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 19) internationally. Its score on this measure is unchanged since 2014.

Corporatist economic strategies have helped keep labor and industry aligned, reducing conflict and boosting the country’s export sectors. Nevertheless, the EU single market is viewed by many as a threat, and the political inability to pursue a consistent policy for the integration of migrants and refugees has served as a drag on the country’s labor market.

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. The 2016 budget featured only a very small structural deficit, however.

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 incomes 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 15). Its score on this measure has improved by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

The mass influx of refugees in recent years 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. Integration of migrants and refugees is proving difficult both in schools and in broader society.

A mix of public and private health insurance provides for generally good coverage and outcomes across the country. Doctors complain of being overworked and underpaid, with many young physicians leaving the country. While preschool services have improved, insufficient supply combined with the design of family-support policies often leave mothers with child-care duties.

Inequality and social divides have deepened, hampering growth. Recent secondary-school reforms have not performed as hoped, but a new round of reforms appears promising. After heated debate, the government agreed to the Canada-EU trade agreement, and has shown new openness to policies seeking to prevent mass migration through development aid.

Environmental Policies

Despite a history of environmentally conscious decisions, Austria’s focus on growth gives it middling overall scores with regard to environmental policy (rank 20). Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

While public opinion has pushed the government to be in the vanguard of international environmental protection, the country in fact failed to meet its Kyoto commitments. This in part due to failures to shift to rail-based goods transport, which has kept vehicular CO2 emission rates very high.

Lobbyist action has also led to policies keeping carbon-market prices low, further diminishing pressure to reduce industrial greenhouse-gas emissions. However, public opinion has sustainably shifted to support 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 middle ranks with regard to quality of democracy (rank 19). Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

Voting rights are well developed, and civil rights and political liberties are generally well protected. Efforts to rein in political-party campaign spending have been undermined by loopholes in transparency laws. Presidential candidates, deemed to be individuals, are exempted from party-financing laws.

Some discrimination against women and minorities is evident, and police forces sometimes use violence in interactions with non-citizens. The growing migrant minority’s inability to participate politically is also seen as a kind of discrimination. Right-wing populist parties have increasingly instrumentalized social and economic anxieties, blaming migrants and refugees for negative developments.

The broadcast- and print-media sectors are highly concentrated. A major recent bank collapse exposed links between the financial and political sectors, leading to some prosecutions.



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. However, a new system of interministerial working groups promises to improve strategic capacity.

A decline in the government-coalition parties, illustrated by the failure of both to reach the final round in 2016’s presidential vote, has exacerbated tensions and undermined communication coherence. The federal states are constitutionally weak but politically influential. Delegated tasks are typically funded adequately.

Societal consultation with economic and all major religious groups is legally formalized. A new legal basis for the Islamic community promises to improve consultation mechanisms with this fast-growing population. The country is slow to engage with some international initiatives, using the country’s neutral status as a pretext for staying aloof.

Executive Accountability

With growing legislative oversight powers and a well-integrated civil society, Austria scores well overall (rank 9) in terms of executive accountability. Its overall score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

Opposition parties have strategically exercised their relatively new investigative powers, 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, but is underfunded.

While only a minority of citizens are well informed on policy issues, referendum-based decision-making is becoming increasingly popular. The media market is highly concentrated. High-quality media face financial difficulties, while free newspapers with non-transparent commercial or political ties are becoming more common, and often-biased social media are growing in significance.

The party landscape is shifting, but most parties have focused on electoral appeals rather than inter-party democracy. Traditional economic and religious interest groups are usually consulted on important measures, with some notable recent exceptions.
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