Austria

   

Policy Performance

#20

Economic Policies

#20
With a growing economy and an ongoing shift in economic focus, Austria’s economic policy falls into the middle ranks (rank 20) internationally. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point since 2014.

The economy has followed European trends, with stronger growth and declining unemployment. The new center-right government plans to weaken labor organizations, portending future conflict and a potentially less productive social partnership.

Fiscal consolidation and banking restructuring policies are ongoing. The new government hopes to reduce taxes on businesses while also balancing the budget. Redistribution mechanisms have increasingly favored older citizens at the expense of younger workers and public research funding. Inequality levels remain quite high.

Unemployment is closely associated with low educational levels. Open borders and labor migration have contributed to falling real incomes for blue-collar workers. The EU single market continues to be viewed by many as a threat, and the country still lacks a consistent policy approach to managing migration.

Social Policies

#18
Austria’s social policies show significant strengths and weaknesses, placing it in the upper-middle ranks in international comparison (rank 18). Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

The influx of refugees in recent years has introduced major stresses into Austria’s policies and politics. Asylum rules have been tightened, and though many refugees have left, xenophobic sentiments remain prominent. Integration of migrants and refugees is proving difficult, with schools in particular failing to produce acceptable outcomes for children who lack German as a first language.

A mix of public and private health insurance provides for generally good coverage and outcomes across the country, although the decentralized system is producing federal-state policy tensions. Some regions have introduced new fees for previously free child-care centers. Moreover, 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. Despite some improvements in teacher-training standards, school reforms have been blocked on the left and the right. The share of women in Parliament improved following the most recent elections, and the courts have legalized same-sex marriage as of 2019.

Environmental Policies

#25
Despite a history of environmentally conscious decisions, Austria’s focus on growth places it in the lower-middle ranks with regard to environmental policy (rank 25). Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

While public opinion has pushed the government to be in the vanguard of international environmental protection, the country has in fact trailed its European peers in carbon reduction. This in part due to increases in international transit and a failure 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. One of the new governing parties has repeatedly denied the existence of human-induced climate change, dimming the outlook for future improvements.

Democracy

#19

Quality of Democracy

#18
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 18). 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, with overspending evident in the last election. Presidential candidates, deemed to be individuals, are exempted from party-financing laws.

Discrimination against women and minorities remains problematic. 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, while the political acceptance of Islam is becoming more tenuous.

The broadcast- and print-media sectors are highly concentrated. The role of social media in elections, particularly with regard to untruthful reporting and media-fairness guarantees, has become increasingly controversial. The incoming coalition government plans to make plebiscites easier to call.

Governance

#14

Executive Capacity

#24
With a Federal Chancellery that coordinates but is not superior to other ministries, Austria’s executive capacity falls into the lower-middle ranks in international comparison (rank 24). Its score on this measure remains unchanged relative to 2014.

While the governing-coalition change could shift specific practices, the basic governing structure remains roughly the same. 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 tend to be more loyal to party agendas than to overall government strategies.

Inter- and intra-party veto players have significant influence, and undermine strategic capacity. The entry into government of the FPÖ, which lacks traditional corporatist ties, could diminish the previously strong consultation with economic and religious groups. The FPÖ may also be more resistant to adapting to EU standards and collaborating with international partners.

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

Executive Accountability

#11
With ample legislative oversight powers and a well-integrated civil society, Austria scores well overall (rank 11) in terms of executive accountability. Its overall score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

Opposition parties have comparatively new investigative powers, expanding parliamentary oversight capabilities. However, party discipline and government-party majorities more generally limit executive monitoring in practice. The Court of Audit is underfunded, while facing an increasing workload.

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 politically biased media control large circulations. The state-run broadcaster has been strongly criticized by the right-wing party now in government.

Nomination authority within the center-right ÖVP has become highly centralized, but other parties retain a higher degree of internal democracy. Under past governments, traditional economic and religious interest groups have been routinely consulted on important measures, with some notable recent exceptions.
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