Austria in the 1970’s

By | December 20, 2021

Reconfirmed with the elections of 1956, 1959 and 1962, the great coalition between the Catholics of the Oesterreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP) and the Social Democrats of the Sozialistische Partei Oesterreichs (SPÖ)) presented itself, at the beginning of the 1960s, as a “permanent coalition”: the data fundamental in the political system of the Second Republic. Established in 1945 (initially with the tripartite formula, with the inclusion, that is, of the Communist Party) as a national government, to solve the problems of reconstruction and to guarantee the integrity and state existence and to regain sovereignty, the coalition had been maintained even after the Staatsvertrag of 1955: institutional fulcrum of Austrian consociative democracy.

If the imperatives of reconstruction and the international ones had failed, there still remained, at least in the perception of the political elites, the need to guarantee, with the system of the grand coalition, the coexistence of the two enemy subcultures, the Catholic and the socialist: the coalition also continued to have the function of preventing a renewal of the direct confrontation between Catholics and Socialists, which had led, between 1927 and 1934, to the death of the first Republic. The grand coalition was nothing more than the parliamentary-governmental aspect of the Proporzdemokratie, or consociative democracy, established to manage a political system characterized by a strongly fragmented political culture, by strong subcultural integration (verzuiling) and by an extraordinary parallelism of the political, cultural, socio-economic cleavages: the two Reichshälften (half of the state) “black” and “red”, were held together through the institutions, procedures, behavioral norms of consociative democracy, suitable first of all to provide guarantees. The very stability of the coalition, which reduced elections to the mere democratic legitimacy of a pre-established formula, the amicabilis compositio, with its institutions such as the coalition committee (Koalitionsausscuß) and its procedures such as Junktim, its mechanisms, including the Proporz excelled, the subdivision, with a precisely proportional system, of the state apparatus and the public economy between “blacks” and “reds”: all this was a fully consolidated system around 1960. This consociative democracy had its special institutions in the social field -economic (Kammerstaat): the existence of a strong industrial public sector and the stable government cooperation between Catholics and Social Democrats pushed the main pressure groups of agriculture, industry, commerce and trade unions, organized in the Kammerns and permanently connected to the two large parties, to focus on the continuous exercise of influence on the economic policy of the state, according to an equal model.Institutionalized access of the Kammerns to the administration channels, their recognized right to stipulate agreements on wages and prices, then transfused by the federal government into legal norms, commissions such as economic and that on prices and wages, are its main characteristics. For Austria history, please check

In the same first five years of the 1960s, the costs of this system clearly emerged: immobility and growing inability to act. The stipulation of the coalition agreements became more and more difficult, three times a regular budget was not agreed, and the other three came to fruition essentially due to situations of internal weakness of one of the two parties that advised against the risk of a crisis. That the ÖVP asked for more votes in 1962 to mitigate the rigid mechanism of the coalition, that then in the coalition agreement of 1963 an “extra-coalition space” was established, including matters on which it had been impossible to agree and on which he left the vote in parliament free, these were the first signs of the crisis of the grand coalition. But this one received its fatal blow from the re-emergence of a problem by now clearly anachronistic: the return to Austria of Otto of Habsburg, according to his request in 1961. Not even the great constitutional implications would have justified the dimensions of the conflict that broke out between Catholics and Socialists: this was just the right occasion for the explosion of many tensions. For the first time an alternative to the grand coalition was being discussed again: a small coalition of the Social Democrats with the liberamationals of the a propitious occasion for the explosion of many tensions. For the first time an alternative to the grand coalition was being discussed again: a small coalition of the Social Democrats with the liberamationals of the a propitious occasion for the explosion of many tensions. For the first time an alternative to the grand coalition was being discussed again: a small coalition of the Social Democrats with the liberamationals of the Freiheitliche Partei Oesterreichs (FPÖ), hitherto marginalized as heirs of the supporters of the Anschluß.

After a weary three years, the coalition broke up following the 1966 elections, which gave the ÖVP a majority. The passage from the grand coalition to the series of single-color governments, with alternation, was not, however, the result of a strategic operation clearly set up in this sense. The taboo of coalition and balance was still too strong: during the election campaign both parties had promised to renew the coalition. After the success, the ÖVP opened negotiations with the SPÖ, trying to translate its new position of strength into revisions of the political line (relations with the EEC, economic policy, etc.) and into an enlargement of the sphere of power through a redistribution of competences of ministries, above all by aiming to reduce the Austrian coalition to a normal government agreement, without a coalition pact and without permanent character. Only the final refusal of the socialists opened the way to the first post-war single-color, the second cabinet Klaus (with Toncic-Sorinj as foreign minister, replaced in 1968 by Waldheim).

