stronger in Carinthia than in the rest of the country. It always won double digits (in the low 10s between the mid-1960s and 1984).
Since the 1980s, Carinthia has gained national and even international prominence as the stronghold of the Austrian far-right. Jörg Haider, associated with the FPÖ’s right-wing/pan-German camp, gained control of the Carinthian FPÖ in 1983 and went on to gain control of the federal FPÖ in 1986 (defeating Norbert Steger, who had been the party’s unsuccessful liberal leader since 1980). Under Haider’s leadership, the FPÖ shifted rightwards, away from its erstwhile classical liberalism and emphasizing nationalist, Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant positions. This new rhetoric propelled the FPÖ to new heights, beginning in Carinthia. Under Haider, the party increased its support from 11.7% to 16% in the 1984 state election. In the 1989 election, the FPÖ won 29% in Carinthia and became the second largest party ahead of the conservative ÖVP. Haider was able to become governor of Carinthia through a deal with the ÖVP. He was, however, forced to resign in 1991 after his controversial appraisal of the Third Reich’s “employment policies”. In 1994, the Carinthian FPÖ increased its support to 33%. In 1999, the party placed first with 42% (against 33% for the SPÖ) and Jörg Haider became governor again.
At the same time, the FPÖ reached its peak federally (second placing with 27% in the 1999 federal election) and entered the federal government in a coalition with the centre-right ÖVP. Federally, cabinet participation proved unpopular with the FPÖ’s party and caused great strains on the party. In the 2002 federal election, its support dropped to 10% although it remained in government thereafter.
In 2004, Jörg Haider won another term as governor in his Carinthian stronghold, with the FPÖ winning 42.5% against 38% for the SPÖ (the ÖVP’s support collapsed to barely 11.6%). However, in 2005, after an internal row in the FPÖ, Haider left the party and founded his own party – the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), as an ostensibly more moderate version of the FPÖ. The FPÖ, now led by Heinz-Christian Strache, won the battle for control of the far-right against the BZÖ – the former won 11% against only 4% for the latter in the 2006 federal election. However, in the 2008 federal election, Haider took the helm of the BZÖ’s federal list and led the party to 11% nationally (the FPÖ won 17.5%) – and 39% in Carinthia.
Haider was killed in a car accident 13 days after the election, in October 2008. Running on a platform of upholding Haider’s legacy, his successor as governor, Gerhard Dörfler, won an unprecedented landslide victory for the BZÖ in the 2009 state election. The BZÖ won 44.9% against 28.7% for the SPÖ.
In December 2009, as the federal BZÖ under Josef Bucher took a ‘hard liberal’ turn and adopted very liberal on economic and fiscal issues (while remaining Eurosceptic), the state BZÖ under governor Dörfler and state leader Uwe Scheuch split from the federal BZÖ and formed an alliance with the federal FPÖ. The state BZÖ became the Freedom Party in Carinthia (FPK), associated to the FPÖ as a ‘sister party’ like the CDU/CSU relationship in Germany. The federal BZÖ under Bucher later refounded their own state branch, led by Bucher.
Two events marked Austrian (and Carinthian) politics in 2012: corruption scandals and the emergence of a new political party. At the federal level, all major parties – the governing SPÖ and ÖVP but also FPÖ – have been hit by corruption scandals which have eroded their support and credibility. The FPÖ’s support declined from about 27% in spring 2012 to 20-23% today, in part because of corruption scandals involving party members (Martin Graf, a president of the federal legislature, allegedly swindled an old woman). These corruption scandals, some of which date back to the ÖVP-FPÖ government, include cases of bribery, kickbacks, money laundering and trading insider information. In Carinthia, corruption scandals led to early elections this year. Senior FPK, ÖVP and SPÖ state politicians – including Governor Dörfler, former FPK leader Uwe Scheuch and a former ÖVP leader – were named in various corruption cases. Scheuch was forced to resign as FPK leader in August 2012 following revelations that he had partook in a kickback scheme to profit from the sale of state-owned bank Hypo Alpe Adria in 2007. Dörfler is cited in a case involving the use of public funds by the BZÖ state government to send out a large mailer to all Carinthian households during the 2009 election
These corruption scandals have facilitated the rise of a new party in Austrian politics. Frank Stronach, an Austrian-born businessman who moved to Canada when he was only 18 and later founded Magna International, a hugely successful Canadian auto parts company. Stronach ran for the Canadian Liberal Party in the 1988 federal election (but was defeated) and his daughter Belinda served as a Conservative (later Liberal) MP in the Canadian House of Commons. Frank Stronach returned to Austria in 2011-2012 (where he always maintained a foothold and local notoriety) and entered politics last year with the creation of a new party, ‘Team Stronach’. Stronach’s new party has a right-wing, pro-business platform – it supports a 25% flat tax and other pro-business policies (critics contend he wishes to dismantle Austria’s popular welfare state). Stronach wants Austria to leave the Euro and return to the schilling, but on other European issues it tends to be more favourable to European integration. Unlike the far-right, Stronach is not anti-immigration. However, with his right-wing, mildly Eurosceptic and anti-corruption image, Stronach has been able to eat into the far-right’s reservoir of protest voters, left a bit disillusioned following FPÖ/FPK corruption scandals. Stronach’s party recruited cadres from the BZÖ, SPÖ and ÖVP. Team Stronach’s top candidate in Carinthia was Gerhard Köfer, a former SPÖ MP.
These two state elections were Stronach’s first electoral test before the federal elections in the fall.
The Carinthian electoral campaign was marked by the corruption scandals which hurt the FPK but also the SPÖ and ÖVP – the only party with seats in the legislature who were ‘spared’ were the Greens. The campaign also saw a bitter battle between the FPK and Bucher’s BZÖ. The BZÖ ran a notably overwrought and overdramatic campaign, likening FPK governor Dörfler to past dictators (Ceausescu, Ben Ali, Mubarak) calling on voters to “liberate” Carinthia from the corrupt (and awfully dictatorial?!) FPK. The ad concludes in style with the famous image of US soliders raising the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II – except that they’re raising the Carinthian flag in the ad.
Turnout was 75.15%, down 6.6% since the 2009 election. The final results are as follows:
SPÖ 37.13% (+8.39%) winning 14 seats (+3) > 3 ministers
FPK 16.85% (-28.04%) winning 6 seats (-11) > 1 minister
ÖVP 14.40% (-2.43%) winning 5 seats (-1) > 1 minister
Greens 12.10% (+6.95%) winning 5 seats (+2) > 1 minister
Team Stronach 11.18% (+11.18%) winning 4 seats (+4) > 1 minister
BZÖ 6.40% (+6.4%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Pirates 0.99% (+0.99%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.95% (-3.44%) winning 0 seats (nc)
It was a monumental for the entire far-right edifice and the powerful FPÖ/BZÖ/FPK machine which Jörg Haider had masterfully built since 1983. The FPK, heir to the state BZÖ which had won a big landslide (with 45%) in the 2009 election running on Haider’s legacy, was trounced at the polls and won only 16.9% of the vote. The 2009 election had come as a major surprise since all polling had shown a close race between the BZÖ and the SPÖ; many felt that the polls would be wrong again this year and that the FPK could place first again – the last batch of polls had shown the SPÖ ahead (31-32%) but the FPK not very far behind (25-26%). The polls were indeed wrong again. Except that they were wrong in the other direction: badly overestimating the FPK at the SPÖ’s expense.
The SPÖ came out much stronger than originally predicted, with 37% of the vote – up over 8 points on its disastrous 2009 result – and, for the moment, regaining political domiance in its old Carinthian stronghold. Furthermore, with the addition of the Greens’ 5 seats, the left (SPÖ-Greens) have an absolute majority (19 seats). They will likely form an unofficial coalition with the ÖVP, which would give them a two-thirds majority and the ability to do away with the Proporz system.
It was an unmitigated and unprecedented disaster for the FPK and the whole Austrian far-right. The FPÖ’s national troubles were, it is true, were worsened in the state by the corruption scandal which has badly hurt the FPK. The result was a shellacking for the FPK, which lost 28 points – the largest loss for the far-right in any Austrian election – compared to the BZÖ’s 2009 landslide victory.
Corruption was one of the biggest issues in the campaign. Indeed, according to SORA’s exit poll, 73% of voters said that ‘fighting corruption’ was very important, making it the second most important issue behind jobs. The Greens – the only party in the old legislature which did not get tied up with the corruption scandals – and Stronach were those who gained the most from the focus on corruption. The BZÖ’s hilariously overdramatic campaign focusing on corruption likely helped them save face, taking 6% and 2 seats (they missed out on a third seat, which went to the Greens, by one vote on the final count).
The ÖVP did not do all that well, but it was a decent result for the party. The ÖVP had been hit particularly badly by the corruption scandal, to the point that the ÖVP’s leader in the state was forced to resign and was replaced by a new leadership which managed to clean up the ÖVP’s image a bit before the elections.
Stronach won 11.2%, more or less in line with what the polls had predicted. Should this be considered a good start for a new party, or should it be seen as a sign that Stronach will not be more than a footnote in Austrian politics? The question seems to have divided observers and commentators. It is clear that Stronach will not win a national breakthrough this year, unless something important happens; if Stronach was expecting to revolutionize the country’s politics and score a phenomenal breakthrough, he was clearly wrong. Austrian politics are relatively stable, political ascension take place over time and not overnight, and even if there’s much discontent in Austrian politics the country is not in a state of crisis which would favour the phenomenal emergence of a brand new party (unlike in Italy). Similarly, if observers and commentators were looking on Stronach to be a top contender in this year’s federal election with a strong chance at actually winning, they were mistaken – it was clear from the beginning that while Stronach had (and still has) much potential, he would not be able to rival the dominant ‘SPÖVP’ this year. Therefore, there would be reason for Stronach and his supporters to be pleased: 11% is a good result for a new party.
SORA’s exit poll revealed interesting information. Only 29% of the BZÖ’s 2009 voters backed the FPK this year, with 23% not voting at all (explaining the huge decrease in turnout) and 22% voting for the SPÖ – not all that surprising in Austrian politics given how the SPÖ and far-right fight for the same blue-collar electorate. 11% of the BZÖ’s 2009 voters turned to Stronach this year; about half of Stronach’s voters voted for the BZÖ in 2009. The Stronach party also gained some substantial support from non-voters (21% of its voters did not vote in 2009) and the SPÖ (18% of its voters supported the SPÖ in 2009).
The Greens, according to SORA, gained ground by taking votes from basically every corner. Only 29% of its voters this year had voted for them in 2009 – 19% had supported the BZÖ in 2009, 18% had backed the ÖVP and 16% voted for the SPÖ. These gains compensated for fairly substantial loses to other parties – while 62% of those who voted Green in 2009 did so again this year, SORA reports that 19% voted for the SPÖ instead, another 19% did not vote this year and 10% (?!) even voted for the FPK on Sunday.
According to the exit polling, the average Stronach voters seems to be a young (under 30) or middle-aged male, who probably voted for the far-right parties in the last state election. For a party led by an 80 year old man, Stronach has turned out surprisingly popular with younger males: he won 20% of the under 30 vote, and with males under 30 he was only one point behind the SPÖ for first place (at 23%). Stronach’s support declined with age: 11% with those aged 30 to 59, only 6% with those over 60. This demographic profile is not dissimilar to that of the far-right: the FPÖ has tended to do very well with younger males, and less so with women or seniors. The major difference between Stronach and the far-right seems to be that while the far-right does very well with blue-collar workers (32% for the FPK vs 36% for the SPÖ) and poorly with pensioners or white-collar employees, Stronach’s support is not markedly stronger with any social category (although he does not do well with pensioners) – he polled 13% with blue and white-collar voters alike. It can be inferred that Stronach gained a lot of votes from young voters (primarily males) who had flirted with or voted for the far-right in the past. Unsurprisingly, younger voters are always more likely to form the ‘protest vote’ element of any far-right party than the ‘ideological hardcore’ element.
‘Control of maladministration’ was the most common reason given by Green and Stronach voters to explain their vote. 59% of Green voters and 69% of Stronach voters said that controlling maladministration (a reference to corruption, obviously) was a factor in their vote; in both cases, this reason placed far ahead of all other explanations and it also placed much higher than with other parties’ voters.
You can explore the results by municipality on a map here. The SPÖ did well in Klagenfurt, Villach and Wolfsberg – the state’s largest cities – although it did not do as well in Spittal. The FPK did very poorly in both Klagenfurt and Villach, falling third behind the Greens in both cities. In general, the SPÖ did best in the south and east of the state, particularly in towns with a large Slovene minority population or in old blue-collar towns. The FPK and the far-right performs best in small mountainous communities in the north and west.
Lower Austria is a large state located in northeastern Austria. It is the second most populous state in the country after Vienna, a city-state which is entirely surrounded by Lower Austria. The state is economically and politically diverse; Vienna’s influence is very perceptible in the areas surrounding the city, and the region located directly south of the capital, the Industrieviertel, is an urbanized and industrialized region. One of the largest cities in that region is Wiener Neustadt. The area around the state’s administrative capital, Sankt Pölten, is also rather industrial. Outside a few isolated industrial centres, the rest of the state has historically been a predominantly agricultural region – with a large wine growing industry.
At the federal level, Lower Austria tends to be a closely disputed between the SPÖ – which does very well in the Industrieviertel, Wiener Neustadt, Viennese commuterland to the northeast of the city and Sankt Pölten – and the conservative ÖVP – which polls extremely well in the more rural Catholic areas in the western half of the state. However, at the state level, Lower Austria has been thoroughly dominated by the ÖVP since 1945 – it has won the most votes in every state election and has always held the governor’s office. Its worst result in a state election was 44% (in 1993). Since 1992, the governor of Lower Austria has been the ÖVP’s Erwin Pröll. Pröll has governed with an ÖVP absolute majority since the 2003. In the 2008 election, the ÖVP won 54% against 25.5% for the SPÖ, marking the worst result for the SPÖ.
Erwin Pröll has remained exceptionally popular throughout his 20 years in office, and is rather influential at the national level. His nephew Josef Pröll was the leader of the national ÖVP and Vice-Chancellor between 2008 and 2011. By virtue of his absolute majorities, Erwin Pröll is also a very powerful governor who has managed to run Lower Austria as his own personal fiefdom, the detriment of his ‘allies’ in the state’s Proporz government. His opponents claim that he is a quasi-dictator and intolerant of criticism.
A fifth successive term in office for Erwin Pröll was never in jeopardy in this election. The SPÖ is weak and increasingly irrelevant. The FPÖ had a prominent but poor top candidate, 2010 presidential candidate Barbara Rosenkranz. Team Stronach’s top candidate was Frank Stronach himself.
Turnout was 70.75%, down 3.76%.
