Tag Archives: LIF

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.

Graham

 

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).

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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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_Party_of_Austria).

 

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?

http://neos.eu/

http://liberale.at/

http://www.piratenpartei.at/

 

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‘…it will have to be a Big Tent. Hence NEOS’


I’ve found myself having quite a few conversations recently with people about one of Austria’s newest political parties, Neos. Many of these chats have been in the coffeehouse (in keeping with the Viennese tradition of political discourse), in the pub or over dinner. Some, however, have been in my favourite public forum twitter.

One question that keeps arising is ‘What type of political party is Neos?’ In various interviews and articles the Party is described as drawing activists and support from the (conservative) ÖVP, the Greens, LIF (Liberal Forum). Its ‘pitch’ has also been described as a party for ‘homeless’ liberals, as well as other progressives and centrists.

As you can see from the picture below I was recently engaged in (another friendly) chat with @Vilinthril of the Austrian Pirates, where I disagreed with the idea that Neos was a ‘neoconservative’ party. To me Neos seem to include…

Both wings of the British Liberal Democrats, Social Greens, and Liberal Conservatives

The discussion was added too by @veitdengler (a Neos co-founder) who tweeted:

‘if we want a center party in Austria it will have to be a Big Tent. Hence #NEOS’

 

My comment with regard to the breadth of Neos membership/support was later retweeted by both @matstrolz (Neos party Leader) and @joseflentsch (Founding Board member of Neos). While retweets are not an automatic endorsement I rather assume that on this occasion they weren’t disagreeing with my impressions of their party.

One point I made to @Vilinthril was that if the Austrian Pirates see themselves on the progressive side of the political argument then energies ought to be put into building alliances and attacking the Right – there is plenty their to challenge. My point was added to by the @neos_eu twitter account:

 

Link to Neos website: http://neos.eu/

 

 

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


Events in Germany have generated a few stories in the Austrian press in the last couple of days focusing on the position of the Greens in Austrian politics. The stimulus for these articles has been the election by the German Greens of two leaders, for next year’s federal elections, with a broad middle class appeal. The German Greens it seems are going after the CDU’s conservative voters rather than just seeking to secure left leaning support. (Reuters article)

This turn of events has lead to articles about the Austrian Greens and in particular this one caught my eye: Green: Vienna moves to the left, to the right Berlin. It an interesting idea, the Greens moving further to the left in Austrian politics and it might work for them, if that’s what they really intend.

The Austrian Greens, despite being the only party elected into the current Parliament that hasn’t faced one or more major scandals, have only increased their support to date by 4% and remain fourth in the polls. Last year they seemed to benefit from the decline in support for the conservative ÖVP but more recently their stronger poll ratings have coincided with a weakening of the SPÖ (Social Democrats). The latter are already in a longstanding battle with the far-Right FPÖ in their traditional working class areas and now face a further challenge from the new right-of-centre ‘Team Stronach’. With support dented by poorly handled scandal accusations and facing towards the challenge of Populists on the right, the SPÖ look vulnerable on their left flank. The temptation to push left and make real inroads may look highly tempting to the Greens in general and the more fundamentalist faction in particular.

But if the Greens did shift further to the left could they maintain their existing voter base while adding disillusioned traditional left-wing voters?

It is notable that the rise of the Green Party in general elections was mirrored by the decline of the LIF (Austrian Liberal Party). Many of these LIF voters switch to the Greens. I have already highlighted that the rise and fall in the opinion polls of the conservative ÖVP and the Greens last year often mirrored each other – liberal ÖVP voters switching. In short, the Greens are currently home to a mix of traditional Greens, left-Greens and social Liberal voters. A leftwards strategy that simply replaced these liberal & progressive voters with disillusioned leftists would be unlikely to reap dividends and I suspect would lead to a net loss of support.

Up until recently the Greens have had only the worry of losing liberal voters to the ‘not voting camp’. However, a new player has taken to the Austrian political field in the form of ‘Neos – the new Austria’. A party formed to provide a rallying point for homeless Liberals and other progressives, its founding members include former activists from the Greens, Liberals, and ÖVP. If it can overcome the challenges of not receiving the benefits of media access and state funding enjoyed by Parties already in the Parliament then Neos is likely to draw support away from the Greens – even more so if the latter really jumped further to the corporate left.

In an ideal world and looking at the alternatives on offer, seeing both the Greens and Neos well represented in the next Austrian parliament would creative a new dynamic to a system that many across the political spectrum think needs renewing.

Link:  http://neos.eu/

 

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We’ve been having fun with this political test – why not have a go yourself?


You don’t have to be Austrian to take the test and most of the 25 questions are understandable using Google translate if you don’t speak German.

I’ve been having fun challenging friends and family to take the http://wahlkabine.at/2012 test which allows you to compare your views of 25 questions with all of Austria’s main parties (the exception being Team Stronach who decides not to participate). It’s been fun and sometimes surprising seeing the results. It’s not a direct guide to which party you would support if you have (had) a vote in next year’s elections as the questions focus on current topics not an election programme. For instance the Green’s may or may not have been closer to my opinions if the survey had had a couple of questions with a more specific environmental focus.

