Freedom Party of Austria
|Freedom Party of Austria|
|Party leader||Heinz-Christian Strache|
|Parliamentary leader||Walter Rosenkranz|
|Political ideology|| Conservatism|
|International affiliation||Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom|
The Freedom Party of Austria (German: Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs; FPÖ) is a conservative, Euroskeptic, and right-wing populist party in Austria. Along with other right-wing parties in Europe, is has seen large success in the early 21st Century.
According to political analyst Thomas Hofer, the FPÖ's politically incorrect style and policies inspired many other right-wing populist and nationalist parties across Europe and helped make those beliefs mainstream in the continent.
The FPÖ was founded in 1956 by Anton Reinthaller, a former SS officer who had served in the post-Anschluss government in Austria that collaborated with the Nazis. It was a successor to the League of Independents, "a nationalist party representing the interests of the Nazis." Despite this, and despite the fact that it attracted former Nazis, the FPÖ was not an extremist or neo-Nazi party, and it had liberal and nationalist factions.
Early in its history, the party was pro-German, and it supported limited government and free enterprise. Between the 1950s and 1980s, the liberal faction of the party strengthened, and in 1979 it became a member of Liberal International and attempted to form an alliance with the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) during the 1970s. It briefly participated in a government coalition with the SPÖ between 1983 and 1986.
The FPÖ was involved in a notable incident in 1975 when its president, Friedrich Peter, was accused by Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal of having been a member of the First SS Infantry Brigade in World War II which executed 10,513 people, including 8350 Jews, in the Soviet Union in 1942. While Peter admitted membership in the SS brigade he rejected charges that he had ever participated in murders or persecution, and Wiesenthal himself conceded that there was no evidence that Peter had ever personally executed anyone. Peter himself was a member of the liberal faction of the FPÖ and had led the effort to align the party with the SPÖ.
Party under Haider
In 1986, Jörg Haider, a 36-year-old member of the nationalist faction of the party and leader of the Carinthian FPÖ chapter, was elected party president. He shifted the party to the conservative right. During his presidency, the FPÖ performed significantly and increasingly better in elections, overtaking the moderately conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) as the second largest party in Carinthia in 1989, for example. In that election, Haider was elected president of the province, and he served until resigning in June 1991. He served again from 1999 to his death in 2008.
The FPÖ received 27 percent of the vote in the 1999 parliamentary elections, becoming the second largest party in Austria, over the ÖVP. In a surprise move, and after unsuccessful negotiations with the SPÖ, the ÖVP formed a coalition government with the Freedom Party. Due to a backlash from the liberal European political establishment, Haider was forced to resign his position as president.
During the governing coalition, tensions arose between Haider and his allies, who were becoming increasingly pragmatic, and the more radical party base. The tensions cumulated in 2005, when Haider, most FPÖ MPs, and all cabinet members left the party to form the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ).
The BZÖ performed well in the 2006 and 2008 elections, but the FPÖ actually increased its share of the vote in the 2006 elections. After Haider's death, the BZÖ shifted towards the political center, and in 2010, many of its members rejoined the FPÖ. Heinz-Christian Strache became the leader of the FPÖ.
In the first round of the 2016 Austrian presidential election, FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer received 35.1 percent of the vote, which at the time was the party's best result in a national election in history. Although Hofer lost the run-off election by less than one percentage point, Austria’s Constitutional Court ordered a re-run of the election due to irregularities in mail-in ballots. The election was eventually postponed until December 4, 2016. Although Hofer lost the election, being defeated by leftist Green Party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, the party vowed to fight on.
2017 elections and Austrian government
Going into the 2017 legislative elections, the FPÖ was at first place according to opinion polls until Sebastian Kurz became the leader of the ÖVP and overtook the party. While the FPÖ appeared likely to still reach second place in the election, the Social Democrats narrowly outperformed it in the election. However, the election was still a victory in some ways for the FPÖ, as it still increased its share of the vote, and it achieved a large ideological victory in causing the ÖVP to adopt positions on immigration and Islam very similar to the FPÖ. The FPÖ formed a coalition deal with the ÖVP and was able to take several key government agencies, including the interior and defense ministries.
In January 2018, the FPÖ-controlled interior ministry created a new border force to "ensure orderly border management." By June 2018, the number of deportations had risen by 36% compared to the previous year. In July 2018, Transportation Minister Norbert Hofer banned the option of taking driving tests in Turkish. FPÖ Defense Minister Mario Kunasek appointed Robert Brieger, who warned that mass migration is the country's greatest threat, as Chief of Staff of the army. In October 2018, the ÖVP–FPÖ government announced Austria would withdraw from the United Nation's global migration compact. In December 2018, the Austrian government announced it would enact a policy blocking asylum by default for migrants to arrive through the help of smugglers.
The FPÖ supports increased border security and reducing immigration. It strongly opposes Islam and its increasing influence in Europe. It supports banning the Burqa, which might potentially act as a slippery slope for religious liberty restrictions, though it does support maintaining crucifixes in public schools and courts. Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, a member of the FPÖ, proposed prosecuting radical Islamists if they advocate for Sharia Law over Austrian constitutional law.
The FPÖ leans pro-Life and opposes same-sex "marriage", euthanasia, and gun control. However, it opposes capital punishment. The party has mixed economic policies, as it supports cutting taxes for individuals and businesses, but it also supports raising Austria's minimum wage and establishing a minimum pension rate. The party also supports individual liberty, as opposed to expansive government control, and supports greater free speech rights.
Compared to many other Euroskeptic parties, the FPÖ has a soft and moderate position on the socialist and globalist European Union, only supporting an exit referendum if Turkey joins or if the EU threatens to develop into a country.
In June 2017, FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache called for moving the Austrian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and he has spoken against anti-Semitism. Despite accusations of the party being "anti-Semitic", it holds strong pro-Israel positions, something that Sebastian Kurz of the ÖVP also affirmed. The FPÖ also has Jewish lawmakers in its ranks. Despite all of this, Israel has maintained a non-engagement policy with the party because of its past connections with former Nazi figures and with some of its members allegedly having antisemitic and racist leanings. In 1999, Israel recalled its ambassador to Vienna for three years because the party joined the coalition.
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