ÖVP 50.80% (-3.59%) winning 30 seats (-1) > 6 ministers
SPÖ 21.59% (-3.92%) winning 13 seats (-2) > 2 ministers
Team Stronach 9.83% (+9.83%) winning 5 seats (+5) > 1 minister
FPÖ 8.21% (-2.26%) winning 4 seats (-2)
Greens 8.04% (+1.13%) winning 4 seats (nc)
Others 1.53% (-1.20%) winning 0 seats (nc)
In contrast to Carinthia, Lower Austria’s election was unremarkable and boring. It was the customary landslide for Governor Erwin Pröll’s ÖVP and the increasingly customary shellacking for the SPÖ (which won its worst result ever again). The FPÖ, hurt by its poor standing nationally and its poor local candidate, lost fairly substantially. In the 2008 election, it had recovered a bit (10.5%) from the drubbing it suffered in the 2003 state election (4.5%) but still fell short of its record, 16.1% of the vote in the 1999 state election. The Greens, meanwhile, won their best result to date.
Team Stronach did not do as well in Lower Austria as it did in Carinthia (this was not a surprise), likely because it was not boosted by corruption scandals like those which had destroyed the credibility of the Carinthian far-right.
The exit polls were rather boring as well. In Lower Austria, most of Stronach’s vote came from those who had not voted in 2008 (39% of his 2013 electorate) but also from the FPÖ (21% of his electorate), ÖVP (18%) and SPÖ (14%). The FPÖ held only 43% of its 2009 voters, 21% voted ÖVP and 19% went to Stronach. The drop in turnout seems, mostly, due to 2008 SPÖ and Green voters not showing up.
Unlike in Carinthia, the Stronach vote did not show any correlation with youth; but it did show a very strong gender gap: 14% with men and only 5% with women. It performed best with young males but also males over 60.
You can explore the results by municipality here. The SPÖ only won a handful of towns, and the ÖVP basically won every major city in the state – even traditional left-wing strongholds such as Sankt Pölten or Wiener Neustadt. Stronach did particularly in Viennese commuterland, which is where he lives.
The next elections in Austria, before the federal elections on September 29, will be early state elections in Salzburg (in May).
Burgenland (Austria) 2010
State elections were held in the Austrian state of Burgenland, which is Austria’s least populous state. This thin and formerly Hungarian territory has long been a stronghold of the left, for reasons likely related to its poverty and isolation, but I’m not entirely certain. Yet, with relatively few immigrants, parties such as the FPÖ have never been as successful in this region as they were in other regions, though the FPÖ managed to win nearly 15% of the votes in the 1996 election but saw its fortunes fall in 2001 and again in 2005.
These elections were not really much of a test for the federal government, given the left’s stranglehold on the state and the continued popularity of the Landeshauptmann, Hans Niessl. Indeed, the left supported a plebiscite earlier this year on the construction of an asylum centre for immigrants in the state, which was rejected with more than 95% against. The local SPÖ’s such stances have helped it keep the upper hand and has prevented the FPÖ from gaining votes as a result of the unpopularity of asylum seekers and immigrants, and the creation of a ‘Liste Burgenland’ by ex-FPÖ members haven’t helped them much.
SPÖ 48.55% (-3.63%) winning 18 seats (-1)
ÖVP 34.17% (-2.21%) winning 13 seats (nc)
FPÖ 9.30% (+3.55%) winning 4 seats (+2)
Liste Burgenland 4.03% (+4.03%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Greens 3.96% (-1.25%) winning 0 seats (-2)
turnout 70.77% (-10.61%)
These results exclude postal votes which could boost both turnout to 75% or so and boost the Greens over the 4% threshold and win one seat, likely wrestling it from the LBL.
The SPÖ easily maintains control of the state, though it now holds exactly 50% of the seats, though there is no doubt, obviously, that they will remain in control of the state. The Greenies, who had a poor campaign, did rather poorly.
Austria President 2010
Austria held a presidential election today, April 25. Austria’s President holds a largely ceremonial office, notably in charge of officially appointing a Chancellor. However, unlike in Germany, Austria’s President is directly elected by voters for a six-year term in a classic two-round system. Most hot presidential contests in Austria happen when the incumbent retires, when it is usually contested by the main parties. The last such incidence was in 2004, when incumbent President Thomas Klestil was term-limited after two terms in office. At that point, both of Austria’s major parties, the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) contested the election, which was narrowly won by Heinz Fischer of the SPÖ. Presidents running for re-election usually face no major opposition, save for opposition from smaller parties on the far-right or the Greens. In 1998, for example, Klestil, a member of the ÖVP, was re-elected with the support of the SPÖ and the far-right FPÖ against three other opponents, including a Green and a Liberal.
Heinz Fischer, like most of his predecessors, built up tremendous popularity while in office, likely due to the non-confrontational nature of the office. Despite the SPÖ’s series of electoral trouncings in 2009, Fischer’s popularity broke party lines and the ÖVP could not hope to field a strong challenge. Indeed, the ÖVP’s most likely candidate, Lower Austrian Governor Erwin Pröll announced in late 2009 that he would not run and the party officially endorsed Fischer in February 2010. The Greens, who were considering fielding their former popular leader Alexander Van der Bellen as a candidate, finally decided to endorse Fischer as well. On the far-right, the FPÖ announced early that it would field an opponent to Fischer. However, since the FPÖ’s young leader, Heinz-Christian Strache is focusing on the Vienna state elections later this year, he did not run but he announced in the Kronen Zeitung (the FPÖ’s mouthpiece, for all intents and purposes) that Barbara Rosenkranz, a state deputy in Lower Austria and a known far-rightist, would be the party’s candidate. Rosenkranz, it was thought, would have more appeal to traditionally conservative voters, while Strache is more popular with young and working-class voters. Rosenkranz is a polarizing figure, given her marriage to a neo-Nazi and her controversial position on immigration, the EU and Austria’s anti-Nazi legislation. The BZÖ of the late Jorg Haider, which has seen its fortune dwindle due to scandals in Carinthia, division and civil war in the party’s Carinthian stronghold, considered fielding Haider’s widow but decided against it. A final candidate emerged from the fringes, Rudolf Gehring of the Christian Party (CPÖ), which is a Christian fundamentalist outfit and shares some of the far-right’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Fischer’s re-election was never in doubt, with polls predicting around 75-80% support against 15-20% for Rosenkranz and 3-6% for Gehring. Rosenkranz’ goal was around 17%. Many had thought that she could have broken 20%. Turnout, which was slightly above 70% in 2004, was widely expected to reach a record low this time. Here are the results. excluding postal votes (which are significant in Austria):
Heinz Fischer (SPÖ-ÖVP-Greens) 78.94%
Barbara Rosenkranz (FPÖ) 15.62%
Rudolf Gehring (CPÖ) 5.44%
Turnout was 49.2%, including a record 7.3% spoilt ballots. This reflects well the apathy of voters vis-a-vis an unimportant election for a ceremonial position, but also the abstention of many ÖVP voters, not fond of the Social Democrat Fischer, the quasi-Nazi Rosenkranz and the fundie Gehring. The high amount of spoilt ballots likely comes from ÖVP voters as well.
Fischer’s results are remarkably similar throughout Austria (a low of 67% in one district, with highs of around 89%), and the FPÖ did relatively poorly in areas where the bulk of its vote comes from old working-class voters, showing Rosenkranz’s weak appeal to that demographic. Even in Vorarlberg, where the FPÖ polled around 25% in last year’s state election, Rosenkranz won only 8.1% of the vote, while Gehring took 10.8%. Gehring did best in western Austria, which is traditionally rural, Catholic and a stronghold of the ÖVP. It shows well that the vast majority of Gehring’s vote came from ÖVP voters. Rosenkranz won her best result, 20.8%, in Carinthia, which isn’t very surprising. Overall, Fischer did surprisingly well in western Austria as well, either due to the flukes of low turnout or Rosenkranz’s poor appeal to FPÖ voters here (or the result of extrapolating too much stuff about results in such an election).
