Austrian General Election 2017 Preview

Background
This Sunday 15th October, the Austrian people will head to the polls for a general election. This snap election was called in May following the resignation of vice-chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner of the centre-right People’s Party (ÖVP). The incumbent ‘grand coalition’ of the ÖVP and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ), led by current Chancellor Christian Kern, had stagnated as the two parties failed to resolve disagreements regarding a number of policy issues. This, along with increasing concerns related to the migrant crisis, led to a large increase in support for the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPÖ). Mitterlehner was replaced as the leader of the ÖVP by Sebastian Kurz, the Foreign Minister. This marked a turning point in the fortunes of the ÖVP as Kurz successfully rebranded the party in his own image; he renamed it The New People’s Party and recruited a number of new candidates for the election. Polls showed an immediate jump in the party’s popularity of around 10% and it has maintained high approval ratings as we approach the election. As a result, The New People’s Party is now poised to become the largest party in the Austrian Parliament. However, the nature of Austria’s electoral system means that the most likely outcome is a coalition government.

Who is Sebastian Kurz?
At just 31 years of age, Sebastian Kurz looks set to become the world’s youngest leader when the election takes place this Sunday. His political career began when he was elected Chairman of the ÖVP’s youth wing in 2009 and he served on Vienna’s city council from 2010-2011. In the 2013 general election, he was elected as a member of parliament, winning the most direct votes of any candidate. He rose to prominence shortly afterwards when he became the youngest serving Foreign Minister in the world at age 27. In 2015, at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis, his calls for increased controls on migration saw him named as one of Europe’s most influential politicians by news website Politico. The manner in which Kurz has rebranded his party, along with his meteoric rise, has led to comparisons with France’s similarly youthful leader, Emmanuel Macron, and his ‘En Marche’ movement. His campaign for this election, based on promises to reform Austria’s economy and immigration policies, has been well received and The New People’s Party currently sits atop the polls at around 33%.A good friend of Ireland, Kurz is a leading figure in Fine Gael’s European family the European People’s Party having risen through the ranks of the Youth of the European People’s Party, much like our own Leo Varadkar. Understandably the pair know each other well and worked already on a number of issues together.

Austria’s Electoral System
There are two houses in the Austrian Parliament; the National Council (Nationalrat), with 183 seats, is significantly more powerful than the Federal Council (Bundesrat), which has 61 seats. The upcoming elections are for the National Council. The electoral system is based on the principle of proportional representation, which aims to ensure that the number of seats won by a party will closely reflect their share of the vote. This means that, much like in Ireland, it is difficult for any one party to win an absolute majority and, normally, governments take the form of coalitions.
Austria is divided into nine provincial electoral districts and, within those districts, there are a further 43 regional districts. Voters will choose their party of preference and will in addition indicate a preferred candidate in both their provincial and regional districts. Votes are counted in three stages; the regional votes are counted first, followed by the provincial votes and finally, the national party votes, which ultimately dictate the share of the seats in the National Council. To be able to have candidates elected at provincial and national level, parties must first win a seat at regional level. The leader of the party with the most seats in the National Council usually becomes Chancellor.

Potential Coalitions
Depending on the results of the election, a number of coalitions are possible. As mentioned above, polls suggest that Sebastian Kurz’s New People’s Party are likely to form a large part of the new government but it is more difficult to predict which other party or parties would make up a coalition.
Some commentators have suggested that the most probable scenario is a coalition of The New People’s Party and the FPÖ. The success of Kurz’s campaign has largely been based on how he has navigated the key issue of immigration. His proposals to restrict immigration have largely quashed the support of the FPÖ, which has campaigned on a principally anti-immigration platform. Conversely, Kurz’s emphasis of this issue has possibly made the FPÖ his most plausible option to form a coalition. In addition, while the SPÖ is currently outperforming the FPÖ in the polls, the unpopularity of the current grand coalition of the ÖVP and the SPÖ means that a return to this arrangement is unlikely.
Another possibility is a coalition between The New People’s Party and a number of smaller parties including the Greens, the left-wing Liste Pilz party and The New Austria and Liberal Forum party. However, polls suggest that even a combination of all three of these parties would be insufficient to form a workable coalition. This is a problem for the SPÖ, as this would likely be their preferred option were they to win the election. Possibly for this reason, the SPÖ recently lifted a 30 year ban on working with the FPÖ.