However, this turning point did not affect the entire Austrian political system: below the government-parliamentary level, Austrian consociative democracy remained largely unchanged: not only was the previous legislation not subject to revision, but neither was the administration purged and, as the 1967 agreement for state-owned industries showed, the Proporz system between “blacks” and “reds” remained fully in force. If before there had been a bit of Bereichsopposition (sectorial opposition), now there was, under the new quasi-bipartisanism, a lot of Bereichskoalition. However, Austrian domestic politics had by now come into motion. If the end of the coalition had also been prepared by the advent, in the ÖVP, of a generation of reformers willing to confront rather than compromise, the latent crisis of the SPÖ had resulted, after 1966, in a process of openness and modernization., which repeated what the SPD had already accomplished, later translated on a personal level, in the leadership of the charismatic Kreisky. After a long period of exceptional stability (between 1953 and 1963 the margin within which the percentage of the ÖVP fluctuates was 4.4%, that of the SPÖ 2.0%), the Austrian electorate had bought – as had first seen in 1966 – considerable mobility and was sensitive to the ongoing transformation of the SPÖ towards a catch all party reformer: the change has opened the prospect of alternating power.

In the local elections of autumn 1967 the Catholic party lost the majority, dividing the seats in the Bundesrat equally with the socialist rivals; Federal Chancellor Klaus then reworked his government. But the 1970 elections to the Nationalrat they marked the victory of the Socialists, now a party of relative majority. Kreisky then formed a minority government, also playing the card of the FPÖ, which, feeling the influence of the German liberal party, attenuated the “national” element to give space to the liberal one and insert itself into the Austrian political game. In the early elections of 1971 the Kreisky government (with the independent Kirchschläger for Foreign Affairs, succeeded by Bielka in 1974) obtained an absolute majority, a declared objective. The re-election of the socialist Jonas (1971) and, after he died, the election of the foreign minister Kirchschläger (1974), government candidate for the post of federal president, confirmed the tradition of the socialist presidents of the second republic, consolidating Kreisky’s position. The new legislature saw the conclusion of the free trade agreement between the Austria and the EEC and the revaluation of the shilling (1973). Still little touched by the world economic crisis, the Austrians returned to the polls on 4 October 1975 to reconfirm the absolute majority in the Kreisky government. The transition to a system of alternation, with a clear distinction of roles between majority and opposition, although many forms of cooperation persist, can now be considered as acquired for Austria (see table 4).

The foreign policy of the Austria has its foundation in neutrality according to the Swiss model, the sine qua non of the Staatsvertrag, sanctioned by the constitutional law of 1955: it traces the limits to the republic’s foreign policy, both in the context of East-West relations and in the face of integration European organizations, referring it to European organizations not too politically characterized (Council of Europe, etc. or to East-West cooperation bodies, as well as to the UN, as preferred contexts of action. The election of former foreign minister Waldheim to UN Secretary General (1972) was an acknowledgment of this policy.

However, Austrian foreign policy has for a long time been centered on disputes with Italy, and to a much lesser extent with Yugoslavia, over the situation of the respective minorities. The question of Alto Adige (see in this Appendix) had returned to the fore in the late 1950s: in 1959-60 the Austrian Foreign Minister formally raised it to the UN General Assembly, which invited the two sides to resume negotiations. The Italian-Austrian negotiations were counterpointed by a growing South Tyrolean terrorism, which the Austria she was generally accused of not fighting hard enough. The strategy of confrontation – especially set by the secretary of state Gschnitzer – led the Ballhauseplatz into an impasse: isolation both at the UN (1961) and within the European framework (economic measures by Italy against the Austria in 1961, Italian veto to the community aspirations of Vienna in 1967). After the prelude of the Commission of Nineteen, the settlement of the South Tyrol dispute took place on the basis of the “package” with the Moro-Waldheim agreement (November 1969). The contrast with Yugoslavia for the situation of the Slovenian minority in Carinthia is reversed, although this is numerically and legally weaker than the German one south of the Brenner.

Faced with the process of European integration, the obligation of neutrality places severe limits on the dynamics of the Austrian economy, which has its major partners in the FRG and in Italy. Member of the EFTA, the. he aimed at building a “bridge” with the EEC, until the revision of British policy advised them to seek membership or at least association. Membership supported by the ÖVP and the business circles, seen instead with distrust by a part of the socialists and in any case opposed by the Soviet Union. The troubled search for a place in Europe in the process of integration, corresponding to the needs of the economy and compatible with neutrality, resulted in 1972 in the free trade agreement with the EEC.

Austria in the 1970's