Brandenburg, Schleswig-Holstein (Germany) and Upper Austria 2009
Three state elections were held on Sunday, September 27. Two were held in Germany (Brandenburg, in the east and Schleswig-Holstein in the far north) and one in Austria (Upper Austria, in northern Austria).
SPD 33.0% (+1.9%) winning 31 seats (-2)
Left 27.2% (-0.8%) winning 26 seats (-3)
CDU 19.8% (+0.4%) winning 19 seats (-1)
FDP 7.2% (+3.9%) winning 7 seats (+7)
Greens 5.6% (+2.0%) winning 5 seats (+5)
Few surprises in Brandenburg, where the top parties moved very little. The SPD actually did a tiny bit better than in 2004, a low point both for the German left (then in government, with the Greenies, federally) and the SPD in Brandenburg (constantly down from 54% in 1994) and won a few more direct seats than in 2004 (despite losing 2 to the Left). The SPD-CDU Grand Coalition keeps it absolute majority, but a SPD-Left government has a majority and the SPD has the upper spot in such a scenario.
The far-right DVU, which had 6 seats, was totally obliterated and polled only 1.2%, down 4.9%, polling behind the Nazis (2.6%) and FW (1.7%). The DVU had been hurt by divisions and so forth since 2004. I think there’s a unwritten rule in German far-right land, atleast between the NPD and DVU not to run against each other in state elections.
CDU 31.5% (-8.7%) winning 34 seats (+4)
SPD 25.4% (-13.3%) winning 25 seats (-4)
FDP 14.9% (+8.3%) winning 15 seats (+11)
Greens 12.4% (+6.2%) winning 12 seats (+8)
Left 6.0% (+5.2%) winning 5 seats (+5)
SSW 4.3% (+0.7%) winning 4 seats (+2)
A more surprising result in Schleswig-Holstein’s snap election provoked by the break-up of the CDU-led Grand Coalition this year. While a potential left-wing majority (SPD-Greens-Left-SSW, though SSW said it wouldn’t work with the Left) won 48.1% against the CDU-FDP’s combined 46.4%, the local electoral system got the latter option a majority (49 seats vs. 46). A lot, I think, is also due to the fact that the CDU owned the SPD by a huge margin in the direct seats (the SPD only won 3 seats in Kiel and 3 seats in Lubeck). Even though both the CDU and SPD lost lots of ground, the SPD lost more so and those things work in the CDU’s favour in direct seats.
As said above, the CDU-FDP has enough seats for a majority coalition in Schleswig-Holstein.
Now, down across the border to Upper Austria. Upper Austria, the country’s third state by population, is a conservative state though in federal elections it remains a top swing state. The state’s largest city, Linz, is a major industrial centre as is Branau-am-Inn (Hitler’s birthplace) and Steyr. The state also includes scenic lake-side retirement areas, such as Gmunden, which helps the left (Austrian seniors tend to be on the left).
ÖVP 46.76% (+3.34%) winning 28 seats (+3)
SPÖ 24.94% (-13.40%) winning 14 seats (-3)
FPÖ 15.29% (+6.90%) winning 9 seats (+5)
Greens 9.18% (+0.12%) winning 5 seats (±0)
BZÖ 2.83% (+2.83%) winning 0 seats (±0)
The election is a spectacular defeat for the Social Democrats, who have had an awful year in Austria with massive defeats in the European elections, the Vorarlberg election and now in Upper Austria. For example, the SPÖ came second in its’ local stronghold, Linz, for the first time (I think) since 1945. It lost a full 16% of the vote, with the ÖVP gaining 6% and the FPÖ 7%. The SPÖ is the senior governing party federally, and it trails its coalition partner, the centre-right ÖVP by an increasingly large margin federally.
Vorarlberg (Austria) 2009
Austria’s smallest and westernmost state, on the border with Switzerland and tiny Liechtenstein, high in the Alps, held an election to its 36-seat Landtag. The small state is a stronghold of the centre-right ÖVP, which has an absolute majority of seats in the legislature (and has dropped below 50% once, in 1999, since 1945) though it governs in coalition with the far-right FPÖ. The densely populated state is very wealthy, with a flourishing economy (even the manufacturing industry is right-wing, due to a right-wing unionization tradition) and a high standard of living. It is also famous for its numerous ski resorts in the Alps, some of which are very affluent.
ÖVP 50.82% (-4.1%) winning 20 seats (-1)
FPÖ 25.25% (+12.31%) winning 9 seats (+4)
Greens 10.37% (+0.2%) winning 4 seats (±0)
SPÖ 10.06% (-6.81%) winning 3 seats (-3)
Gsiberger 1.74% (+1.74%) winning 0 seats (±0)
BZÖ 1.21% (+1.21%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Others 0.56% (+0.56%) winning 0 seats (±0)
The SPÖ has won its worst result ever, and came in a pitiful fourth behind the FPÖ (which still performed poorly vis-a-vis it’s result in 1999 and the last federal election) and also the Greenies, who are strong in this mountain valley state with a surprising high number of foreigners.
A map would be rather boring since the ÖVP won every city, polling over 50% in most of the mountainous eastern areas, but polling below 50% in the west of the state, which includes the state capital of Bregenz, also the left’s best city. The west also includes a very densely populated coastal plain, the Rhine Valley, were a vast majority of the state lives.
Europe 2009: Results
Here is the first post in a series of posts concerning the various Euro results from June 7. The results for the major parties winning seats (or not, in a few cases) are presented here, along with a very brief statistical analysis of what happened. If applicable, a map of the results is also presented. Again, except for the Germany map, all of these maps are my creations.
ÖVP 30% (-2.7%) winning 6 seats (nc)
SPÖ 23.8% (-9.5%) winning 4 seats (-3)
HP Martin’s List 17.7% (+3.7%) winning 3 seats (+1)
FPÖ 12.8% (+6.5%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Greens 9.7% (-3.2%) winning 2 seats (nc)
As I expected, the junior partner in government, the centre-right ÖVP came out on top but the most surprising was the ÖVP’s decisive margin of victory over its senior partner, the social democratic SPÖ. In fact, the SPÖ, like the German SPD, has won its worst result since 1945. This is probably due to a poor campaign a poor top candidate – Hannes Swoboda. Swoboda ranted against job losses and outsourcing when he himself did the same thing to his employees at Siemens. The good result came from Hans-Peter Martin’s anti-corruption outfit, which got a third seat and increased it’s vote. While improving on its poor 2004 result, the far-right FPÖ is far from the 17.5% it won in the 2008 federal elections. A lot is due to abstention (anti-Euro voters being a large contingent of the abstentionists) and also Martin’s success. The Greenies have unsurprisingly fallen, though they held their second seat due to late (and still incoming) postal votes. The BZÖ of the late Jorg Haider fell just short of the threshold, and it did not win Haider’s Carinthian stronghold. Turnout was 45.3%, slightly up on 2004.