For non-Austrians its fun to compare who you support in your own country with which party you most closely agree with in Austria.

Here’s the link to the questions

My own test result was:

Have fun 🙂

 

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Are voters protesting or looking for a new home?


The current average poll ratings below show all the parties in the current parliament losing support this year, with one exception. But none have much to cheer about and all should be worried by the current trends. Inaction, inept politics and corruption scandals are shaking the foundations of the political establishment more than ever.

Table 1: Average across five current opinion polls and change since January 2012

 Poll Average Now  Average Jan 2012  Change
SPO  26%  28.60%  -2.60%
OVP  22.20%  23.80%  -1.60%
FPO  20.40%  26.60%  -6.20%
Greens  14.80%  13.60%   1.20%
BZO  3.20%  4.80%  -1.60%
Team Stronach  10.00%  0.0%   10.00%
Others  3.40%  2.60%   0.80%

 

Why they should worry:

SPO: Having sat steady on 29%-30% in the polls for over a year they failed to effectively deal with their own alleged corruption scandal and managed to make themselves look as tainted as the centre-right & right-wing parties who have faced one serious scandal after another.

The results for the SPO have been touching the 25% in some polls and they risk losing support the Greens on one side and Team Stronach on the other.

OVP: The only good news is that their share of the vote has settled at the 21%-23% (in latter half of 2009 they were polling 31%-35%). But there seems little evidence that they can attract new support and they are vulnerable to losing liberal votes Neos and/or LIF as well as conservative learning voters to Team Stronach.

FPO: Their free fall in the polls has slowed following the SPO’s problems distracting attention away from the FPO’s scandals. However, a Party that was once bouncing between 24%-29% is now bouncing between 18%-23%. It faces competition from Team Stronach for the populist vote and has been losing chunks of its anti-establishment vote.

BZO: Up as high as 5% in one poll this week but regularly averaging 2% in most opinion polls. This week’s blip probably coming from the higher coverage they’ve received from defections by some of their MPs to Team Stronach and their Party conference. What little vote they have left seems likely to end up like their MPs with Team Stronach.

Greens: Only Party in the current parliament to see their poll ratings rise since January and the only Party not to be mired in scandal. The problem is that given the current fluidity in voter support and general dissatisfaction they ought to be doing even better. While they may gain from any further drop in the SPO vote they risk seeing a chunk of their liberal vote switching to the newly launched Neos. This new liberal grouping, if it can make an impact, will also mean the Greens to benefiting from any remaining liberal OVP voters switching to them (as has happened in the past).

Table 2: Average across five current opinion polls and change since General Election 2008

   Poll Average Now  General Election 2008  Change
SPO  26.00%  29.30%  -3.30%
OVP  22.20%  26.00%  -3.80%
FPO  20.40%  17.50%   2.90%
Greens  14.80%  10.40%   4.40%
BZO  3.20%  10.70%  -7.50%
Team Stronach  10.00%  0.00%   10.00%
Others  3.40%  6.10%  -2.70%

 

What about the new Parties?

Team Stronach: The party of the Austro-Canadian billionaire was launched last month and has successfully established itself at the 10% mark in the polls. Through defections it has now established itself in Parliament and if give formal ‘club status’ will benefit from State Party Funding and greater access to coverage in the media during next year’s elections.

With the financial clout and the high profile of Frank Stronach, ‘Team Stronach’ may be able to push on in the opinion polls. However, accusations of a ‘one man show’, ‘no real programme’, and ‘buying MPs’ seem to have stalled the initial bandwagon. Pre-launch the ‘party’ was polling between 6%-16%, currently 9%-11% – is this consolidation or the limit of Franks appeal?

The Austrian Pirates: Their ship seems to have already been sunk (sorry I just couldn’t resist). From polling as high as the mid-teens in the summer, they are now registering 2% consistently – 4% is the minimum required to secure seats in the Parliament.

Neos: Launching today on a liberal platform. They are aiming to secure 10% of the vote. There are others also trying to grab attention & they will need to be able to draw social & economic liberals together to make the impact they want.

What about the voters?

I’ve commented in this blog on a number of occasions about the fact that up to 20% of voters have said they would support a new Party. Team Stronach has made the first successful grab for that vote. But current trends in the polls strongly suggest that even more voters are willing to switch their support (either between the traditional Parties or the newcomers). It seems increasingly possible that the ‘winner’ of the 2013 election could secure less than 25% of the popular vote – a year ago the discussion was about having +30% to ensure first spot. Unless of course one or more Parties can make a convincing case to voters that they can do better but at present most are trying to hold on to what they’ve got.

 

 

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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’:

oe24.at 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.

Links

Website: http://neos.eu/

Twitter: @neos_eu @matstrolz

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