Senator Neale Richmond is the Fine Gael spokesman on EU Affairs in Seanad Éireann

  • the rich get richer

    Hopefully an anti -immigration party will do well .

    The Eu’s dumb immigration policies have to be stopped .

  • Food First

    Another kick in the teeth for the E U Dictatorship

  • Why? Why should your place of birth be an employment criterion?

  • In the Austrian presidential election the former leader of the Green Party beat the “freedom” party leader as Austrians united against an outspoken fascist.

  • Neiltoo

    I’m curious, what makes H C Strache a fascist? And why the quotation marks around freedom? That’s the name of the party.

  • Allison G.

    There is no room this time for a Party that allows
    the unrelenting arrival of entire middle east and African
    population of migrants. This insanity must stop now.

  • james

    I’d agree with that. At the very least it would be good to see a European government who are at least willing to acknowledge the growing public reluctance to keep importing totally unsustainable numbers and shoring up potentially massive trouble both in the short and longer term.

  • james

    Why should the EU be importing several million migrants which they cannot absorb?

  • james

    Islamic fundamentalism is merely a new type of fascism. Why bring this problem into Europe in enormous numbers?

  • Zorin001

    What’s the long term solution though James? The migrant crisis has been caused by a number of complex and interlocking circumstances (Middle Eastern turmoil/food poverty in Africa and ME/climate change in Sub Saharan Africa) and I see few parties of any persuasion giving any indepth answers to systemic problems. Systemic problems that are going to cost a lot of time and money to solve.

  • james

    It will hardly surprise you to learn that…. I don’t have all the answers.

    I will say, though, that the situation could be markedly improved by immediately stopping accepting all migrants who turn up at the fringes of Europe. Doing that across the board would at least remove the incentive we’re giving them to risk their lives on long, dangerous journeys (not sure what % of them lose their lives en route, but no doubt it’s a signifigant number). That would also stop the people traffickers from getting rich of the backs of human misery.

    Migrants who are already here and whose claims are rejected simply never leave. Those people need to be deported – and that does mean tens of thousands across Europe. Perhaps hundreds of thousands. Opening the gates to millions with no real plan to incorporate them was lunacy, maybe or maybe not a calculated plan, but insane. This should cost Angela Merkel her political career (though personally I had previously admired her). Harsh, but true.

    Next thing would be to process asylum claims in refugee camps at source to sort the genuinely needy from those who are simply economic migrants. It’s a ‘nice’ idea to think we can take in all the poor of the world – it’s also an obviously stupid and unworkable idea.

    The policy should be to positively discriminate in the asylum claim process in favour of women and children. The present system massively disproportionately favours young men – and damns the women and children to an uncertain, miserable fate.

    Next thing would be to only accept the numbers we can absorb. And that is likely to be much, much less than the millions we are currently waving through.

    Next – and this likely opens me to criticism as being evil incarnate – perhaps governments need to start listening to the voices of the peoples of Europe who are currently largely being ignored. There are very serious and legitimate concerns which, because they are being shouted down, are leading many to turn in despair to the more extreme fringes of the right wing.

    Time to take a more rational approach.

    What’s the answer? I don’t have one, certainly not a simple one. But doing all of the above – and quickly – is clearly a step in the right direction.

  • Zorin001

    I’m writing from the iPad so not conductive to a more in-depth response but first of all thanks for the answer, it’s good to get a proper thought out response on this issue.

    I don’t agree with all you said but I can agree with some of it, I think we should be cracking down on people smuggler s at source.

    And believe it or not I don’t think you are evil incarnate, I agree we should be listening to disadvantaged voices. The fact we haven’t for so long has got us to the stage that Populists with little regard for anything but power and their own egos have fed on people s fears for their own ends.

  • Allison G.

    The mess started with Merkel and her insane welcome of
    a million refugees. One of the Italian ministers said that
    five million Africans are making their way to Italy in the next
    couple of years. Do they want a civil war or..what?

  • james

    Happy to discuss it any time when you’re properly equipped with a keyboard 🙂

    I think it’s certainly a discussion that needs to be had across Europe, and soon.

  • james

    It may just be ignorance and stupidity – or it may be part of a loose, undefined EU project of weakening national identity in member states to make it more malleable to govern.

    My theory is it’s the former but, yes, there is a serious risk of major civil unrest within the next decade.

  • Zorin001

    Agreed, and it needs to be a proper discussion not a “libtard/racist” slanging match. We’ve got nowhere politically these past years being snide and condescending to one another.

    Im nor sure we would agree on a lot politically James but if we can have a civil discussion on the internet there’s hope for the human race yet lol

  • Mimi Balguerie

    You’re utterly wrong on both counts. It’s a simple matter of the EU, and particularly Germany, lacking the young population to sustain their economies and support the aging population

    They need workers. It doesn’t matter where they come from. But it would be preferable if, unlike the Gastarbeiter, they didn’t go home after a few years.

  • 1729torus

    The EU is negotiating Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements with Tunisia and Morocco, which basically makes these countries part of the Single Market for goods amongst other benefits.

    If you can’t bring the workers to the factories, bring the factories to the workers is the idea I suppose.

  • james

    “It’s a simple matter of the EU, and particularly Germany, lacking the young population to sustain their economies and support the aging population”

    Where on earth to start with this…

    Migrants add to the population – and thus add to healthcare costs and every other kind of cost just like everyone else. Unless you think that migrants don’t get sick.

    The migrant crisis is *not* a nice little earner for anyone besides the people smugglers. Migrants, particularly on a scale such as this, are a net cost to society. Look at Malmo in Sweden. Or Naples. And, yes, they have brought a surge in criminality. Again, see Malmo, or Cologne.

    And what about the cost of housing, clothing and feeding them until they find employment – which may be months or years – after, of course, they have managed to learn the language and some in-demand skills, which many may not come equipped with.

    If Germany really needs all these extra workers, why not import some of the unemployed youth of Spain, Portugal, or Greece? At least this would just be population shifts within Europe – and many of these might ultimately return to their home country. It is highly unlikely that immigrants from sub-saharan Africa will do so.

    And lastly, let’s look at the reasons why people in Northern European countries are not having so many children: it is largely because they cannot afford to have 3, 4 or 6 children. Not because they don’t wish to. Why not offer financial incentives to boost the birth rates of native Germans or Swedes?

  • james

    I’m with you on that, at least. That kind of nonsense closes down an important debate.

    I’m bracing myself for a dose of it, though, even on the good ship Slugger 😉

    You said you agreed with some of my points, others not. I’d be interested to hear your side. Which points do we align on?

  • Mimi Balguerie

    Mate. I live and work in Germany. I know how this economy works.
    Germany tried importing youth workers from Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy. There are well established Portuguese and Italian immigrant districts literally ten minutes dander from my doorstep. The problem is, unless these people get married or become settled, they go home after five years or so. That is precisely the problem.

    There is no cost of feeding or housing anyone before they find employment. Germany has a contribution-based welfare state. Until you pay into the system, you get precisely nothing.

    Migrants do not add a burden to the healthcare system because they tend to be young and healthy. The native population is old and sick. And those migrants can’t access the healthcare system until they pay into it.

    Why not offer financial incentives for having children in Germany? There is a goddamned near 20% tax break for getting married on Germany, never mind the extreme legal protections around marriage and parenthood. They are doing literally everything they can afford to.