GERB 24.36% (+2.68%) winning 5 seats (nc)
BSP 18.5% (-2.91%) winning 4 seats (-1)
DPS 14.14% (-6.12%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Attack 11.96% (-2.24%) winning 2 seats (-1)
NDSV 7.96% (+1.89%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Blue Coalition (UDF and DSB) 7.95% (-1.14%) winning 1 seat (+1)
The pro-European centre-right GERB won, as in 2007, defeating the Socialists (BSP, officialy grouped with smaller parties in the ‘Coalition for Bulgaria’). The Turkish minority party DPS fell significantly compared to its surprisingly excellent 2007 result. This is due to higher turnout and to competition (by Lider) in the very active vote buying market in Bulgaria. The liberal NDSV led by former Bulgarian monarch Simeon II came back from the dead to win 2 seats and increase its vote share – all this due to a top candidate who had a high personal profile and popularity in an election where person and popularity are very important.
Democratic Rally 35.7% (+7.5%) winning 2 seats
AKEL 34.9% (+7%) winning 2 seats
Democratic Party 12.3% (-4.8%) winning 1 seat
Movement for Social Democracy 9.9% (-0.9%) winning 1 seat (+1)
European Party 4.1% (-6.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
To my surprise, the opposition centre-right (albeit pro-reunification) DISY defeated the governing communist AKEL. However, both parties increased their share of the vote compared to 2004, mainly on the back of the centrist anti-reunification DIKO and the Social Democrats (who won a seat due to the collapse of the liberal European Party).
Civic Democrats (ODS) 31.45% (+1.41%) winning 9 seats (±0)
Social Democrats (ČSSD) 22.38% (+13.6%) winning 7 seats (+5)
Communist Party (KSČM) 14.18% (-6.08%) winning 4 seats (-2)
KDU-ČSL 7.64% (-1.93%) winning 2 seats (±0)
Of the shocking results of the night, the Czech result was a shocker to me. I had predicted the Social Democrats to win all along (most polls agreed, albeit very late polls showed a narrow ODS lead), and you have this very large ODS victory that really comes out of the blue. This is really quite a piss poor result for the ČSSD and its controversial and, in my opinion, poor, leader, Jiří Paroubek. I wasn’t surprised by the results of either the Communists (on a tangent, the KSČM is the only formerly ruling communist party which hasn’t changed it name and it remains very much stuck in 1950) or the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). The KSČM’s loses were predictable because 2004 was an especially fertile year for them (the ČSSD was in government, a very unpopular government). Two small parties which won seats in 2004 – the centre-right SNK European Democrats (11.02% and 2 seats) and the far-right populist Independents (8.18% and 2 seats) suffered a very painful death this year. The SNK polled 1.66%, the Independents (most of which were Libertas candidates) won 0.54%. The Greens, a parliamentary party, won a very deceiving result – 2.06%. This is probably due to turnout, which remained at 28%.
Social Democrats 21.49 % (-11.1%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Venstre 20.24% (+0.9%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Socialist People’s Party 15.87% (+7.9%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Danish People’s Party 15.28% (+8.5%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Conservative People’s Party 12.69% (+1.3%) winning 1 seat (nc)
People’s Movement Against the EU 7.20% (+2.0%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Social Liberal Party 4.27% (-2.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
June Movement 2.37% (-6.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Liberal Alliance 0.59%
Red: SD, Blue: Venstre, Purple: SF, Green: DF
No real surprise in the Danish results, which were as I expected them to be. The Social Democrats drop compared to their superb 2004 showing was to be expected, obviously. Obviously, these loses were profitable not to the government (Venstre, Liberals) but to the Socialists (SF) and the far-right (DF). SF and DF have won their best result in any Danish election, either European or legislative. The June Movement, the second anti-EU movement which is in decline since it’s shock 16% in 1999, has lost its sole remaining MEP. The older (and leftier) People’s Movement has picked up some of the June Movement’s vote, though its results are far from excellent. Despite an electoral alliance with the Social Democrats, the Social Liberals (Radikal Venstre) lost its MEP.
Centre 26.1% winning 2 seats (+1)
Indrek Tarand (Ind) 25.8% winning 1 seat (+1)
Reform 15.3% winning 1 seat (±0)
Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica 12.2% winning 1 seat (±0)
Social Democrats 8.7% winning 1 seat (-2)
Estonian Greens 2.7%
Turnout was up 17% in Estonia over 2004, reaching 44% (26.8% in 2004), correcting the weird result of 2004 which saw the normally weak Social Democrats come out on top. However, the surprising result here was Reform’s rout (compared to the 2007 general elections) at the profit of Indrek Tarand, a popular independent. The opposition Centre Party, however, came out on top. However, the map clearly shows that Tarand took votes from all places – Centre, Reform, right, Greenies (winning a very deceiving 2.7%), and Social Democrats. The Centre came out on top purely due to the Russian vote in Ida-Viru and in Tallinn, the capital (despite the name, the Centre performs very well in urban areas – it’s not at all a rural centrist party a la Finland).
National Coalition 23.2% (-0.5%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Centre 19% (-4.4%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Social Democratic Party 17.5% (-3.7%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Greens 12.4% (+2%) winning 2 seats (+1)
True Finns 9.8% (+9.3%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Swedish People’s Party 6.1% (+0.4%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Left Alliance 5.9% (-3.2%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Christian Democrats 4.2% (-0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
No surprises from Finland, which came out roughly as expected. The junior partner in government, the centre-right National Coalition (Kok) defeated its senior partner, the agrarian liberal Centre Party. However, the Finnish left (SDP and Left) suffered a very cold shower, winning its worst result in years. The Left even lost its sole MEP. A lot of that left-wing vote probably went to the Greenies (who won a very good result) and also the anti-immigration True Finns (in coalition with the Christian Democrats, which allowed the Christiandems to get one MEP). The Swedish People’s Party ended up holding its seat. The map is quite typical of Finnish elections, with the agrarian Centre dominating in the sparsely populated north and the National Coalition dominating in middle-class urban (Helsinki, where they narrowly beat out the Greenies for first) and suburban areas. The Swedish vote is concentrated on the Åland islands (over 80% of the vote for them) but also in small fishing communities on the west coast of Finland (which does not show up on the map).
CDU/CSU 30.7% + 7.2% (-6.6%) winning 42 seats (-7)
SPD 20.8% (-0.7%) winning 23 seats (nc)
Greens 12.1% (+0.2%) winning 14 seats (+1)
Free Democrats 11% (+4.9%) winning 12 seats (+5)
The Left 7.6% (+1.5%) winning 8 seats (+1)
In the EU’s most populated country, the Social Democrats took a major hit by failing to gain anything after the SPD’s horrible (worst since 1945) result in 2004. Overall, the Christian Democrats (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel and its Bavarian sister, the CSU, won as in 2004 but their vote also took a hit (the CDU/CSU was a popular opposition party then, they’re the senior government party now). The winners were of course the Greens, who held on to their remarkable 2004 result and in fact gained a 14th MEP, but certainly the right-liberal Free Democrats (FDP). The Left also gained slightly compared to 2004. The Left’s map remains largely a map of the old DDR but, for the first time, you have darker shades appearing in the West – specifically in the industrial regions of the Saar, the Ruhr and Bremen city. In the end the CSU had no problems with the 5% threshold and they won a relatively decent (compared to most recent results, not 2004 or 2006) result – 48% – in Bavaria. Frei Wahler took 6.7% in Bavaria, and 1.7% federally.
