Gusenbauer, Alfred (Austria)

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Alfred Gusenbauer became Austrian chancellor on 11 Jan. 2007. He was leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and led an SPÖ–ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party) coalition. The coalition collapsed in July 2008, a month after Gusenbauer was replaced as party leader. The SPÖ won the general election and another SPÖ–ÖVP coalition was formed, under the chancellorship of new SPÖ leader Werner Faymann.

Early Life

Alfred Gusenbauer was born on 8 Feb. 1960 in St Pölten, capital of the northern state of Lower Austria. After high school he studied science, philosophy and jurisprudence at the University of Vienna. In 1987 he obtained a doctorate in political science. Gusenbauer was politically active during university and joined the SPÖ’s Young Socialists in support of the disarmament movement. From 1984–90 he was the group’s federal leader, also serving as vice-president of Socialist Youth International from 1985–89. In 1989 he became Socialist International leader.

Gusenbauer was a senior research fellow in the economic policy department of the Lower Austria chamber of labour from 1990–99. In 1991 he was elected SPÖ chairman in Ybbs an der Donau and became Lower Austria’s representative in the federal council (Bundesrat). In the same year he was a member of the Austrian delegation to the parliamentary meeting of the Council of Europe and from 1995–98 he served as chairman of the Council’s social committee. He was chairman of the Bundesrat committee for development co-operation from 1996–99.

In 2000 the SPÖ elected Gusenbauer as its secretary-general. Under his leadership the SPÖ improved its vote in the 2002 elections but lost to Wolfgang Schüssel’s ÖVP. In 2006 Gusenbauer and the SPÖ suffered public discredit for its links to the BAWAG scandal, in which directors of an Austrian bank owned by an SPÖ-linked trade union were accused of corruption, embezzlement and illicit speculation. In the run-up to the 2006 elections polls put the ÖVP ahead but the SPÖ emerged victorious, though unable to form a workable government. Gusenbauer thus negotiated an SPÖ–ÖVP ‘grand coalition’.

Career Peak

Under the terms of the coalition, Gusenbauer was forced to abandon several high profile pre-election pledges including the scrapping of university tuition fees and the cancellation of a €2 bn. contract for 18 Eurofighter jets. Gusenbauer’s term began amid student demonstrations and some dissent from within his own party.

Key government plans included lowering the voting age from 18 to 16 and extending future parliamentary tenures from 4 to 5 years. Gusenbauer pledged to increase spending by up to €1 bn. per year to 2010 on welfare, infrastructure, research and education, while aiming to reverse the budget deficit. He reiterated Austrian support for the European integration of the former Yugoslav countries but was sceptical towards Turkey’s bid for full EU membership.

With the SPÖ beset by infighting over Gusenbauer’s ability to lead the party, a leadership contest was held in June 2008. Gusenbauer was replaced as party leader by Werner Faymann. A month later the ÖVP resigned from the governing coalition, forcing Gusenbauer to call a snap election for Sept. The SPÖ emerged as the largest party but with weakened support. A new SPÖ–ÖVP took office in Dec. 2008, with Faymann as chancellor.

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