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The Austrian Far Right in Government: The Role of Coalitions

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Contemporary Populists in Power


Austria has a proportional electoral system in which populists can typically only arrive in government if another party is ready to enter into a coalition with them. Due to increasing discomfort with “grand coalitions” toward the end of the twentieth century and a dominant faction of the conservative party’s readiness to accept the FPÖ as a coalition partner in exchange for the opportunity to pass a substantive liberal economic reform program, two center-right/far-right coalitions have been formed since 2000. The far right has never served an entire legislative term in office but has instead exited over internal frictions or been ousted due to corruption scandals. There is evidence, however, that the far right is more enduring when able to place stronger and more radical figures in central positions and less strict control of legal and democratic procedures is being enforced.

This work has been supported by Agence Nationale de Recherche (ANR) and the French state under the “Investissements d’avenir” programme, LABEX LIEPP (ANR-11-LABX-0091, ANR-11-IDEX-0005-02) and the IdEx Université de Paris (ANR-18-IDEX-0001).

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  1. 1.

    The FPÖ leadership strategically frames cases of neo-Nazism and right-wing extremism among its deputies and organization members as “isolated incidents” (“Einzelfälle”). Indeed, it has been shown time and again that these ideologies are not an active engagement of every single party activist, but a stable, structural feature of the FPÖ (e.g. MKOE 2017; 2018a).

  2. 2.

    “Deutschnational”; also “Großdeutsch” (“Great-German”).

  3. 3.

    In the nineteenth century, these included demands for democratic rights in the spirit of “civic nationalism.” In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, these may come as demands for more direct democracy or as tax protest.

  4. 4.

    In Austria, there has been a rigid divide since the nineteenth century between nationalist-liberal and Catholic fraternities (“Burschenschaften” vs. “[katholische] Studentenverbindungen”). Catholic fraternities today serve as an organizational infrastructure of the Austrian conservative party ÖVP.

  5. 5.

    Taschwer (2018) provides an overview of this current field of research.

  6. 6.

    This factor presumably plays a role in the East German federal countries and even in non-Germanophone countries such as France, as well.

  7. 7.

    An unsuccessful economically liberal party (“LIF”) was founded. Since 2013, an economically and socially liberal party has been represented in the Austrian parliament (“NEOS”).

  8. 8.

    Pejorative, politically positioning, popular expression comparing traditional Austrian party establishments with the material of “felt”: tightly woven and associated with filth. E.g., hair becomes “felted” (matted) when it is not taken care of—and then must be cut.

  9. 9.

    Demokratiezentrum Wien.

  10. 10.

    These have included bribery and nepotism in the purchase of combat planes (the so-called Eurofighters), between politicians and the country’s largest telecommunication company, and in the privatization of public housing assets. Some of the legal proceedings are still ongoing (BMLVS 2017; WZ1; ORF 2017).

  11. 11.

    The “Landeshauptleute,” the heads of the nine federal states, are said to hold more power than the Austrian government. They influence the choice of ministers to place their preferred candidates in federal government. In this particular case, the election campaign was not headed by Haider himself but by industrialist Thomas Prinzhorn. The Austrian president vetoed the participation of Prinzhorn and another controversial figure in the ÖVP-FPÖ government as ministers by.

  12. 12.

    An effect often observed in minor coalition partners.

  13. 13.

    Even during FPÖ’s subsequent crisis (the “Ibiza scandal” in 2019, see below), some 15% of the national electorate remained loyal to this party.

  14. 14.

    In the same 2017 legislative elections, the Green Party,ironically, dropped out of parliament.

  15. 15.

    Interestingly, Kurz held the portfolio of “Integration” (i.e. of immigrant communities), a term usually associated with proactive support for these communities. It is under him that the ÖVP later made a restrictive stance on immigration one of their flagship issues.

  16. 16.

    An FPÖ-SPÖ coalition has existed from 2015 to 2019 in one of Austria’s federal states, Burgenland, and during the 2000s in Carinthia. The SPÖ has experienced internal tensions between the state and federal levels, the prior in some cases being more oriented toward old labor demands and at the same time toward cultural conservatism.

  17. 17.

    The political coalition of business owners and workers under a “productivist” ideology (see discussion below).

  18. 18.

    Tax cuts were passed in the same spirit by the Salvini and Trump administrations.

  19. 19.

    At that point, Austria was the only country in the EU to still allow smoking in closed public areas. A petition by the Austrian Medical Chamber, which had collected over 880,000 signatures, was ignored.

  20. 20.

    See (2018b) for a contemporary example. The European fiscal debate has subsequently gained in prominence (in 2020 both the EU long-term budget and the Covid-19 Recovery Plan were negotiated).


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Correspondence to Paulus Wagner .

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Wagner, P. (2022). The Austrian Far Right in Government: The Role of Coalitions. In: Dieckhoff, A., Jaffrelot, C., Massicard, E. (eds) Contemporary Populists in Power. The Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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