PASOK 36.64% (+2.61%) winning 8 seats (nc)
New Democracy 32.29% (-10.72%) winning 8 seats (-3)
Communist Party 8.35% (-1.13%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Popular Orthodox Rally 7.14% (+3.02%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Coalition of the Radical Left 4.7% (+0.54%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Ecologist Greens 3.49% (+2.88%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pan-Hellenic Macedonian Front 1.27%
No Greek surprise overall, though the Greenies’ poor result could be one. As expected, the opposition ‘socialist’ PASOK defeated the governing unpopular and corrupt right-wing New Democracy. However, there remains no great love for PASOK, partly due to the fact that both ND and PASOK are very similar. The Communist Party (KKE), one of Europe’s most communist communist parties (it still lives in 1951, decrying bourgeois and capitalists), won 8.35%, slightly above its 2007 electoral result but below the KKE’s excellent 2004 result (over 9%). The surprise came from LAOS and the Greens. The Greenies, who were polling 8-11% in the last polls, fell to a mere 3% partly due to a controversial video by the Green Party leader who said that Macedonia (FYROM, the country) should be allowed to keep its name (s0mething which does not go down well in Greece). Most of the Green strength in polls came from disenchanted ND supporters who ended up voting LAOS (the ultra-Orthodox kooks). The Radical Left (SYRIZA) won a rather poor result, probably due to the fact that it is seen as responsible for the violence and lootings during the 2008 riots in Athens.
Fidesz 56.36% winning 14 seats (+2)
Socialist 17.37% winning 4 seats (-5)
Jobbik 14.77% winning 3 seats (+3)
Hungarian Democratic Forum 5.31% winning 1 seat (nc)
The surprise in Hungary came from the spectacular result of the far-right quasi-Nazi Jobbik (which has its own private militia), which did much better than any poll or exit poll had predicted. Jobbik’s results significantly weakened the conservative Fidesz which won “only” 56% (down from 65-70% in some polls). The governing Socialist MSZP took a spectacular thumping, as was widely expected. While the right-wing MDF held its seat, the liberal SZDSZ (f0rmer coalition partner in the MSZP-led government until 2008) lost both of its seats.
Fine Gael 29.1% (+1.3%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Fianna Fáil 24.1% (-5.4%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Labour 13.9% (+3.4%) winning 3 seats (+2)
Sinn Féin 11.2% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Libertas 3.1% (new) winning 0 seats (new)
Socialist 1.5% (+0.2%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Green Party 1.1% (-3.2%)
As expected, Fine Gael came out on top of FPVs in Ireland, inflicting a major defeat on the governing Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil, did not, however, slip to third behind Labour as some pollsters made it seem. This is due in a large part due to Labour’s complete lack of organization in most rural areas. In Dublin, both Fine Gael and Labour incumbents made it through without much sweat. The race, as expected, was for the third seat between the Fianna Fáil incumbent (Eoin Ryan), Socialist leader Joe Higgins and the Sinn Féin incumbent (Mary Lou McDonald). Surprisingly, Sinn Féin was the first out leaving the final seat between Ryan and Higgins. In the end, Higgins got the quasi-entirety of McDonald’s transferable votes and defeated Ryan with 82,366 votes against 76,956 votes for Ryan on the 7th count. Former Greenie (against the party’s participation in government) Patricia McKenna won 4.3% on first preferences against 4.7% against the official Greenie (however, further transfers from joke candidates got McKenna all the way to count 5, while the Greenie got out by count 3). In the East, Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness got elected on the first count, quite the feat indeed. However, no luck for Fine Gael’s second candidate in holding the third seat held by a retiring Fine Gael incumbent. Labour’s Nessa Childers, second on first prefs, far outpolled John Paul Phelan (FG’s second candidate) and got the second seat. Fianna Fáil held its seat. In the North-West, all incumbents (1 Independent ALDE, 1 FF, 1 FG) held their seats with Marian Harkin (Ind-ALDE) topping the poll (however, both Fianna Fáil candidates combined outpolled him and Fine Gael’s MEP). The founder and leader of Libertas, Declan Ganley polled a respectable 13.66% on FPVs and held out till the last count but lost out to Fine Gael due to rather poor transfers from the other anti-Lisbon outfit, SF. In the South, FF incumbent Brian Crowley topped the poll and won easily, as did Sean Kelly (FG). The third seat was between the incumbent Independent (eurosceptic and social conservative) Kathy Sinnott and Labour’s Alan Kelly. Kelly won.
In the local elections, the final seat share is as follows:
Fine Gael 340 seats (+47)
Fianna Fáil 218 seats (-84)
Labour 132 seats (+31)
Others and Indies 132 seats (+40)
Sinn Féin 54 seats (nc)
Socialist 4 seats (nc)
Green Party 3 seats (-15)
Full breakdown by county and city
People of Freedom 35.26% winning 29 seats
Democratic Party 26.13% winning 21 seats
Lega Nord 10.20% winning 9 seats
Italy of Values 8.00% winning 7 seats
Union of the Centre 6.51% winning 5 seats
Communists (PRC+PdCI) 3.38% winning 0 seats
Sinistra e Libertà 3.12% winning 0 seats
Italian Radicals (Bonino-Pannella List) 2.42% winning 0 seats
Pole of Autonomy (La Destra+MPA) 2.22% winning 0 seats
South Tyrolean’s People Party 0.46% winning 1 seat
Berlusconi Coalition (PdL+LN+Autonomy) 47.68% winning 38 seats
PD Coalition (PD-SVP+IdV+Radicals) 37.01% winning 29 seats
Red: PD, Blue: PdL, Green: Lega Nord, Yellow in Aosta Valley: Valdotanian Union (PdL ally), Yellow in Sudtirol: SVP (PD ally)
The Italian results were certainly a setback for Silvio Berlusconi and his “party”, the PdL, which performed a bit lower than what he and polls had expected (38-41% range). The centre-left PD did relatively well, and this will atleast keep the party from splitting up into the old Democrats of the Left and the Daisy. In terms of coalitions, the two large parliamentary blocs stand almost exactly where they stood overall in 2008, with a very very slight improvement for Berlusconi’s coalition. The marking result of this election is probably that of Lega Nord, which has won its best result in any national Italian election (narrowly beating its previous record, 10.1% in the 1996 general election). The Lega has expanded its support to the “south” (north-central Italy), notably polling 11% in Emilia-Romagna and 4% in Tuscany. The support and future of Lega Nord is to be watched closely in the future, due to a potential new electoral law which could significantly hinder it’s parliamentary representation (more on that later). The other good result is from Antonio di Pietro’s strongly anti-Berlusconi and anti-corruption populist Italia dei Valori, which has won its best result ever, by far. It has almost doubled its support since last year’s general election. After being shutout of Parliament in 2008, the Communists and other leftie parties (Socialists and Greens) are now out of the European Parliament, depsite improving quite a bit on the Rainbow’s 2008 result. Of the two coalitions, the old Communist one made up of the Refoundation Commies and the smaller Italian Commies polled slightly better than the Sinistra e libertà, the “New Left” coalition (Greenies, Socialists, moderate “liberal” Commies). Such was to be expected, but the irony is that both leftie coalitions were formed to surpass the new 4% threshold, and none did. However, if there had been a new Rainbow coalition (the 2008 Rainbow included both the hardline Commies and the New Left), they would have made it. As expected, those small parties which won seats in 2004 due to the old electoral law have been eliminated. These include the fascists, La Destra-Sicilian autonomists/crooks, and the Radicals. The South Tyrolean SVP only held its seat due to an electoral clause which allows these “minority parties” to ally with a party to win a seat. The SVP was the only one of these which was successful in doing so. Two smaller Valdotanian parties (one allied with PdL, the other with IdV) failed to win a seat. In provincial elections held the same days, the right was very successful and of the forty provinces decided by the first round, they had won 26 against 14 for the left. 22 provinces will have a runoff. I might do a post on that if I have time.
