Category Archives: Liberal Politics

Delight at efforts to build a new politics in Austria – ALDE encouragement for NEOS

Guy Verhofstadt, MEP, Leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, has voiced his support for NEOS, Austria’s new Liberal Centrist Party.

The Party has formed a joint election platform with the Liberal Forum (LIF) and together they will compete in the General Election in September under the NEOS banner.


More about NEOS:

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Joint election platform confirmed for “liberal-minded forces”

Yesterday (16-03-13) saw the NEOS General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to form a joint election platform with the Liberal Forum (LIF). The Liberal partnership, it’s reported, will be going forward into the General Election under the slogan ‘The stalemate is strong, Together we are stronger’ – a reference to the perceived lack of ability by the ruling Grand Coalition (Social Democrats and the conservatives) to achieve reforms in key areas.

The LIF had already agreed to the alliance and so the Assembly vote was the final step in creating the platform. The decision has gained coverage today across the Austrian press:

It’s been a significant week for NEOS and the new Liberal platform with their first appearance in the Austrian opinion polls .


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COMING HOME – Why Liberals in Austria now have a place to go.

Guest post

In recent months I’ve devoted a number of blog articles to the subject of new political parties in Austria. One in particular, NEOS, is staking a claim for the attention of Social Liberals (such as myself) and other progressive. I‘ve  given my own views, as well as talked about what the papers and others have said on the subject. Now I’m pleased include a series of guest posts by Veit Dengler from NEOS on why he believes Social Liberals and other progressives should be giving them support.



COMING HOME – Why Liberals in Austria now have a place to go.

The history of liberalism in Austria is long and dark.  Like many Catholic and Orthodox countries in Europe, organized labor, Christian parties and the extreme parties of the right and the left dominated the political scene, and still do. Liberal parties tend to be small and only sometime minor coalition partners.

In Austria, since 1945, we only had one liberal party, the Liberale Forum (LIF) in parliament, for a few years, in the 1990s. It never was in government.

The conservative ÖVP and the social democratic SPÖ have their liberal wings, in waxing and waning strength, with an apogee in the 1970s for social liberalism and the late 1980s for economic liberalism. The Greens have an urban liberal current. But in none of these parties was the liberal wing ever close to being dominant.

This is reflected in policy. The government is intrusive to a fault, yet intransparent and unaccountable.  We do not have a freedom of information act.  Appointments in state-controlled entities are routinely based on party clientelism, resulting in incompetent management that has done lasting damage to such former stars as Austrian Airlines, the Vienna Airport or A1 Telekom Austria.

We have restrictive shop opening hour laws which make it hard to shop for anything, even groceries, if you hold a normal 9-5 job and have a family-filled Saturday.  Our competition authority is a third of the size of Denmark’s.  Denmark!

Church and state are not very separate; we still have at-fault divorce laws, and recruiters’ routinely state age or gender preferences. There is no gay marriage, or adoption rights for homosexual couples.  Anti-foreigner rhetoric is common, not just with the far-right FPÖ.

Public discourse in Austria is that of a deeply conservative (with a small c) nanny state. Austria is your aunt Mildred, if Mildred thought it right to tax away half of your income but had no idea how to spend it well. We have one of the most expensive education systems in the EU, but rank 25th out of 27in reading comprehension for 15-year olds. Health costs health outcomes tell a similar story: the healthy life expectancy is under 59 years for men, one of the lowest in the EU.

If I am unfair to lovely Aunt Mildred, think of the Austrian state as a British Leyland car – badly designed, expensive to maintain, terribly inefficient in what it is supposed to do and with the all-too-real worry that it will break down in the future. What is missing is a strong liberal voice to fix that car.

But there is generational change in the air. The current 16-59 year olds are the Generation Double Jeopardy: we are paying the bills for the current generous social and health benefits, even though we ourselves will receive much less.  This isn’t alarmist, it’s just math given the public debt and the demographic change linked to low birth rates and increasing longevity. The Double Jeopardists know it.

And now there is a new party that represents a New Liberalism in Austria, for the Generation Double Jeopardy specifically. NEOS is new not only in that it has a sensible, pragmatic program combining economic and social liberalism. It is also new in its approach.  Instead of the old confrontational style of politics in Austria, we look for good ideas wherever they come from. The Austrian Greens are sensible in much of their social policies. The SPÖ have shown in the past that they are willing to change their policies – most notably on European integration and, more recently, on the military draft. And perhaps in a more constructive environment, the ÖVP could follow through on sensible reform of the tax code.  We believe in working with all of them to develop evidence-based policies that will put the country’s finances on a sound long-term footing and address the right priorities, particularly in education.  Last not least we are committed Europeans and want more Europe, not less.

Realistically, though, the SPÖ and the ÖVP have lost their ability to drive reform, and the Greens are incapable of rejuvenating themselves, as evidenced by the failure of their Green Business (Grüne Wirtschaft) wing to score any winnable seats in their recent candidate selection.

