European Parliament Elections in Austria

The election campaigns in Austria differed this time to the type of campaigns seen in Slovenia: whereas the political situation in Slovenia was referred as changeable due to the last events concerning the prime minister, the current political scene in Austria allows a wider room for debating European issues.

In comparison to the last European elections in 2009, the political establishment focused more on European topics this time. There were still domestic policy issues, which sometimes dominated the headlines, for example the last bank scandal, which will cause costs of approximately 13-17 billion Euro for the Austrian state. Nevertheless, almost every party highlighted the importance of the EP elections. Except for the nationalistic FPOE, every party, which is represented in the Austrian Parliament, also campaigned for a united Europe.

The long established parties, the Austrian People’s Party (OEVP) and the Austrian Socialist Party (SPOE) had difficulties in defending their leading positions due to the last bank scandal and due to the general discontent with the old establishment; the last surveys expected a race for the first place between three parties, OEVP, SPOE and FPOE.

The other parties, for example the Greens or the NEOS- a liberal party which plans to belong to ALDE in the European Parliament- attacked the European policy of the last five years, mainly for the failures in the financial crisis and the lack of a common foreign policy.

All in all, the media attention for the EP elections campaigns was well grounded, the election was the main issue in the last weeks. Just speaking for the situation in Vienna, a lot of debates or workshops took place. In my opinion, the majority of the population was aware of the coming elections. According to recent surveys, every second eligible voter would elect.

Some impressions of the campaigns so far: 

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This is one billboard of the People’s Party. The man on the front is Othmar Karas. In general, he is seen as one of the most capable politicians in European issues. He has been member for the EP since 1999, he also became vice president of the EP in 2012. Nevertheless, his party doesn’t support him like somebody would expect it. He sometimes criticises the leading forces in his party and complains about overacted national issues. The strange thing about this billboard is the fact that there lacks the People’s Party logo. After the last bank scandal he tries hard to cut all connections to the domestic policy issues. Also the text just focuses on Karas himself: ‘’Vote directly for Karas’’ (note: there is the possibility of direct votes in Austria).

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This billboard belongs to the Socialist Party. It shows its top candidate Eugen Freund. He is a political newcomer, until last year he was news anchorman at the biggest Austrian television company. Nevertheless, the primary popularity of his candidacy due to his former profession has mostly vanished after some of his controversial statements revealing that he sometimes lacks basic political facts. However, the Socialist Party tries to focus on work-related and social issues, also criticising the austerity policy, which was also supported by the party itself during the crises. The text on the billboard just means ‘’social instead of careless’’ (it rhymes in German  language). 

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This is one of the billboards of the FPOE, the Austrian ‘’liberal’’ Party. Most Europeans associate it with the former leader of the party, Joerg Haider. Nowadays, the FPOE is still very nationalistic and Eurosceptic. Nevertheless, according to surveys the party was supposed to get 20+ percent of the votes. You may be able to translate the text yourself, it means: ‘’Turkey not present (in the EU), better for Austria, better for Europe’’ (it also rhymes in German). As you can see one of FPOE’s methods is to stoke fear or just be populist. The FPOE is the typical protest party. A lot of people ignore the fact that the content of its political aims are partly far right. The actual top candidate was recently replaced: he compared the EU with the Third Reich and said that the Third Reich seems to him liberal in comparison to the countless regulations of the EU. He also named the EU a ‘’Negerkonglomerat’’ and committed other racist sayings. After a phase of denial he finally had to resign from the European Parliament elections.   

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The last billboard of this article belongs to the Green Party. The man on the billboard, Ernst Strasser, isn’t a candidate of the Green Party, as he formerly belonged to the People’s Party delegation in the EP. During his time as EP member, he was tricked by journalists, who pretended to be lobbyists. In return of a certain amount of money, he had agreed on influencing a legislation process in favour of the lobbyists. The journalists revealed his corruptibility; Strasser now faces a criminal trial. The message of the Green Party is: ‘’People are more important than lobbies’’. The Green Party stands for a united Europe but also takes critical positions. The party really focuses on European issues. Some of the main campaign topics are the TTIP or the European migration policy. The Green party is traditionally characterised as a left party, but the Green party itself is criticized for the agreement on ESM in the Austrian parliament. The strongest competitor of the Green Party is NEOS - an uprising new party, which stands for a new political style in Austria. The prognoses expect that the NEOS, which was founded recently in 2012, could receive about 15 percent. NEOS is head to head with the Green Party.

The article about EP election in Austria is the final one in this series.

In conclusion, the various national campaigns reveal common ground but also significant differences. First of all, although the citizens elect members for the European Parliament, national policy issues dominate the campaigns. The amount of national topics differs among the states, but there is not a single one, which solely focuses on European debates. Especially in the Eastern European countries, the campaigns often refer to the last or the coming national elections like in Hungary or in Bulgaria.

Regarding the content of the campaigns, one main issue in every state was of course the austerity policy of the last five years and its consequences. On the other hand, the majority of people criticises the lack of citizen-friendly policy in Brussels.

Interesting is the fact that the European Parliament itself launched a ‘’voting campaign’’ for the elections in these countries, where the attention of the national parties for the EP elections is limited.

All in all, the billboards show one necessity: European politicians have to contribute to a stronger focus on European problem solving. If they succeed in creating a more sensible awareness for European politics, the next campaigns for the EP elections in 2014 might be dominated by European issues.