Policy Performance


Economic Policies

Despite a stable economy overall, a variety of taxation and sustainability concerns place Austria’s economic policy in the upper-middle ranks (rank 17) internationally. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point since 2014.

Corporatist economic strategies have helped keep labor and industry aligned, boosting the country’s export sectors. Nevertheless, the EU single market is viewed by many as a threat, and there is considerable uncertainty regarding the public transfers necessary to manage the recent flux of migrants.

Sustainability concerns are rising, related to budget deficits and the use of funds for older generations’ needs at the expense of research and other investments. Tension between the mainstream coalition partners on tax and deficit-spending issues did not provide incentive enough for ambitious budgetary reform.

Inequality levels are quite high, and the income-focused tax system serves little redistributive role. Unemployment rates are showing a rising trend, and tax burdens for low-income families have increased. Open borders and labor migration have contributed to falling real income for blue-collar workers.

Social Policies

Austria’s social policies show significant strengths and weaknesses, placing it in the upper-middle ranks in international comparison (rank 17). Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

The mass wave of refugees, totaling nearly 100,000 asylum-seekers in 2015, has introduced major stresses into Austria’s policies and politics. Asylum rules have been tightened, and anti-immigrant feeling has risen in recent years, founded on an undeclared alliance between organized labor and the far right.

A mix of public and private health insurance provides for good coverage and outcomes across the country, though costs are a concern. Doctors complain of being overworked and underpaid, with many young physicians leaving the country. A lack of child-care facilities and family-support policies often leaves women with care duties. Inequality and social divides have deepened, hampering growth.

The education system performs under its potential, hampered by stalled reforms, though teacher training has improved. The country is occasionally slow in fulfilling development-related commitments, and attitudes toward international-trade standards are increasingly parochial.

Environmental Policies

Despite a history of environmentally conscious decisions, Austria’s focus on growth has left it in the lower-middle ranks with regard to environmental policy (rank 24). After a slight dip last year, its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

The country has failed to meet its Kyoto Protocol objectives, in part due to strong and continuing increases in vehicular emissions. Lobbyist action has prompted policies keeping carbon-market prices low, further diminishing pressure to reduce industrial greenhouse-gas emissions.

A recent environmental-pollution scandal has put pressure on the government to foster and safeguard environmental standards despite industry resistance. Public opinion is shifting behind the need for environmental protection more generally.



Quality of Democracy

With free, fair elections, but some concerns with regard to media structure and discrimination, Austria falls into the upper-middle ranks with regard to quality of democracy (rank 18). Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Voting rights are well developed, and civil rights and political liberties are generally well protected. However, right-wing populist parties have increasingly instrumentalized social and economic anxieties, blaming migrants and refugees for negative developments. Police forces have sometimes used violence against migrants without resident permits.

Efforts to rein in political-party campaign spending have been undermined by loopholes in transparency laws. The creation of regional administrative courts has strengthened judicial review, but some discrimination against women and minorities is evident.

The broadcast- and print-media sectors are highly concentrated. Recent political scandals have increased the public’s awareness of corruption, with some prominent former politicians brought to trial and convicted. However, office abuse remains comparatively infrequent.



Executive Capacity

With a Federal Chancellery that coordinates but is not superior to other ministries, Austria’s executive capacity falls into the middle ranks in international comparison (rank 23). Its score on this measure remains unchanged relative to 2014.

The country’s ministers, including the chancellor, are all deemed to be of equal status. The structural necessity for coalition governments demands collegiality, but limits planning, self-monitoring and public-debate capabilities. Ministers are more loyal to party agendas than to overall government strategies. Tax reforms and the refugee crisis have challenged the coalition’s informal-coordination capacities.

Societal consultation with economic and all major religious groups is legally formalized. A new legal basis for the Islamic community has been proposed, which could improve consultation mechanisms with this fast-growing population.

The federal states are constitutionally weak but politically influential. Delegated tasks are typically funded adequately.

Executive Accountability

With growing legislative oversight powers and a well-integrated civil society, Austria scores well (rank 7) in terms of executive accountability. Its overall score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Opposition parties have exercised their new power to establish investigative committees even against the majority’s will, thus expanding parliamentary oversight powers. However, party discipline and government-party majorities more generally limit executive monitoring in practice. The Court of Audit is becoming more outspoken on issues of political oversight.

The media market is highly concentrated, and only a minority of citizens are well informed on policy issues. Free newspapers with non-transparent commercial or political ties are becoming more common, while high-quality media face financial difficulties.

Traditional economic and religious interest groups are usually consulted on important measures, with some notable recent exceptions.
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