That is why more and more liberals are looking for a new home, which NEOS can provide. Truth is, looking at the choices available in the next general elections, the only way for liberals to drive the change they are looking for, is to vote NEOS into parliament with enough seats to become a coalition partner and shape policies.  This way, we can break out of the sterile debate of the last decades and launch innovative and progressive reforms.

We are now working on an alliance to bring the remaining LIF onto the NEOS platform. Over the next months, you will hear from more and more people among Greens, the ÖVP and the SPÖ who will join our bandwagon.  This will be an historic opportunity to unite all the major constituencies of the center.

Because without NEOS, we won’t get the change we need.

Veit Dengler  ( @veitdengler )





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A joint platform for liberal forces in Salzburg State election….and maybe beyond?

A report here in the Salzburger Fenster (Google translate works ok) suggests that NEOS could make its first foray in the State elections in Salzburg later this year, in alliance with LIF (Liberal Forum).


As the article includes direct statements from both Matthias Strolz (NEOS Party Leader) and Günter Eckerstorfer (LIF State Co-ordinator) it seems that following an Assembly on 7th February the two parties are likely to form a joint platform. I have read a number of statements in the press regarding discussion about an electoral alliance for the General Election (due in September 2013) and this looks to be the forerunner for such an initiative.

For NEOS, which was only formed last October, the State elections to be held on 3rd March in both Kärnten and Lower Austria came too soon. However, Salzburg could provide exactly the profile boost and momentum to launch them (and any potential alliance) into the General Election. The Party is aiming to secure 10% in the General Election, well above the 4% hurdle needed to enter the parliament.

Austrian Pirate Party

The article also highlights that the Austrian Pirate Party (another newcomer formed early last year) will be competing in Salzburg as well as Kärnten State elections. They had success in securing a seat in the city election in Graz last year and will hope to repeat the achievement in both States. The Party is currently averaging 1.4% in national opinion polls but polling evidence suggests that they have a potential to secure up to 6%.

(Note the article talks about Pirate success in Innsbruck but this relates to an expelled group of Pirates:


Further information:

It will have to be a big tent…hence NEOS

Today a new liberal party takes to the stage

Will the greens leave behind their voters for Neos to scoop up?



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Today a new liberal party takes to the stage

With a conference here in Vienna today, at the Urania, Neos will be the latest addition to the growing list of political parties lining up to compete in next year’s General Election in Austria.

In the run-up to today’s launch here is what the papers have been highlighting about ‘Neos – the new Austria’: produced a succinct summary of the Party’s place in the political spectrum: Neos see themselves as a liberal party. There are suggestions of possible co-operation with the Liberal Forum (LIF) and the Young Liberals (JuLis). The Party is particularly hoping to attract support from liberal voters who currently find a home with the Greens or ÖVP (conservatives). The Party’s leading figure, Matthias Strolz, was formerly involved with the ÖVP.

Die Presse also highlighted the Party as a new liberal grouping and mentioned reports of possible connections with both the Liberal Forum (LIF) and the Young Liberals (Julis). It also flagged up that the Party unlikely to find common ground with the other recent arrival, Team Stronach, which has taken up a position on the conservative right. The paper also highlights that Neos see themselves as an alternative for those who feel the traditional parties are resistant to reform and view the (traditional alternative) FPÖ as too extreme to support.

The Die Presse article points out that the new Party has emerged from recent citizens movements calling for democratic reforms: It also flags up policy areas already adopted by the new Party – no conscription, no to new property tax, see ESM as a ‘tragedy’ but would have agreed.

Kurier article interestingly doesn’t mention the word liberal but does mention ÖVP a number of times. The paper highlights that Neos wants to reduce State funding of parties by 75%, schools should have full budget and staffing autonomy, tax and contribution rates should be reduced.

The newspaper also focuses upon Neos’s political reform agenda including more direct democracy.

Kleine Zeitung’s short article picks up on the point that the founding convention comprises people from all sectors of society and Austrian states, with about half of those attending being self-employed. It also highlights the Party’s desire to expand the use of referendum, as well as to abolition provincial and territorial tax for the states.

Wiener Zeitung’s coverage puts emphasis on the new Party’s policies, highlighting: administrative reform; health care reform; more autonomy for schools; changes to taxation; democratic reforms.

The article also talks about the Party’s approach to politics. In the spring the Party programme will be subject internet based debate. Elections for candidates will follow the example of the French Socialists with the Board, party members and the public through primaries equally involved in creating the Party List (Austria has a regional list system for national elections).

Like some of the other papers, the article also highlights the Party’s aim of achieving 10% of the vote in next year’s General Election.



Twitter: @neos_eu @matstrolz


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How many Liberal Parties can you have?

A liberal faction has split from the Austrian Pirates Party and formed a new party the Real Democrats Austria (RDO) . The split comes at a time when the Pirates have fallen in the polls from the low teens at the beginning of summer down to 2% in the latest (Gallup) poll out this week.

