Global Independent Analytics
Lionel Baland
Lionel Baland

Location: Belgium

Specialization: Euroscepticism, Patriotic parties of Europe

Austria : Why is the Liberal Party FPÖ Considered Nationalist?

Among the nationalist parties in Europe, each one has its own political matrix.

The FPÖ, the Freedom Party, is the leading political party in Austria in all of the opinion polls, and takes part in leading two of the nine Austrian States. FPÖ is a liberal party. The background to this situation is the liberal revolution of 1848.

Paris, the capital of France, was the site of a liberal revolution on February 1848. This revolution contaminated the German states. The revolutionaries wanted freedom of the press and freedom of assembly and a democratic constitution. They had social ideas too, as the liberals of the time, and they called for the unification of all of the numerous German states. In May 1848, the first national assembly of the German people met in Frankfurt am Main. Trying to realize the unification of all German speaking people in a single state, the Parliament had to fight against the conservatives who defended the numerous states of the princes. In addition, to build this future state, the liberals had to dismantle the Habsburg Empire because it included different populations, many of whom were not German speaking.

Inside the assembly, two tendencies appeared: The “Great Germans,” who were in favor of a great German solution and wanted to build a state for all German speaking people, and the “Small Germans,” who were in favor of small German solution and tried to temporarily include only the German speaking territories outside of the Habsburg Empire. In the end, the reactionaries won against the nationalist liberal-democrats. But they had to make some concessions toward the latter and evolutions unfolded. Paradoxically, the conservatives along with Otto von Bismarck built the German state in 1871, obtaining the goal of the “Small Germans.”

In the Austrian Empire, there were different revolutions in 1848-49 but the conservatives, using force, took back the power. Nevertheless, the liberal and national political family played an important role in Austrian politics in the 19th century and in the first decades of the 20th century.

The VdU (Verband der Unabhängigen - Federation of Independents), a national and liberal political party, was founded in 1949. But there were troubles in the party, partially between nationalist and liberal members. In 1956, the FPÖ appeared. The VdU was then dissolved and integrated into the new party. The national wing led the FPÖ.

In 1980, Norbert Steger from FPÖ's liberal wing became the president of the party. He tried to make his party socially acceptable. The FPÖ got bad electoral results but paradoxically entered the national government with the socialists (SPÖ) in 1983. Norbert Steger became the Vice-Chancellor and the FPÖ had some ministers in the government.

In 1986, at the congress of Innsbruck (Tyrol), Jörg Haider, who was first active in politics in Carinthia and built a political stronghold there, won against Norbert Steger and took over the party at the national level thereby becoming the president of the FPÖ. It was the triumph of the national wing against the liberal one. The two wings, however, stayed in the same party.

When Jörg Haider took over the leadership of the FPÖ in 1986, some opinion polls predicted the party will soon disappear and would not make it into parliament as it will be unable to reach the 4% threshold or win a direct mandate needed to gain deputies. However, the party started to win one election after another thanks to the strong nationalist orientation given to it by Jörg Haider. In 1993, an important part of the liberal wing that didn't agree with the strong nationalism, left the FPÖ and founded the Liberal Forum (LiF). This new party was in the 1994 parliamentary elections close to winning 6 % and the FPÖ - 22.5 %.

In 1999, the FPÖ got 26.9 % of the votes and at the beginning of 2000 joined the government along with the conservatives of the ÖVP. When in 2005 Jörg Haider decided to found a new party that was more moderate (the BZÖ), the FPÖ ministers switched to this party. The FPÖ moved to the opposition in turn.

In the 2006 national elections, BZÖ and FPÖ got bad results and didn’t take part in the next government. In the national 2008 elections, the FPÖ and BZÖ got good results and were close to building a three party coalition with the conservatives (ÖVP). But then Jörg Haider was killed in car accident. In 2012, a liberal party was founded: NEOS – The New Austria. It was allied with the Liberal Forum and absorbed it in 2014. In the national 2014 elections, NEOS got 5 % and FPÖ - 20.5%. But there are still people from the liberal wing inside the FPÖ and the matrix of the party is still liberal. For example, the former chairman of the party Norbert Steger, who is from the liberal wing, is a FPÖ member of the board of the national public radio-television, the ORF. In March 2014, the party held a ceremony for its 70th anniversary in a palace in Vienna. The FPÖ is still the inheritance of the national-liberal revolution of 1848.

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