Austria

   

Policy Performance

#20

Economic Policies

#19
With a growing economy and a gradual shift in economic focus, Austria’s economic policy falls into the middle ranks (rank 19) internationally. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points since 2014.

The economy has followed European trends, with stronger growth and declining unemployment. The new coalition government passed working-hour legislation without the consent of organized labor, setting the stage for future conflict and a potentially less productive social partnership.

Fiscal consolidation and banking restructuring policies are ongoing, with the new coalition largely following its predecessor’s budgetary policies. 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 new governing coalition has obstructed implementation of the EU financial transactions tax.

Social Policies

#20
Austria’s social policies show significant strengths and weaknesses, placing it in the middle ranks in international comparison (rank 20). Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

The influx of refugees in recent years has introduced major stresses, but no consistent migration policy has emerged. Asylum rules have been tightened, and though many refugees have left, xenophobic sentiments have been politically instrumentalized. The integration of migrants and refugees is proving difficult in some settings, including schools and workplaces.

A mix of public and private health insurance provides for generally good coverage and outcomes, and the new government has begun centralizing the health system. A physician shortage is prompting growing concerns. An insufficient supply of child-care centers, combined with the design of family-support policies, often leaves mothers with child-care duties.

Inequality and social divides have deepened, hampering growth. The new government has rolled back school reforms aimed at increasing access for disadvantaged students. The share of women in parliament improved following the most recent elections, and the courts legalized same-sex marriage as of 2019.

Environmental Policies

#24
Despite a history of environmentally conscious decisions, Austria’s inaction on emissions policies places it in the lower-middle ranks with regard to environmental policy (rank 24). Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

The new government has proven less committed than its predecessor to restrictions on carbon-dioxide emissions. It has increased the speed limit on highways, and is seeking to speed up approval for projects deemed to be in the “national interest,” potentially bypassing environmental regulations. Emissions from transport, industry and commercial sources have continued to rise.

Lobbyist action has also led to policies keeping carbon-market prices low, further diminishing pressure to reduce industrial greenhouse-gas emissions. The government has remained committed to the Paris climate agreement despite some contradictory signals.

Democracy

#17

Quality of Democracy

#15
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 15). 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. Government efforts to restrict some Islam-linked traditions (e.g., women’s headscarves) have raised questions of discrimination and basic rights. 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. The role of social media has become increasingly controversial, and the government has made efforts to deal with hate speech. The independence of the public broadcaster has been called into question with new reforms being drafted.

Governance

#15

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 is unchanged relative to 2014.

The new coalition government streamlined the cabinet’s performance, with the chancellor and his deputy monopolizing public messaging. Intra-governmental disputes were played down, with a strong focus on “message control.” A new level of “secretary generals” was installed above ministry department heads, reducing ministry and civil servants’ autonomy.

Inter- and intra-party veto players continue to have significant influence, undermining strategic capacity. The entry into government of the FPÖ, which lacks traditional corporatist ties, diminished the role of pre-legislative consultation. An absence of long-term strategy prevents any systematic ex post evaluation of policy.

The federal states are constitutionally weak but politically influential. Delegated tasks are typically funded adequately. The FPÖ’s euroskepticism has led to more conflict with mainstream EU policies, and greater support for Visegrád-state positions.

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 has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Opposition parties have comparatively new and growing 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 but independent, and the data-protection office also acts independently.

The new coalition government promised to lower the threshold for securing a plebiscite, but did not follow up during the review period. The media market is highly concentrated. Government-party criticisms of the state-owned media have raised concerns about planned structural reforms. Open-government policies are relatively narrow.

While nomination authority within the center-right ÖVP has become highly centralized, the SPÖ has given party members a stronger role in internal decision making following its election loss. Traditional economic and religious interest groups have been routinely consulted on important measures, with some notable recent exceptions.
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