    See Cologne? Mate, I know Cologne like the back of my hand. Compared to Belfast, it’s a freaking picnic.

  • Mimi Balguerie

    If you look at the development of the energy grid in North Africa, it’s clear the EU have have had their eye on the area and it’s resources for at least the last decade.
    When you look at the standard of human rights and economic development in north Africa, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing.

  • William Kinmont

    Everything you say makes perfect sense . However rapid immigratory changes to a population always causes trouble and tensions hopefully this is transient..Is it right that Germany or other western countries are effectively stealing other countries youth. Who is supporting the elderly there. Eastern European migrants tended to send the money home and aim to return home which nodoubt helped their countries develop, we even see our owns employers eg Gallaghers move their factory East.
    However these migrants are unlikely to do the same. Draining resources out of their homeland isn’t going to help them or curb the migratory pressures. They will get worse .
    I say all this as an employer hoping soon to welcome a migrant worker. Having exhausted all local and national routes. And failing to attract or retain local staff almost no matter the salary offered.

  • Neiltoo

    You might find “The Strange Death of Europe” by Douglas Murray interesting if you haven’t read it. The debate has been going on for some time but as you and Zorin both mentioned it often gets shut down by people screaming ‘racist’

  • I Can Confirm This

    ‘You’re utterly wrong on both counts. It’s a simple matter of the EU, and particularly Germany, lacking the young population to sustain their economies and support the aging population’

    I would rather the Germans found a solution to this problem themselves, if it is indeed the problem, rather than looking to other parts of the world to repopulate Germany. If this approach to people management becomes long term policy and is followed through year after year – there will be no more Germany left as it will have allowed itself to be replaced continuously with non-Germans/Europeans.

    Therefore the character and attitudes which have made Germany a success will have been diluted if not lost and therefore Germany will no longer be Germany unless rock solid integration takes place. But this is unlikely based on the liberal policies on integration at the moment. With faith schools being set up and communities fragmenting living separate lives beside one another. And turbo migration into the millions makes facilitating integration all the more harder.

  • Salmondnet

    Nope. If that were the case Germany would not be trying to force migrants they invited into Germany on to the rest of Europe. They would want to keep all these alleged economic and cultural enrichers to themselves. I wonder what Ireland’s quota will be.
    Plenty of people available within and for the rest of Europe, or there wouldn’t be so many Eastern Europeans in, or wanting to come to, the UK and free movement wouldn’t be such an issue.

  • Sean Danaher

    Hi Zorin
    An interesting book on this which tries to come to terms with immigration control from a left leaning perspective is Colin Hines Progressive Protectionism. Colin with Caroline Lucas and Prof Richard Murphy amongst other are authors of the New Green Deal so approaches this issue from very much a left leaning perspective. Here is a link to Richard Murphy’s TRUK blog on the book with some discussion http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2017/01/12/progressive-protectionism-a-new-book-by-colin-hines/

  • Democratic Unionist Party anyone?

  • Yeah, now we’re safe from the evil forces of Rome trying to destroy us, the last thing we need is another bunch of themuns coming into Europe.

  • Neiltoo

    I have no idea what that means. Is the DUP involved in the Austrian elections in some way that I’ve missed?

  • I Can Confirm This

    Although you could say Germany ‘gamed the system’ to get its people its 1 million+ desperate migrants/’refugees’ by ignoring the ‘Dublin Procedure’ (the procedure by which refugees stay in the first ‘safe’ country they arrive in, therefore they gamed the system by not sending them back to stay, say, in Italy; the Germans allowed their quota-full – 1 million? – to stay in their country, no questions asked really). Only when it had received its 1 million or so, with more coming, did the clever Germans then demand that others take, if you like, their spill over. The difference between these 1 million and say other EU citizens is that the other EU citizens could be more picky as regards destination and could not give the Germans the demographic shot in the arm it allegedly needed; whereas a desperate bunch of 1 million so-called refugees, desperate for a European place to set up, would in all likelihood remain in Germany. Particularly after the Germans courting them by ignoring agreed EU procedures.