This latest addition to the growing number of new parties joining the Austrian political scene – I count at least five this year – describes themselves as:

  • Our policy direction is clearly socially liberal, liberal civic and sustainable. Liberal, in the very word form.

Later this month the Österreich Spricht  (Austria Speaks) citizens’ initiative will be launching a political party which will:

  •  Target ‘homeless Liberals’
  • Be a ‘liberal political party’
  • New party drawing in support from those with formerly ‘green, black, red and Liberal‘ backgrounds.
  • Believes it can secure 10% of the popular vote at next general election in 2013

Austria ready has a Liberal party, Liberal Forum (LIF) who are members of the ELDR. Not currently represented in the national parliament the Party:

  •  Will stand in the 2013 election either as a single party or part of a likeminded platform
  • Their party leader in answer to the question, during an interview with, of where the LIF stands on the political spectrum where 0 (right) and 10 (left) replied that people probably see them as 7 (left) but they’d like to be seen as more 5 (middle).

On the Obama v Romney question (see my blog post) the response was Obama.

We also have a fourth Liberal party, JuLis. This group of Young Liberals broke away from LIF back in 2009. They are:

  •  An independent political party and faction Austrian Students Union
  • They concentrate their efforts on Student politics
  • Although their core principles are a broad Liberal statement their emphasis on the free market would probably align them more within the ‘Orange Book’ wing of the Lib Dem’s in the UK.

So that’s at least four overtly ‘Liberal’ groupings, of various shades, competing for Liberal and progressive votes and none of them in the current national parliament of Austria. Within that parliament ‘Liberal’ voters have primarily given their support and/or lent their vote to the Greens (social Liberals) & the conservative ÖVP (economic Liberals) and to a lesser extent the Social Democrats – SPÖ (social Liberals) & right-wing BZÖ (economic Liberals). Polling suggests many of these voters might be willing to switch but it’s going to be a noisy, crowded market place.

Finally there is of course one other potentially ‘liberal vote’ seeking party about to be launched, the yet to be named party of Austro-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach. He will have the money and the platform. The question remains is his Party to be a Liberal or Conservative learning grouping?

The site is running a series of summer interviews with representatives of many of Austria’s smaller parties. Interesting further reading here.



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Reviving Liberals, bouncing Greens and austerity conservatives

The Liberal Forum (LIF) has announced their intention to stand in the Austrian General Election due in 2013. Their attempt to re-enter the national parliament will be an uphill battle undertaken with few resources. In the last General Election LIF secured only 2.1%, well short of the 4% needed to gain seats in the national assembly.

The LIF are hoping that the current mood of dissatisfaction amongst voters, highlighted in opinion polls, will help them surpass the 4% hurdle. They appear to be focusing upon three areas that have been high on the wider political agenda: educational reform, administrative reform and comprehensive tax reform. Like others thay are also calling for changes to the democratic system.

At the begining of the last election campaign I found myself in seperate discussions with 3 potential LIF voters. Given the Party’s poll rating I was surprised to encounter this many potential supporters given the limits of my own social network. In each case they indicated that they were dissatisfied with the Parties in Parliament and attracted by their perceptions of LIF‘s social liberal message. After the election, in which LIF’s key message was centred on the economic agenda, I asked each how they has voted. None had supported LIF due in part to some negative publicity and in each case disappointment that the Party had not made more of an arguement for its social agenda. One voted Green, another ÖVP, and the third SPÖ.

A sample of the approach to isssues taken by LIF can be seen in the resolutions discussed at their recent  Convention which focused on three issues: the free market; European integration;  migration and asylum.

If the LIF were to make an impact in the next election then they, on past performance, are likely to draw a higher proportion of voter’s way from the Greens than from the other Parties.


The last two polls of February provided very different pictures as to the current standing of the Austrian Greens. In the first they saw their ratings jump 3 points to 16%. Although they have reached such a figure in the past, to be as high a 16% is a rarity for the Greens. But just as excitement was stirring in the environmental Party’s ranks a second poll was published suggesting that they were in fact back at the 13% mark and rather than advancing had fallen back one point in comparison to the previous survey.

The real news for the Greens was in additional polling data which showed voters giving them net positive scores in regard to issues of fairness and trust. The former being of particular importance in respect of the government’s new austerity package and the high number of voters who do not feel it shares the burden fairly. The latter issue of trust is high on the political agenda given the ongoing parliamentary investigations into political corruption.


The same polls also had mixed messages for the conservative ÖVP. In the first survey they were seen, by those polled, has having ‘won’ the arguments within the ruling Coalition regarding the contents of the austerity package. Their reward, however, was no change in their support and third place behind the far-Right FPÖ. But in the second poll they were up to 26% and sharing second spot with the FPÖ.

Rolling average of the polls

Below is my updated poll summary based upon the last five polls I’ve seen:


GE 2008


























Source Gallup, 25-2-12
Market/Der Standard 21-2-12
Gallup, 04-2-2012
Gallup, 28-1-2012


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