Fischer, Heinz (Austria)

Reference work entry


Following his electoral victory on 25 April 2004 at the age of 65, Dr Heinz Fischer took office as Austria’s first socialist federal president for 18 years on 8 July 2004. He was committed to maintaining the country’s neutral foreign policy and the welfare state. Critics labelled him a Berufspolitiker (‘professional politician’. who tended to avoid controversy and conflict.

Early Life

Heinz Fischer was born into a political family in Graz on 9 Oct. 1938. His father was state secretary in the ministry of trade from 1954–56. Fischer attended the Humanistisches Gymnasium in Vienna and went on to study law and political science at the University of Vienna, attaining a PhD in 1961. He entered politics 2 years later, becoming secretary to the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) in the Austrian parliament, a position he held until 1975. Despite being elected as a member of parliament in 1971, Fischer continued his academic career. He was appointed associate professor of political science at the University of Innsbruck in 1978 and was made a full professor in 1994.

Fischer served as federal minister of science and research from 1983–86, under a coalition government headed by Fred Sinowatz of the SPÖ. In 1986 the SPÖ joined the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in a ‘grand coalition’ that retained control of the government through the 1990s. Fischer was elected president of the National Council in Nov. 1990, holding the office for 12 years until Dec. 2002. He also served as a member of the national security council and the foreign affairs council.

He was elected federal president on 25 April 2004 as the SPÖ candidate, polling 52·4% of the vote to defeat Benita Ferrero-Waldner, foreign minister in the ruling ÖVP-led conservative coalition.

Career Peak

On 8 July 2004 Fischer was sworn in for a 6 year term. Although a largely ceremonial post, the president is commander-in-chief of the military and has the constitutional power to reject nominations for cabinet ministers and to remove them from office. In his opening address, Fischer recalled how many Austrians had grown up ‘sensitive to war and peace’ and aware that ‘peace and the politics to promote peace… must have a central role in our political efforts’. The consolidation of the basic values of democracy is another of his priorities: ‘…Consensus is very important to me. But consensus means to build bridges. Bridges between solid shores’.

Following the collapse of the governing coalition in July 2008, early parliamentary elections were held in Sept. Fischer subsequently asked SPÖ leader Werner Faymann, as head of the largest party, to form a new government. Faymann renewed the coalition with the ÖVP, excluding the resurgent far-right parties that had made gains in the elections, and his government took office in Dec. Fischer stressed that a stable and competent administration was in the national interest to deal with serious challenges confronting Austria, including the global financial crisis. In April 2010 Fischer was re-elected for a further 6 year presidential term, taking almost 80% of the vote.

He has written numerous books and publications on law and political science. He is also co-editor of the Austrian Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft (Journal of Political Science) and Journal für Rechtspolitik (Journal of Law Policy).

Fischer was not eligible to stand for re-election in April 2016 having served two terms. He left office after 12 years as president on 8 July 2016. with a council of three acting presidents taking over until the election of a new head of state.

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