Freedom Party of Austria

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The Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei sterreichs, abbreviated to FP) is an Austrian political party usually associated with the name of Jrg Haider. The FP is generally regarded as a populist party and often classed as a Euronationalist party. It promises stronger anti-immigration laws, stricter law enforcement and more funds for families.

Due to a secession of many prominent party members, the FP is currently (April 2005) in turmoil, with an unclear future.

Contents

Origins and history

The Freedom Party was founded in 1955 and had its roots in the Pan German movement, which included both elements of liberalism and nationalism. It absorbed the political currents of former parties such as the Landbund and the Greater German People's Party of the First Republic. Its immediate predecessor was the Federation of Independents (Verband der Unabhngigen – VdU), which had obtained 12% of the electorate in 1949 but later collapsed after internal strife.

Even though many of the FP's leading proponents such as Anton Reinthaller and Friedrich Peter were former Nazis, as a third party it had a broad appeal among voters who felt uncomfortable both with the perceived deference to the Catholic Church of the People's Party and the fairly left wing socialism of the Social Democrats at that time. During the following decades, its adherents included anti-clerical liberals, business representatives striving for more economic liberalism and German nationalists, some of whom were sympathetic to some Nazi policies. Even today, the lower ranks of the party organisation are largely made up of members of German-nationalist Studentenverbindungen. However, this hardly ever stopped other parties from cooperating with it, e.g. Bruno Kreisky's minority government (19701971) could only survive because the FP agreed to tolerate it.

In 1980, the FP's liberal wing gained control under the leadership of Norbert Steger, who entered into a coalition government with the Social Democrats in 1983. Since results of local elections and polls showed that this threatened the party's existence, discontent with the party leadership grew, which enabled Jrg Haider to take over the party leadership at the Innsbruck convention of 1986 with the help of the party's German-nationalist wing. Social Democratic Chancellor Franz Vranitzky subsequently announced new elections and then entered into a coalition with the People's Party.

Jrg Haider

Jrg Haider was the leading figure of the FP between 1986 and 2001 and soon became one of the most controversial European politicians - mostly because of his dubious dealing with Austria's National Socialist history.

In 1970 Haider became the leader of the FP youth movement, where he was perceived to be a liberal. As a federal deputy in Carinthia he gained some notoriety, and popularity, in attacking linguistic privileges of the Slovenian minority. Haider rose rapidly through the party ranks, becoming party leader in 1986.

The Freedom Party attracted protest votes and those who desire no association with the other major parties. The party's mixture of populism and anti-establishment themes propagated by its aggressive leader steadily gained support over the years. It attracted about 27% of the vote in the 1999 elections.

Jrg Haider became governor of Carinthia in 1989 for the first time, but had to resign in 1991 following a remark that the Nazis had pursued better employment policies than the current coalition government in Vienna. He regained the post in 1999 and has held it since then.

In 1993, the remaining liberals within the FP, including four members of the National Council (lower house of the parliament), seceded from the party to found the Liberal Forum. This party managed to remain in parliament until 1999.

As a matter of fact, most Austrian observers do not consider Jrg Haider as the die-hard nationalist as which he is sometimes presented outside the country, but rather as a populist who sometimes plays with chauvinist and anti-immigrant sentiments in order to attract votes. However, beside the populist group around Haider, the party still has a large nationalist wing with a problematic relationship to Austria's Nazi past.

The coalition government

In the 1999 parliamentary election, the FP received 27% of the votes, more than in any election before; by a small margin (about 400 votes, with 4.6 million Austrians voting) they even beat the VP (the conservative "People's Party"), which had until then always taken first or second place in national elections.

In early 2000, the FP joined a coalition government with Wolfgang Schssel's VP. The Freedom Party had to take a junior part in the coalition, as otherwise the VP would have continued their coalition with the SP. There was a great degree of outrage both within the country and internationally. The heads of government of the other 14 EU members decided to cease cooperation with the Austrian government, as it was felt in many countries that the cordon sanitaire against coalitions with parties considered as right-wing extremists, which had mostly held in Western Europe since 1945, had been breached. For example, for several months, other national leaders refused to shake hands and socialize with members of the Schssel government. This was described as "sanctions" by representatives of the VP and FP, and supporters of the government often blamed social democrats and President Thomas Klestil for them, and questioned their loyalty to the country. The EU leaders soon saw that their measures were counterproductive, and returned to normality during the summer of 2000, even though the coalition remained unchanged.

In February 2000, Haider stepped down from the leadership of the Freedom Party. This was widely seen as a cynical move to appease foreign criticism, as he was alleged to control the party from behind the scenes. He retained the governorship of Carinthia.

Even though the FP members of the government and the party leadership at that time consisted largely of politicians such as Susanne Riess-Passer and Karl-Heinz Grasser, whose career had so far depended entirely on Haider's populism, Haider himself appeared to be increasingly discontent with the situation, as his party began to lose in regional and local elections, since it was no longer in the position to gain votes by criticizing the government. This caused a dispute within the party, which escalated at a special party convention at Knittelfeld that caused three leading members of the government to resign.

