Politics Member States

Austria: Well-off, but uneasy

2 October 2013
The New York Times New York

"Happy Wien" - Detail from a SPÖ party billboard for the 1959 local elections

"Happy Wien" - Detail from a SPÖ party billboard for the 1959 local elections

After the September 29 general election, Austria’s grand coalition will remain in power, despite a drop in support for the country’s two largest political parties, who gained little credit for the outgoing government’s good management of the financial crisis and unemployment.

Palpably prosperous Austria is one of Europe’s winners: It boasts the continent’s lowest unemployment and despite world financial crisis and Eurozone turbulence is still eking out growth, attached as it is to Germany’s robust economy and profiting as it does not just from the European Union but especially from the opening of its erstwhile Hapsburg hinterlands after the Iron Curtain fell in 1989.

Yet in elections last weekend, parties who embrace a peculiarly Austrian strain of rightist populism still notched up more than a quarter of the vote — slightly down from 2008, when the rightist Jörg Haider, who died just two weeks later in a car crash, retained sway, but significant nonetheless of Europe’s malaise.

It was a sobering message for the pro-Europe government — the two biggest parties are partners in a centrist marriage of left and right that has governed for much of the last 30 years. Although they have navigated Europe’s economic crisis with some acknowledged skill, they got no credit and each posted their worst result since 1945.

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