Faymann, Werner (Austria)

Reference work entry


A career politician, Werner Faymann became leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) in June 2008. He led the party to narrow victories at the 2008 and 2013 general elections, serving as chancellor at the head of coalition governments on both occasions.

Early Life

Werner Faymann was born on 4 May 1960 in Vienna. He attended a grammar school in Vienna and studied law at the University of Vienna before joining the youth branch of the Vienna SPÖ. There he led campaigns and protests, becoming the group’s chairman in 1985. From 1985–88 he also worked as a consultant at the Zentralsparkasse (now Bank of Austria). In 1985 he was elected to the Vienna state parliament and from 1988–94 led the board for tenants’ rights. He was appointed councillor for housing and urban development in Vienna in 1995, serving until 2007 when Chancellor Gusenbauer appointed him federal minister for transport, technology and development.

In June 2008, with the ‘grand coalition’ between the SPÖ and the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) under strain, the SPÖ separated the role of chancellor from that of party leader. Faymann was chosen to head the party. Faymann and Gusenbauer then published an open letter that reversed earlier SPÖ policy by promising to put all amendments to EU treaties affecting the national interest to a referendum. The ÖVP consequently abandoned the coalition, triggering a general election.

Faymann fought the election on a platform of social investment and populist scepticism about the EU. On 28 Sept. 2008 the SPÖ won the most seats, although with a reduced share of the vote (just under 30%). Refusing to consider a coalition with the right-wing Alliance for the Future of Austria or the anti-immigration Freedom Party, he entered into an agreement in Nov. with the ÖVP under its new leader Josef Pröll. On 2 Dec. 2008 Faymann was sworn in as chancellor.

Career Peak

Faymann initially faced challenges from the global economic crisis and in early 2009 introduced tax cuts to boost the economy. He has advocated EU aid to support struggling European economies, in part to safeguard large loans that Austria has made to Eastern European countries. In June 2013 his government withdrew its military participation in the United Nations monitoring force in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Following the Sept. 2013 parliamentary elections, the SPÖ and ÖVP won sufficient support to form another coalition under Faymann’s premiership, but both parties lost ground in the poll to right-wing and eurosceptic parties. In Aug. 2014 Michael Spindelegger resigned as vice chancellor and finance minister, citing disagreements within his ÖVP party over tax reform. He was replaced the following month by Reinhold Mitterlehner as vice chancellor and Hans Jörg Schelling as finance minister.

In June 2014 the government signed a controversial deal with Russia to complete the Austrian section of a gas pipeline for transporting Russian gas to Europe, despite the opposition of some EU member states and the European Commission in the wake of Russian intervention in Ukraine. However, the project was abandoned in Dec. 2014 as the EU imposed economic sanctions against Russia.

In Feb. 2015 the government approved a controversial legislative reform banning foreign funding for mosques and imams, partly aimed at tackling Islamist radicalism. Later in the year Faymann called for a unified response to Europe’s deepening migrant crisis, prompted particularly by the civil war in Syria, and for an EU-wide quota to manage the huge flow of refugees and to prevent further transit deaths.

Faymann resigned in May 2016 after the SPÖ failed to progress a candidate to the second round run-off at presidential elections held in April.

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