The Austrian People's Party

Austria Table of Contents

The Austrian People's Party (Ísterreichische Volkspartei-- ÍVP) was created in Vienna in 1945 by leaders of the former Christian Social Party (Christlichsoziale Partei--CSP). The founders of the ÍVP made sure that the new party was only loosely tied to the Roman Catholic Church, unlike its predecessor. The ÍVP emerged as a conservative, democratic party based on Christian values that sought to include diverse interests. From 1945 to 1966, ÍVP politicians filled the post of chancellor in a series of grand coalition governments with the SPÍ (from 1945 to 1947, KPÍ members were also in the cabinet). From 1966 to 1970, the ÍVP ruled alone and thereafter entered a long period of opposition to the SPÍ, which ended in early 1987 when the two parties formed a new coalition government.

The ÍVP periodically has revised its party program. During the 1945-55 period, the party advocated low taxes, reduced government expenditures, a balanced budget, and low wage increases. The ÍVP favored a limited government role in the economy. After much debate, in 1965 the party adopted the Klagenfurt Manifesto, which referred to the ÍVP as an "open people's party" of the "new center." The manifesto laid less emphasis than previous ones on the priority of personal property in a democracy. It also stressed the importance of expanding economic welfare and educational opportunities for all social groups.

After suffering losses in the 1970 parliamentary election, the ÍVP entered the opposition for the first time. A wide-ranging discussion of principles took place at all levels of the party. The outcome of this process was the 1972 Salzburg Program, which described the ÍVP as a "progressive center party" dedicated to integrating Austria's different social groups. The program reaffirmed the party's commitment to a free and independent country, a multiparty democracy, and a social market economy combining free enterprise and some government intervention. As of 1993, the Salzburg Program had not been replaced as the basic statement of ÍVP ideology.

The ÍVP had a less centralized form of party organization than the SPÍ as of the early 1990s. At the top is the party presidium, composed of the party chairman, the chancellor and vice chancellor (if they are members of the ÍVP), the general secretary, up to six deputies to the chairman, the leader of the party's parliamentary faction, and eight additional members drawn from the provinces and interest groups affiliated with the party. The party holds a national conference at least once every three years. Roughly 600 delegates from the provinces and the party's auxiliary organizations attend the conference, which elects the party chairman, the deputies, and the general secretary.

The auxiliary organizations play important roles in the ÍVP's internal workings. The key organizations are the League of Austrian Workers and Salaried Employees (Ísterreichischer Arbeiter- und Angestelltenbund--ÍAAB), the League of Austrian Business (Ísterreichischer Wirtschaftsbund--ÍWB), and the League of Austrian Farmers (Ísterreichischer Bauernbund--ÍBB). These organizations represent the ÍVP in the chambers of labor, commerce, and agriculture, respectively. Until 1980 the leaders of these three groups were automatically placed on the party presidium. However, this practice was abandoned after many party members complained about undue influence by interest groups over ÍVP affairs. This reform was yet another indication of the erosion in the influence of the traditional Lager over Austrian society.

The majority of ÍVP members acquire party membership indirectly via one of the auxiliary organizations. Because of indirect membership, it is difficult to arrive at a precise figure for total membership in the ÍVP. At the beginning of the 1990s, the combined membership of the three leagues was about 800,000. Adding to this figure members of the women's, youth, and senior organizations, a total membership of 1.2 million was attained. However, the ÍVP's actual membership was about onethird smaller than this because many individuals belonged to more than one league or subgroup.

The independence of auxiliary organizations affiliated with the ÍVP means that there is a fairly high degree of intraparty disagreement over policies compared with the SPÍ and other Austrian parties. One major cleavage exists between the ÍAAB, which represents the interests of working people in the ÍVP, and the ÍWB, which speaks for business interests. The farmers' group, the ÍBB, has clashed with the ÍWB over the issue of whether Austria should join the European Union. Tensions between the wings of the party remained high even in the early 1990s, despite numerous partywide discussions of ideology designed to bring about consensus. Some experts believe that the cohesion of the Catholic-conservative Lager will be endangered if the ÍVP does not achieve a higher degree of party unity than that prevailing in 1993.

Alois Mock, who came from Lower Austria, one of the party's strongholds, held the position of party chairman from 1979 to 1989. As the party struggled with declining vote totals, many in the ÍVP concluded that his uncharismatic leadership style was a hindrance to a recovery at the polls. Mock withstood pressure for his ouster after the party's poor performance in the national election of 1986, and his stature temporarily increased when he became vice chancellor and foreign minister in the coalition government formed in early 1987 with the SPÍ. Discontent with Mock resurfaced quickly, however, and there were also disturbing signs of party disunity. After the heavy losses incurred by the ÍVP in the provincial elections in the spring of 1989, Mock's opponents pressed again for his resignation. At an emergency summit in April 1989, Mock was finally convinced to step down as party chairman. He also relinquished the post of vice chancellor. His replacement in both positions was Josef Riegler, a member of the ÍBB from Styria.

Riegler had served as agriculture minister between 1987 and 1989 and was known as a consensus seeker who would be able to get along well with the SPÍ. Riegler was also interested in developing new approaches to environmental problems, and many in the party hoped this would help the ÍVP regain some of the voters who had deserted it for the environmental, or Green, parties.

However, the devastating results of the October 1990 national election, in which the ÍVP's share of the vote declined by 9 percent, proved that the party's problems went much deeper than who held the post of party chairman. In May 1991, Riegler decided not to run again for the party chairmanship. Erhard Busek, a well-known ÍVP politician who had headed the party's Vienna branch between 1976 and 1989, won the election to succeed Riegler. At the same time, the party conference voted to reduce the number of the chairman's deputies from six to two, a sign that party members wanted to curb the influence of the interest groups.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress