After the Austrian State Treaty of 1955, politics in Austria have been dominated by grand coalitions of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), contributing to the reconstruction of the economy and the country’s international reputation.
Under the terms of keeping neutrality and prohibiting any future “Anschluss” to Germany, the State Treaty not only freed the country of its occupying forces but also seized to guarantee rights of Slovene and Croat Minorities in the southern Austrian regions, allowing for their own organizations, press, secondary schools and the recognition of each language as official. In light of a growing fear of a subsuming Yugoslavian influence, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) gained increasing support under the leadership of Jörg Haider, by 1984 already receiving 16% in provincial elections. Following Haider’s radical-populist rhetoric, a party’s shift in terms of topics towards restricted immigration, EU-skepticism and heavy smear-campaigning, the party attained 27% in the 1999 general election, resulting for the first time in history in a governmental participation of the FPÖ due to a coalition with the ÖVP, which decided to put in place their candidate as chancellor rather than Haider due to international criticism in advance.
International reactions from the media were prompt, diplomatic response harsh. All 14 EU member states withdrew their ambassadors with immediate effect in order to symbolically “punish” Austria. Furthermore, the EU member states, as well as the Czech Republic, Canada, Israel and Norway, imposed sanctions on Austria, banning its diplomats from international conferences other than obligatory EU-meetings, justifying it by the fact that all other response would symbolize an acceptance of far-right political parties in governments. Nevertheless, the sanctions were lifted after seven months of diplomatic ice age due to the fact that it only further nourished nationalistic and anti-EU opinions in the country, experts estimating that the decision of the EU would still simmer in parts of the Austrian population.
With the rise of populist tendencies in Europe and the extension of the EU-14 to 27, it may be highly implausible that such sanctions could be imposed again in 2017, but considering the fact that the ÖVP will have to engage in a coalition with the FPÖ in case of winning the elections today, international criticism as well as conflict is pre-programmed, taking into consideration that the FPÖ has publicly met and undertaken “brainstorms” with far-right political parties, such as the “Front National” or the “Alternative für Deutschland”. And even if Sebastian Kurz, chairman of the ÖVP and current foreign minister, has shouldered with a multitude of foreign politicians, the eventuality of FPÖ ministers is a political powder-keg at home and abroad, since the last involvement of “blue” politicians on ministry level resulted in mass privatizations and the most spectacular case of political network corruption ever witnessed in Austria, a neutral country - situated in the heart of Europe.
By Raphael Bucher