Civic Union 24.33% winning 2 seats (+2)
Harmony Centre 19.57% winning 2 seats (+2)
PCTVL – For Human Rights in United Latvia 9.66% winning 1 seat (nc)
Latvia’s First Party/Latvia’s Way 7.5% winning 1 seat (nc)
For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK 7.45% winning 1 seat (-3)
New Era 6.66% winning 1 seat (-1)
Latvian politics are very confusing, mostly due to the huge swings. This time was no different. A new party, Civic Union (probably EPP) topped the poll over the Harmony Centre, a Russian minority outfit. The PCTVL, another Russian outfit, fell slightly compared to its 11% result in 2004, but remained remarkably stable. TB/LNNK, a UEN party which topped the poll in 2004 fell down three seats. The conservative New Era, senior party in the governing coalition, won only 7% (a lot of its members, along with TB/LNNK members apparently joined the Civic Union). The People’s Party, the senior party in the old coalition which fell apart this year due to the economic crisis won barely 2%. The Union of Greens and Farmers, which won something like 16% in the 2006 election polled a mere 3.7%.
Homeland Union-LKD 26.16% winning 4 seats (+2)
Lithuanian Social Democrats 18.12% winning 3 seats (+1)
Order and Justice 11.9% winning 2 seats (+1)
Labour Party 8.56% winning 1 seat (-4)
Poles’ Electoral Action 8.21% winning 1 seat (+1)
Liberals Movement 7.17% winning 1 seat (+1)
Liberal and Centre Union 3.38% winning 0 seats (-1)
Remarkable stability for a Baltic nation in Lithuania. The winner of the 2008 election, the Homeland Union (TS-LKD) won a rather convincing victory, improving on its 2008 result (only 19.6%) and obviously on its 2004 Euro result (12.6%). The LSDP has picked up an extra seat and has cemented its place as the opposition to the TS-LKD, along with the third-placed populist Order and Justice. Labour, the centrist party which won the 2004 Euro election has seen its seat share cut down from 5 to one, a logical follow-up to its collapse in 2008. The Poles have probably benefited from low turnout (21%) to motivate their base and won an outstanding 8.2% and elected one MEP. I don’t really follow Baltic politics, but if I remember correctly, a government rarely wins re-election, so if that’s true, the result of the TS-LKD is even more remarkable.
Christian Social Party 31.3% (-5.8%) winning 3 seats
Socialist 19.5% (-2.5%) winning 1 seat
Democratic Party 18.6% (+3.7%) winning 1 seat
The Greens 16.8% (+1.8%) winning 1 seat
Alternative Democratic Reform 7.4% (-0.6%)
The Left 3.4% (+1.7%)
Communist Party 1.5% (+0.3%)
Citizens’ List 1.4%
Remarkable and unsurprising political stability in Luxembourg, with no changes in seat distribution. While the CSV and LSAP suffer minor swings against them, the DP and Greens get small positive swings. The Greens’ result is their best ever and one of the best Green results in European elections.
On election night last week, I also covered the simultaneous general election. Here are, again, the full results.
CSV 38% (+1.9%) winning 26 seats (+2)
LSAP 21.6% (-1.8%) winning 13 seats (-1)
DP 15% (-1.1%) winning 9 seats (-1)
Greens 11.7% (+0.1%) winning 7 seats (nc)
ADR 8.1% (-1.8%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Left 3.3% (+1.4%) winning 1 seat (+1)
KPL 1.5% (+0.6%)
Labour 54.77% winning 3 seats (nc)
Nationalist 40.49% winning 2 seats (nc)
Obviously no surprise in tiny Malta, where the opposition Labour Party has defeated the governing Nationalist Party. Both sides made gains in terms of votes, feeding off the collapse of the green Democratic Alternative (AD), which won a remarkable 10% in 2004 but a mere 2.3% this year.
Civic Platform 44.43% (+20.33%) winning 25 seats (+10)
Law and Justice 27.4% (+14.73%) winning 15 seats (+8)
Democratic Left Alliance-Labour Union 12.34% (+2.99%) winning 7 seats (+2)
Peasant Party 7.07% (+0.67%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Map by electoral constituency. Key same as above table
Polish politics move quickly, but it seems that this ‘setup’ is here to stay, atleast for some time. The governing right-liberal pro-European Civic Platform (led by PM Donald Tusk) has won a crushing victory over the national-conservative eurosceptic Law and Justice of President Lech Kaczyński. PO’s margin of victory is slightly larger than its already important victory in the 2008 elections. The SLD-UP electoral alliance, which is what remains of the Left and Democrats (LiD) coalition of the 2008 election (encompassing SLD-UP but also a small fake liberal party), won 12%, the average result of the Polish left these days. The Peasant Party, PO’s junior partner in government, won slightly fewer votes than in 2008 (or the 2004 Eur0s). The 2004 Euros, marked by the excellent result of the ultra-conservative League of Polish Families (LPR, now Libertas) and the left-wing populist Samoobrona saw both of these parties collapse. Libertas-LPR won 1.14% and Samoobrona won 1.46%. Smaller ultra-conservative jokes also did very poorly. After the 2004-2006 episode, sanity seems to have returned to Polish politics.
Social Democratic Party 31.7% winning 8 seats (+1)
Socialist Party 26.6% winning 7 seats (-5)
Left Bloc 10.7% winning 3 seats (+2)
CDU: Communist Party-Greens 10.7% winning 2 seats (nc)
Democratic and Social Centre-People’s Party 8.4% winning 2 seats (nc)
Blue: PSD, Red: PS, Green: CDU (PCP-PEV)
Cold shower for the governing Portuguese Socialists after the huge victory of the 2004 Euros. The centre-right PSD has won a major victory by defeating the PS, albeit a relatively small margin between the two. The lost votes of the PS flowed to the Left Bloc (the Trotskyst and more libertarian component of the far-left) and the CDU (the older and more old-style communist component of the far-left), both of which won a remarkable 21.4% together. These voters voted BE or CDU due to the PS’ economic policies, which are far from traditional left-wing economic policies. The PS will need to fight hard, very hard, to win the upcoming general elections in September.
Social Democratic Party+Conservative Party 31.07% winning 11 seats (+1)
Democratic Liberal Party 29.71% winning 10 seats (-6)
National Liberal Party 14.52% winning 5 seats (-1)
UDMR 8.92% winning 3 seats (+1)
Greater Romania Party 8.65% winning 3 seats (+3)
Elena Băsescu (Ind PD-L) 4.22% winning 1 seat (+1)
The close race in Romania between the two government parties ended in the victory of the junior partner, the PSD with a rather mediocre 31%. The PDL’s 30% was also rather mediocre. The PNL also did quite poorly. The two winners are the Hungarian UDMR, which won a rather remarkable 9%, probably benefiting from high Hungarian turnout in a very low turnout election. The far-right Greater Romania Party overcame past setbacks and won three seats and a surprisingly good 8.7%. This is due in part to the participation of the far-right quasi-fascist PNG-CD on its list (the party’s leader, the very controversial Gigi Becali, was the party’s second candidate on the list). László Tőkés, an Hungarian independent elected in 2007 (sat in the Green-EFA group) has been re-elected as the top candidate on the UDMR list.
