Austria. Amendments adopted in the country’s Islamic law of 1912 meant that Muslim congregations were banned from receiving foreign funding. The aim was to stave off radical Islamism, but many objected to Islam being treated differently than other religions. The law was initially instituted to give Muslims rights in the then-imperial Empire of Austria-Hungary.
The difficult refugee situation in Europe was brutally reminded when police in August found an abandoned truck with 71 dead people in the cargo area near the border with Hungary. Several people were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the smuggling and for leaving the refugees in the truck to their fate. Critics have pointed out that the lack of legal paths to Europe for asylum seekers paved the way for similar disasters.
The flow of people increased after the summer when railway stations were turned into refugee camps and train connections had to be canceled. In just a few autumn months, around 400,000 migrants arrived in Austria, one of the highest rates per inhabitant of any EU country. However, the majority went on to Germany; the number of asylum seekers in Austria during the first eleven months of the year was 70,000.
The refugee crisis caused many Austrians to help with clothing and food, but also contributed to continued increasing support for the right-wing extreme Freedom Party (FPÖ). In opinion polls, the party became the largest in the country with over 30% voter support and a substantial lead ahead of the traditionally largest parties, Social Democratic SPÖ and conservative ÖVP. FPÖ also performed very strongly in this year’s regional elections. In Burgenland, this led to the FPÖ forming a coalition with the SPÖ and in Upper Austria with the ÖVP. In Styria, almost three times FPÖ increased its electoral support and became equal to the other two, but they chose to form a so-called large coalition and exclude the xenophobic party.
According to COUNTRYAAH, Vienna is the capital of Austria which is located in Western Europe. FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache then aimed at the mayor’s post in Vienna, and also where FPÖ made its best result so far. However, SPÖ remained the largest party with close to 40% of the vote and Michael Häupl, who has been mayor since 1994, could remain.
- Also see AbbreviationFinder.org for Austria country abbreviations, including geography, history, economy and politics.
Contemporary History of Austria
Austria’s contemporary history is the country’s history from the 1990s until today. Austria joined the EU in 1995 and the Schengen Agreement in 1998. Since 1990, the country has seen increased support for immigration -critical and right-wing parties, and the two traditionally largest parties, the Conservative ÖVP and the Social Democratic SPÖ, have been declining.
In recent years, Austria has had to settle with the country’s past during World War II, and a law has been imposed to deny the existence of gas chambers and the Holocaust. Austrian society has also been shaken by serious abuse and abduction cases.
Member of the EU and introduction of the euro
Austria was instrumental in the formation of EFTA in 1959 and became associated with the EC through an agreement in 1973. Events in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s, and especially Germany’s gathering in 1990, after having been divided into Eastern and Western Europe. Germany, also changed Austria’s state law position. The country renounced several of its obligations from 1955, and in the summer of 1989, Austria applied for EU membership. The country negotiated with Sweden, Finland and Norway, and in the June 1994 referendum, 66.4 percent of voters voted for membership. On January 1, 1995, Austria became a member of the EU, and the country signed the Schengen Agreement in 1998.
Shortly after Austria joined the EU, the Austrian schilling, as the only currency of the new member states, became a member of the European Exchange Rate Cooperation (ERM). Following substantial savings plans to reduce the budget deficit, Austria was ready to join the EU’s Economic and Monetary Union from 1999, and thus joined the first pool of countries that exchanged their national currency with the euro in 2002.
Stricter immigration policy
The strongly right-wing party FPÖ (from 1995 called Die Freiheitlichen) led by Jörg Haider advanced strongly from the mid-1980s, although the party at the 1995 election had to notice a decline. The party is strongly critical of immigrants and has also captured much of the EU skepticism in the population, as well as a more general dissatisfaction with the established parties. In 1993, the FPÖ organized a “citizen initiative”, in which over 400,000 signed a demand to stop immigration and introduce stronger control of the country’s immigrants. The initiative was strongly criticized by the other parties and by the church, which led to a minority going out and forming a new, liberal party. Later that year, several people who had supported the immigrants’ case were injured by letter bombs, and in the next few years Austria experienced several cases of racially motivated acts of violence.
In the 1999 elections, FPÖ achieved its best ever national performance, becoming the country’s second largest party with 26.9 percent of the vote, exactly equal to the conservative ÖVP. Both parties received 52 seats in the National Assembly. The Social Democratic Party, SPÖ, received 33.1 percent of the vote and 65 seats in parliament, and retained its position as Austria’s largest party. However, FPÖ and ÖVP began negotiations on government formation, and in February 2000 the new government was ready, led by ÖVP’s Wolfgang Schüssel, after Haider resigned as FPÖ leader.
Boycott of the EU
The new government was met by large demonstrations in Austria and other European countries. The EU’s other member states and Norway, among others, ceased their relations with Austria at the government level. The background was the FPÖ’s nationalist and xenophobic politics and Jörg Haider’s various statements, among other things related to conditions during World War II.
After a few months, the EU countries canceled their political boycott of Austria, by the way the first of its kind in EU history. A specially appointed Commission of Inquiry had then concluded that the country complies with human rights and “common European values”. However, the government coalition disbanded in September 2002 following a series of internal disputes in the FPÖ. Since 1999, there were also several episodes inside the government that ended with the resignation of ministers.
By federations fashioned election later in the fall lost FPÖ two-thirds of its support from 1999. The coalition partner ÖVP had a similar procedure and was 42.3 percent parliament’s largest party for the first time since 1966. Also SPO (Social Democrats) went forward, to 36.5 percent. But ÖVP / FPÖ retained the majority, with 97 of the Bundestag’s 183 mandates. After lengthy exploration and negotiation rounds throughout the party scale, Wolfgang Schüssel formed a new coalition of ÖVP and FPÖ.