    Regardless, the Germans have form being, shall I say, ‘poor people managers’ – last century they killed Europe with cruelty now this century it is through kindness. Germans and attempts at designing a workable ‘macro people policy’ do not mix well and neither does it bode well for Europe when they intervene in this manner and scale.

  • the rich get richer

    I actually think that if immigration levels in the Eu continue at their present levels then there may be civil unrest in countries .

    There is an Elite pushing this mass immigration , who are not suffering any of the downsides ( and there are some ) .

    The Elite are then harvesting whatever advantages there are .

    The Hypocrisy of this will not end well .

  • Zorin001

    Briefly:

    Agree on trying to prioritise the genuinely desperate. Woman and children are always the first to suffer in a civil war or crisis situation and should be protected as much as possible. At risk religious and ethnic groups too, the Yadzi should have been protected at a much earlier date for instance.

    Agree on trying to stop at source, but in as humane a way as possible, the death toll in the Med has been staggering and anything to reduce that is a must. But we may have to pay a high financial burden to get that done with North African states.

    I also agree with numbers, we have to be realistic and understand that even if we could accept more the atmosphere at the moment is poisoned towards mass migration from outside Europe. I would also like to see the speed up of integration wherever possible, that might help take the sting out somewhat. We are risking serious civil strife if that continues.

    I don’t have to necessarily like all of the above but we find the world the way it is not how we would like it.

  • Zorin001

    Sounds intersting Sean and somewhat towards the positions I’m finding myself reaching. Will check it out.

    It’s good to see Left Wing writers standing to approach the subject in depth. The Right have been allowed to set the pace on this for far too long. I do worry that the immigration argument could be lost for a generation without swift action.

  • Sean Danaher

    Indeed, the left has been very bad at tackling this. In the North of England the cry of racist was used when the issue was raised. The problem over the last decade has been exacerbated in the UK by the government being very happy to let hard-working/skilled immigrants in, it did almost nothing on the supply side in terms of increase house building, school and health provision etc. It also starved the Home Office of cash so it couldn’t do its job properly.

  • Zorin001

    100% The North of England was left to rot and then people wonder why they decided to give the Government a kick in the EU ref when given the chance.

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  • james

    Perhaps you don’t understand how the German economy works as well as you think?

    http://fortune.com/2016/09/14/germany-hiring-refugee/

    What would you say is behind the declining birth rate in Germany?

    And as for Cologne, I’m not sure what kind of picnics you go on:

    http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/05/europe/germany-cologne-new-year-assaults/index.html

    Still want to tell us there’s ‘nothing to see here’?

  • james

    And the predictions for the future don’t look much better:

    https://www.independentsentinel.com/2-8-of-germanys-migrants-are-employed-so-far/

  • PeterOHanrahahanrahan

    EU logic: import millions of people illiterate in their own language to take highly-skilled jobs which will be replaced by automation anyway.

    Aren’t something like 95% of them considered unemployable by German industry?

  • PeterOHanrahahanrahan

    Funny, the party that ran that as a campaign (“New Germans? We’ll make our own!”) was greeted with undiminished horror by the left.

    Time was when breeding Germans with favourable characteristics was considered taboo, now apparently the concept of breeding Germans at all is verboten!

  • james

    It is most bizarre – yet as far as I can see it is actually the case – that the left in a number of European countries is so racked with a misplaced sense of guilt (redirected with bitter fury onto absolutely everyone who is not themselves on the left) that it is trying to steer European nations onto a suicidal trajectory.

    This is the thing to which all Europeans should be uniting against and saying ‘not in my name’, not on my watch.