Smer-SD 32.01% winning 5 seats (+2)
Slovak Democratic and Christian Union–Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS) 16.98% winning 2 seats (-1)
Party of the Hungarian Coalition 11.33% winning 2 seats (±0)
Christian Democratic Movement 10.87% winning 2 seats (-1)
People’s Party–Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (ĽS-HZDS) 8.97% winning 1 seat (-2)
Slovak National Party 5.55% winning 1 seat (+1)
Smer’s result is definitely deceiving for them and possibly a sign that their past stellar poll ratings will slide to the benefit of the opposition SDKÚ-DS. However, the SDKÚ-DS (but also the KDH and obviously the ĽS-HZDS) have slid back compared to their 2004 Euro results. While the collapse of the ĽS-HZDS (formerly led by former quasi-dictator Vladimír Mečiar) is good news, the entry of the quasi-fascist Slovak National Party, Smer’s charming coalition partners, is not. However, the SNS’ 5.6% is not the 10% it used to poll and hopefully they stay low.
Slovenian Democratic Party 26.89% winning 2 seats (nc)
Social Democrats 18.48% winning 2 seats (+1)
New Slovenia 16.34% winning 1 seat (-1)
Liberal Democracy 11.52% winning 1 seat (-1)
Zares 9.81% winning 1 seat (+1)
In Slovenia, the oppostion centre-right SDS has defeated the ruling Social Democrats. Here again, the current political setup between SDS on the right and SD on the left, a rather new setup, seems set to stay for a few years. The NSi, which won the 2004 election, and the LDS, which used to dominate Slovenian politics, have both slumped back. The new liberal Zares won 9.8%, roughly its level in the 2008 election.
People’s Party42.23% (+1.02%) winning 23 seats (-1)
Socialist 38.51% (-4.95%) winning 21 seats (-4)
Coalition for Europe (EAJ-CiU-CC) 5.12% (-0.03%) winning 2 seats [1 EAJ, 1 CiU] (±0)
The Left 3.73% (-0.38%) winning 2 seats (±0)
Union, Progress and Democracy 2.87% winning 1 seat (+1)
Europe of Peoples 2.5% (+0.05%) winning 1 seat (±0)
As expected, the conservative PP defeated the governing PSOE, but due to the polarized nature of Spanish politics, no landslide here. However, the PSOE definitely polled poorly, though the PP didn’t do that great either. The regionalists held their ground well, and CiU got some little gains going in Catalonia. Aside from UPyD’s narrow entry and the obvious PP gains, it was generally status-quo.
Social Democrats 24.41% (-0.15%) winning 5 seats (nc)
Moderate Party 18.83% (+0.58%) winning 4 seats (nc)
Liberal People’s Party 13.58% (+3.72%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Greens 11.02% (+5.06%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Pirate Party 7.13% (new) winning 1 seat (+1)
Left 5.66% (-7.14%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Centre 5.47% (-0.79%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Christian Democrats 4.68% (-1.01%) winning 1 seat (nc)
June List 3.55% (-10.92%) winning 0 seats (-3)
Sweden Democrats 3.27% (+2.14%)
Feminist Initiative 2.22%
First map: Parties (SD in red, M in blue) – Second Map: Coalitions (Red-Green in red, Alliance in blue)
The Swedish results must come as a major deception for both major parties, the Social Democrats and the governing Moderates. Both had done horribly in 2004 and the 2009 results are no improvements for either of them. In fact, the opposition SD has in fact dropped a few votes more from the 2004 disaster. These loses profit to the smaller parties in their respective coalitions (Red-Green for the SD, Alliance for M). The Liberals did very well, unexpectedly well in fact, and elected a third MEP. The Greens drew votes from Red-Green voters dissatisfied by the unpopular SD leader, Mona Sahlin, and its vote share increased by 5%. Of course, Sweden is now famous for electing one Pirate MEP, and even a second MEP if Sweden gets additional MEPs as planned by the Treaty of Lisbon. The Left’s vote fell significantly from its good showing in 2004, while the vote for smaller coalition parties – the Centre and Christian Democrats also slid a bit. The eurosceptic June List, which had won 14% in 2004, fell to a mere 3.6% and lost its 3 MEPs. However, this result might have prevented the far-right Sweden Democrats from picking up a seat. The Feminists, who had one MEP after a Liberal defection, won a surprisingly decent 2%, far better than what polls had in store for them. In terms of coalitions, the governing Alliance actually won with 42.56% against 41.09% for the opposition Red-Greens.
Longer, special posts concerning the Euro elections in Belgium, France and the UK will be posted in the coming days.
Updates on Austrian and Spanish elections last weekend
The seat count in last weekend’s Austrian and Spanish regional elections has changed a bit since last weekend, due to absentee and mail-in votes.
In Carinthia, postal votes have pushed the Greenies over the 5% threshold, and have prevented the BZÖ from winning an overall majority alone.
BZÖ 44.93% winning 17 seats (+2 on dissolution)
SPÖ 28.77% (-9.66%) winning 11 seats (-3)
ÖVP 16.78% (+5.14%) winning 6 seats (+2)
Greens 5.13% (-1.58%) winning 2 seats (±0)
FPÖ 3.76% winning 0 seats (-1)
Little change in Salzburg, where postal votes made up only 6% of votes. They split 42-36 for the ÖVP, with the Greenies doing well with mail-in voters as they always do (students, mostly). In coalition news, a new Grand Coalition (SPÖ-ÖVP) is almost guaranteed.
SPÖ 39.4% (-6.0%) winning 15 seats (-2)
ÖVP 36.5% (-1.4%) winning 14 seats (±0)
FPÖ 13% (+4.3%) winning 5 seats (+3)
Greens 7.4% (-0.6%) winning 2 seats (±0)
BZÖ 3.7% (+3.7%) winning 0 seats (±0)
In Euskadi, the PSE-EE has picked up an additional seat in Araba on the back of EA, which nows holds only one seat. However, I haven’t seen any major coalition-building news.
EAJ-PNV 30 seats (+8 on EAJ 2005)
PSE-EE 25 seats (+7)
PP 13 seats (-2)
Aralar 4 seats (+3)
EA 1 seat (-6 on EA 2005)
EB-B 1 seat (-2)
UPyD 1 seat (+1)
Salzburg and Carinthia Landtag 2009
Some quasi-final results from the two state elections being held today in Salzburg and Carinthia.
In Carinthia, the far-right BZÖ has won a very large victory, much larger and comfortable than expected. Final results from 132 municipalities give the following results. The incompetent election bureau hasn’t allocated seats, so the seat count here is my projection using the regular 5% threshold. The far-right has won an absolute majority.
BZÖ 45.48% winning 19 seats (+4 on dissolution)
SPÖ 28.59% (-9.84%) winning 11 seats (-3)
ÖVP 16.50% (+4.87%) winning 6 seats (+2)
Greens 4.99% (-1.70%) winning 0 seats (-2)
FPÖ 3.79% winning 0 seats (-1)
Salzburg is less depressing than Carinthia, thankfully. Burgstaller’s SPÖ has placed first once again, although both major parties (ÖVP and SPÖ) have suffered loses to the far-right FPÖ. However, if one looks on the bright side of things, the FPÖ+BZÖ (or just FPÖ if thee prefers) is quite smaller than it was in the 2008 federal election. In 2008, the combined far-right won 30.1% (urgh) and tonight they won only 16.7%.
SPÖ 39.5% (-5.9%) winning 15 seats (-2)
ÖVP 36.5% (-1.5%) winning 14 seats (±0)
FPÖ 13% (+4.0%) winning 5 seats (+3)
Greens 7.3% (-0.7%) winning 2 seats (±0)
BZÖ 3.7% (+3.7%) winning 0 seats (±0)
As for coalitions, neither the ÖVP nor SPÖ have ruled out working with the FPÖ in a coalition.