The right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) won a startling 25.8 percent of the votes in the October 10 City Council election in Vienna, which is also a state in the federal republic. Theoretically, this entitles the FPÖ to help form a coalition state government. For 15 years, however, the media have typecast the party as reactionary because it opposes immigration and the intrusive policies of the European Union.
In 1996, the Freedom Party had won 29 out of 100 seats in the Vienna City Council, making it the third-largest party for the second time in a row. In the 2000 national elections, the FPÖ, led by the controversial Jörg Haider, garnered enough votes to form a new center-right national coalition with the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), which traditionally has ties to the Catholic Church. Horrified by this legitimization of the party, several EU member states imposed “sanctions” on Austria for its politically-incorrect exercise of democracy. Haider defected from the FPÖ in 2005 to found the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) and “went back to Carinthia,” his base in the southernmost state, where he continued as governor until his death in a car crash in 2008.
Meanwhile, in 2001, the leftist Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) took 52 seats in the Vienna City Council; in October 2005, it won 49.1 percent of the votes, increasing its majority to 55 seats. The recent election dramatically reversed this trend. With 44.3 percent of the vote, the SPÖ retained only 49 seats. The FPÖ, in second place now with 27 seats, is evidently recovering from its temporary disarray.
The European media insistently portray the Freedom Party as the “Party of No”: no to EU membership for Turkey, no to increased EU levies and regulations, no to unrestricted immigration. Yet even a cursory reading of the 12,500-word FPÖ platform shows that the party has a program for the country that belies the media’s alarmist description.
The first article of the FPÖ program defines freedom as “maximum responsible self-determination.” An individual’s freedom is limited by his neighbor’s, and legally protected freedoms are accompanied by responsibilities. Natural social groupings (family, nation) also have rights to freedom. The platform views private property in almost distributist terms as “an expression of the actualization of freedom” that fosters “the best possible development of all creative forces.”
Article 2 acknowledges man’s preeminent place in creation and declares human dignity inviolable. “Human life must not be called into question, threatened or destroyed by euthanasia and the like….” Only the center-right ÖVP makes a stronger “respect life” statement in its platform by mentioning the preborn explicitly; still, the Freedom Party explicitly rejects samesex unions, while the ÖVP waffles in its discussion of the family. In enumerating threats to personal dignity, the FPÖ characteristically mentions discrimination and ideological pressure in the same breath.
Article 3, “Austria First,” recalls that “Austria is not merely a pragmatic association” but rather a diverse population united in a democratic, federal state with laws, its own natural resources, and a distinctive cultural heritage. Austrians have a right to their homeland (Art. 4). Austria is historically multi-ethnic, but the overwhelming majority of its citizens are culturally German—a point repeated in the articles on foreign policy, education, and the arts and sciences. “Because of its topography, its population density, and its limited resources, Austria is not a country suited to immigration…. Multicultural experiments are rejected, because they mischievously foment societal conflicts.”
“The hierarchy of values shaped by Christianity and the ancient [Greco- Roman] world is the most important intellectual foundation of Europe” (Art. 5). This statement seems bland, but secularist France fought fiercely to keep any mention of Christianity out of the EU constitution. The FPÖ platform acknowledges also “the influence of Judaism and other non- Christian religions.” Unfortunately, this consensus of core values, the basis for European legal systems, is endangered by “radical Islam, hedonistic consumerism, aggressive capitalism, the increase of occultism…[and] nihilism.” Therefore, the Freedom Party prefers that religious instruction continue at public schools, rather than dubious “ethics courses.”
Article 14 describes Austria’s cultivated fields and forests as a time-tested form of environmental stewardship that not only supplies food, important renewable resources and jobs, but even supports tourism. The FPÖ calls for the re-nationalization of EU agricultural and forestry policies. The planned expansion of the EU eastward could lead to the financial collapse of Austrian farming.
The two longest articles in the Freedom Party platform deal with “Democratic Reform” and “Free Market Economy.” The FPÖ calls for an end to the cozy relationships between political parties and certain sectors of industry, especially banking, and recommends subsidiarity as a way to dismantle bureaucratized systems of entitlement while maintaining a social safety net. It proposes an independent fourth branch of government—the Budget Office—to restore fiscal responsibility, and a tax structure that would make ecologically harmful manufacturing practices more expensive and labor less costly.
The rector of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Msgr. Anton Faber, went out on a limb to defend the Freedom Party’s right to have a say in the future of the city-state. He noted that many Catholic voters are dissatisfied with the answers of other political parties to their questions about education, health care, and integration.