    We are grateful to the generation that fought fascism in the 40’s and saved Europe from desyroying itself. Well, todays political left is fascism come again – though it would not recognize that reality, since the left has in essence banned all ‘mirrors’ (in terms of shouting down any criticism with cries of racism and mobbing anyone in any public position who speaks up against their lunacy).

    European civilization is a truly wonderful thing and we should all be proud of what we have inherited after centuries of slow, painstaking progress – not least in areas of universal suffrage, women’s rights and tolerance of minorities.

    The left are it seems determined to oversee the destruction of all of that.

    We cannot allow it to happen.

  • Skibo

    James are you Ali G in disguise?

  • james

    Hmm…. I think you might be on safer ground on the old Republican v Loyalist debate, where your lines have already been written for you and you can merely select from the same trusty old 20 or 30 tired old cliches again and again.

    Let’s see how you do now that the record has changed and there’s a different tune to dance to…..Would you like to point out what is incorrect, or what you disagree with in my post above?

  • james

    Nope?

    Thought not. That’s quite alright, Skibo.

    I’ll no doubt see you later on a thread where Sinn Fein demand that the makers of Club Orange roll out a new line of green drinks…since we can never go back to the bad old days…and anyone who isn’t in favour is a bigot….and that’s the new reason Stormont ain’t running….

  • Sean Danaher

    Mimi
    I remember the first time I was in Germany on a DAAD scholarship in 1976 one of the perks was a week’s all expenses paid holiday in the then W. Berlin. This was excellent but it was clear at the time that there was a charm offensive to make us consider living there. At the time W. Berlin was loosing population rapidly with a large fraction of the population over 65. It was a foretaste of things to come I think.

  • Sean Danaher

    Hi again Mimi
    I visit Germany often since my first visit to Nordrhein Westfalen in 1976. I know Köln well and was there in August. Modern Germany is a very impressive country but does indeed suffer from a shortage of workers.
    My wife had the misfortune of breaking her foot in August ans we saw the German health system first hand; not on Cologne but Freiburg im Breisgau. Orthopedics was efficient, calm and relaxed in complete contrast to the UK where according to my Wife (a medic herself) it resembles a war zone.
    In general Germany is one of the few countries with a capacity of coping with 1M arrivals and I thought it was a very clever move by Merkel

  • james

    A clever move in what sense? What roles do you see a million migrants fulfilling?

  • james

    It will be very interesting to see what sort of right-leaning coalition forms now – and how they handle the migrant crisis. If they do it well, Austria under a right-leaning government could prove a model for the way forward in Europe.

  • Neiltoo

    I think it will also depend on whether Kurz’s shift to the right turns out to be permenant or more opportunistic!

  • james

    Indeed, yes. There’s always the risk that they won’t do what they said they’d do.

    I’d be happy to see at least *some* serious effort towards starting the long difficult process of sorting out this migrant mess.

  • Skibo

    James, I do not sit at the computer constantly waiting for your reply. You will have to forgive me, I have a life and a career outside Slugger even though I realy enjoy the banter, mainly serious but sometimes tongue in cheek.

    I agree with you on the checks and balances that have to be addressed with people coming into the country but you phrase “The policy should be to positively discriminate in the asylum claim process in favour of women and children” reminded me of the Ail G film where he wants to keep all sexy immigrants and send back the mingers! This would be the banter I mentioned above!

    By the way, I have no 20 or 30 tired cliches but I am working on them. The few I have I use regularly to combat your old and tired cliches on Republican politics.

  • Skibo

    I am very partial to vicounts but I also eat orange club biscuits. I prefer 7UP to club orange but that has more to do with the lack of additives in 7UP.
    Do you find your dislike of anything green effects the things you buy, more carrots than broccoli maybe?

  • Skibo

    James there are less than 9 million people in Austria. While they have elected what gives the impression of a right leaning government, we have to accept they would not be a major force in directing EU policy. They may give Marcon another ally in reforming the EU. Pity the UK decided to leave when new political leaders suggest a more positive attitude to reforming.