Citizenship and Lifelong Learning Monitor 2018 – Austria

On the eve of the Austrian general elections, SOLIDAR Foundation has just published the Austrian case study, developed in the framework of the Citizenship and Lifelong Learning Monitor 2018. Austria was confronted with a political scandal in May 2019 which forced Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to call snap elections after losing a no-confidence vote. The scandal revolved around a video showing Austria’s Vice-Chancellor and president of the far-right FPÖ party, Heinz-Christian Strache, being open to provide lucrative public contracts to Russian oligarchs, back in the summer of 2017, in exchange for campaign support in the 2017 general election.

On 29 September, Austrians will go to the polls, putting an end to the interim, technocratic government, deciding the composition of Austria’s new National Council, and implicitly the composition of the new government. Ex-Chancellor Kurz’s ÖVP party is expected to win the elections with over 30% of the vote going their way, but falling short of a majority and placing the FPÖ party in a favourable position to rejoin ÖVP in government. One in five voters is expected to vote for FPÖ, with a third of voters still being undecided, demonstrating the resilience of FPÖ in the aftermath of its corruption scandal, and presaging a perilous potential return to power for the far-right movement in Austria. Norbert Hofer, recently elected as FPÖ leader for the upcoming elections, represents the more moderate face of the FPÖ, but this does little to change the hard-stance populist rhetoric of the party.

With a voting age of 16 and with populism gaining tremendous traction in Austria, citizenship education has become more relevant, and more necessary to ensure the protection of minorities and the maintenance of a democratic system that cares for all its inhabitants. SOLIDAR Foundation’s report points in this direction, highlighting the need for increased transparency and cooperation in the dealings of the government with NGOs and CSOs. FPÖ’s Hofer, a long-standing friend of Hungary’s PM, Viktor Orbán, is likely to put more strain on the already shrinking civic space which reinforces the need to build up institutional structures to ensure that CSOs can cooperate with the government regardless of future political differences. We hope for a high turnout that will reject the exclusionary identity politics operated by FPÖ and will serve as a start for building a trust-based relationship among CSOs and the governments to come.