In the November 2002, general elections in Austria resulted in a landslide victory (42.27% of the vote) for the People's Party. The Freedom Party, which had been stronger than the People's Party in 1999 , was reduced to 10.16% of the vote, less than half its previous share. Nevertheless, the coalition government of the People's Party and Freedom Party (now with 79+18=97 seats in Austria's 183-seat parliament, down from 52+52=104 in 1999) was renewed in February 2003.

In September 2003, regional elections, notably in Upper Austria, also brought heavy losses, with the Austrian Green Party for the first time receiving more votes than the Freedom Party. The elections to the European Parliament in June 2004 reduced the Freedom Party's share of the vote to a mere 6%. Similar results were achieved at several state and local elections.

Thus, the FP seems to have largely lost its appeal to voters, except in Carinthia, where it gained 42.5% in the state elections of March 7, 2004. However, that success seems to be resting entirely on Haider's personal charisma, which appears to be rapidly losing its effectiveness in the rest of the country.

Secession of Jrg Haider and the BZ

During the last couple of months, the FPs has been increasingly ridden by internal strife between populist and nationalist factions. Its bargaining position within the coalition government has already been considered to be low by many political observers for some time, which has allowed chancellor Wolfgang Schssel to pursue largely policies favored by his own party.

On April 4, 2005, several prominent party members (among them former chairman Jrg Haider, his sister and current chairwoman Ursula Haubner, vice chancellor Hubert Gorbach, as well as most of the 18 representatives in parliament) left the party and founded a new party called "Alliance for the future of Austria" (Bndnis Zukunft sterreich" — BZ). Regional party organizations seem to be split between the two factions. The future of the party after the split, which may well result in new elections in Austria, seems very uncertain at present.

On April 23, 2005, Heinz-Christian Strache was elected as new chairman of the party, following Hilmar Kabas, who had taken this position temporarily after Ursula Haubner's resignation.

Timeline

The bar on the left shows the FP's party chairman, while the bar on the right side shows the Chancellor of Austria at that time, with the color of his party affiliation.

<timeline> ImageSize = width:400 height:500 PlotArea = width:350 height:450 left:50 bottom:50 Legend = columns:3 left:50 top:25 columnwidth:50

DateFormat = yyyy Period = from:1958 till:2005 TimeAxis = orientation:vertical ScaleMajor = unit:year increment:4 start:1958

  1. there is no automatic collision detection,
  2. so shift texts up or down manually to avoid overlap

Colors=

 id:FP  value:blue    legend:FP
 id:VP  value:gray(0.25) legend:VP
 id:SP  value:red    legend:SP

Define $dx = 25 # shift text to right side of bar Define $dy = -4 # adjust height

PlotData=

 bar:BPO color:red width:25 mark:(line,white) align:left fontsize:S
 from:1958  till:1978 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:FP    text:Friedrich Peter
 from:1978  till:1980 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:FP    text:Alexander Gtz
 from:1980  till:1986 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:FP    text:Norbert Steger
 from:1986  till:2000 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:FP    text:Jrg Haider
 from:2000  till:2002 shift:($dx,-18)    color:FP    text:Susanne Riess-Passer
 from:2002  till:2002 shift:($dx,-17)    color:FP    text:Mathias Reichold
 from:2002  till:2004 shift:($dx,-18)    color:FP    text:Herbert Haupt
 from:2004  till:2005 shift:($dx,-23)    color:FP    text:Ursula Haubner
 from:2005  till:2005 shift:($dx,-19)    color:FP    text:Hilmar Kabas
 from:2005  till:end shift:($dx,-10)    color:FP    text:Heinz-Christian Strache
 bar:BReg color:red width:25 mark:(line,white) align:left fontsize:7
 from:1958  till:1959 shift:($dx,-3)    color:VP    text:Raab II
 from:1959  till:1960 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:VP    text:Raab III
 from:1960  till:1961 shift:($dx,-2)    color:VP    text:Raab IV
 from:1961  till:1963 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:VP    text:Gorbach I
 from:1963  till:1964 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:VP    text:Gorbach II
 from:1964  till:1966 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:VP    text:Klaus I
 from:1966  till:1970 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:VP    text:Klaus II
 from:1970  till:1971 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:SP    text:Kreisky I
 from:1971  till:1975 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:SP    text:Kreisky II
 from:1975  till:1979 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:SP    text:Kreisky III
 from:1979  till:1983 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:SP    text:Kreisky IV
 from:1983  till:1986 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:SP    text:Sinowatz
 from:1986  till:1987 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:SP    text:Vranitzky I
 from:1987  till:1990 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:SP    text:Vranitzky II
 from:1990  till:1994 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:SP    text:Vranitzky III
 from:1994  till:1996 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:SP    text:Vranitzky IV
 from:1996  till:1997 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:SP    text:Vranitzky V
 from:1997  till:2000 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:SP    text:Klima
 from:2000  till:2003 shift:($dx,$dy)    color:VP    text:Schssel I
 from:2003  till:end shift:($dx,$dy)    color:VP    text:Schssel II

</timeline>

External links

fr:Freiheitliche Partei sterreichs no:Freiheitliche Partei sterreichs sv:Freiheitliche Partei sterreichs

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