Austrian parties moving away from EU, but Austrians turning more positive towards EU

Gen­er­al remarks regard­ing the pres­ence of EU and EU relat­ed top­ics in Aus­tria as well as com­ments on rel­e­vant issues: Since the new Aus­tri­an coali­tion gov­ern­ment between the Aus­tri­an Social Demo­c­rat Par­ty (SPÖ) and the con­ser­v­a­tive Aus­tri­an Peo­ples Par­ty (ÖVP) came into pow­er in Decem­ber 2008 (after the ear­ly elec­tions held in Sep­tem­ber 2008) there has been a gen­er­al change regard­ing the eval­u­a­tion of the impor­tance of the Euro­pean Union. Austria’s Chan­cel­lor Wern­er Fay­mann had announced back in June 2008 – when he was Min­is­ter for Traf­fic, Inno­va­tion and Tech­nol­o­gy – to sub­mit all EU treaties in the future to a nation­al ref­er­en­dum, this was inter­pret­ed as a gen­u­flec­tion to the largest and there­fore most pow­er­ful – pop­ulist – news­pa­per “Kro­nen­zeitung”.11See: “Gov­ern­ment Cri­sis”, in: Insti­tut für Europäis­che Poli­tik (Ed.): EU-27 Watch, No. 7, Sep­tem­ber 2008, Berlin, p. 254, avail­able at: http://www.eu-consent.net/content.asp?contentid=522 (last access: 17 Feb­ru­ary 2009). The prob­lem with this announce­ment was that it under­mined the government’s orig­i­nal pro-Euro­pean posi­tion and the coali­tion treaty. Even­tu­al­ly this deci­sion sig­ni­fied that a news­pa­per some­how ordained a polit­i­cal par­ty a posi­tion that seemed oppor­tune to them. To com­plete this infor­ma­tion it also should be said, that the “Kro­nen­zeitung” waged a cam­paign against the deci­sion of the Aus­tri­an gov­ern­ment to send troops to the mis­sion in Chad. This of course did not only cause the end­ing of the coali­tion gov­ern­ment under Chan­cel­lor Alfred Gusen­bauer, but also caused a split with­in the Social Democ­rats. This is also the rea­son why for­mer Min­is­ter for Euro­pean and Inter­na­tion­al Affairs Ursu­la Plass­nik, renounced to con­tin­ue her work under new Chan­cel­lor Wern­er Fay­mann and left her post to Michael Spin­de­leg­ger. Dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign Wern­er Fay­mann also empha­sised nation­al issues and left most­ly every­thing relat­ed to the EU behind.

With all this in mind, and adding the fact that the aver­age Aus­tri­an news­pa­per read­er sticks to the news­pa­per “Kro­nen­zeitung” and is high­ly EU scep­ti­cal, as well as high­light­ing the impor­tance of nation­al pol­i­tics and inter­na­tion­al occur­rences, there is a per­ma­nent neglect in cov­er­ing EU top­ics. There might be an arti­cle on meet­ings, con­fer­ences etc., but if the issue does not con­cern Aus­tria direct­ly or its inter­ests, it’s near­ly impos­si­ble to find any com­ments or opinions.

Nev­er­the­less Austria’s EU scep­ti­cism has decreased in the last six to twelve months by sev­er­al per­cent points. Aus­tria left the last place to become the fourth-last in row, but is still under the EU-27 aver­age. Rea­sons for this rather bet­ter result can be found in the EU’s per­for­mance dur­ing the con­flict between Geor­gia and Rus­sia, which was main­ly per­ceived as pos­i­tive, and the steps tak­en by the Euro­pean Union to alle­vi­ate the effects of the world wide finan­cial and eco­nom­i­cal crisis.

A study con­duct­ed by the “Gallup Insti­tute” among 1,003 Austrian’s between Octo­ber and Novem­ber 2008, had also oth­er sur­pris­ing out­comes. 47 per­cent of Aus­tri­ans say that EU mem­ber­ship is a pos­i­tive thing for Aus­tria, this means an increase of 11 per­cent, also 45 per­cent of Aus­tri­ans see the EU as a good pro­tec­tion against the neg­a­tive effects of glob­al­i­sa­tion (mean­ing a plus of 15 per­cent!). How­ev­er, regard­ing the EU enlarge­ment, that did take place over the last years, it is still not approved by 67 per­cent, although the Aus­tri­an econ­o­my and there­fore also the Aus­tri­an labour mar­ket have prof­it­ed far more than oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries. But it has been com­mu­ni­cat­ed poor­ly to the domes­tic pop­u­la­tion, Richard Küh­nel, the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the EU-Com­mis­sion in Aus­tria sees here a huge lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the indus­try and the peo­ple.22“EU – Skep­sis: ‘Öster­re­ich hat die rote Lat­er­ne abgegeben’”, Die Presse, 21 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://diepresse.com/home/politik/eu/445775/print.do (last access: 17 Feb­ru­ary 2009).

An arti­cle pub­lished in the Aus­tri­an news­pa­per “Der Stan­dard” last Decem­ber made a very inter­est­ing obser­va­tion in the Aus­tri­an polit­i­cal land­scape, which under­lines what has been already observed: The devel­op­ments over the last months have shown very clear­ly that Aus­tri­an pol­i­tics and politi­cians have start­ed to look more inward. This means that they do not longer look at what is going on in Europe and out­side the Aus­tri­an bor­der, instead they have been turn­ing more and more away from the EU and seem to be more focused on nation­al pol­i­tics than any­thing else. This devel­op­ment can be observed not only among the gov­ern­ing par­ties, but also among the oppo­si­tion. A diplo­mat who pre­ferred to stay anony­mous said that this devel­op­ment was fret­ting.33“Öster­re­ichs EU-Kurs vor ein­er Zeit­en­wende”, Der Stan­dard, 2 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://derstandard.at/?url=/?id=1227287635736%26sap=2%26_pid=11405515 (last access: 17 Feb­ru­ary 2009).

    Footnotes

  • 1See: “Gov­ern­ment Cri­sis”, in: Insti­tut für Europäis­che Poli­tik (Ed.): EU-27 Watch, No. 7, Sep­tem­ber 2008, Berlin, p. 254, avail­able at: http://www.eu-consent.net/content.asp?contentid=522 (last access: 17 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
  • 2“EU – Skep­sis: ‘Öster­re­ich hat die rote Lat­er­ne abgegeben’”, Die Presse, 21 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://diepresse.com/home/politik/eu/445775/print.do (last access: 17 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
  • 3“Öster­re­ichs EU-Kurs vor ein­er Zeit­en­wende”, Der Stan­dard, 2 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://derstandard.at/?url=/?id=1227287635736%26sap=2%26_pid=11405515 (last access: 17 Feb­ru­ary 2009).