History of Austria

THE GRAND COALITION AND THE AUSTRIAN PEOPLE'S PARTY CODA, 1955-70

Foreign Policy in the Late 1950s and 1960s

After the signing of the State Treaty, Austria's foreign policy concerns focused on three issues: South Tirol, European economic integration, and the meaning of neutrality. The status of the ethnically German province of South Tirol had been an Austrian concern ever since the province's transfer to Italy after World War I. Austria hoped that Italy's participation on the losing side of World War II might open the door to the Allied powers awarding the disputed territory to Austria. But the strategic interests of the Western Allies after the war forced Austria to settle for a 1946 agreement in which Italy promised South Tirol autonomous rights.

In 1948, however, Italy undercut the autonomy of the South Tiroleans by expanding the autonomous region to include the entire province of Trentino, the total population of which was two-thirds ethnically Italian. The South Tiroleans appealed to Austria for assistance. The General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) adopted a resolution in 1960 instructing Italy and Austria to enter into negotiations on the issue. Austria's right to intervene on behalf of the South Tiroleans was thus affirmed but brought no results until 1969. In the intervening years, South Tirolean activists undertook a terrorist bombing campaign, which, Italy alleged, Austria facilitated through lax border controls. The 1969 agreement affirmed South Tirol's autonomous rights, including the use of German as the official language. The International Court of Justice at The Hague was given the right to judge disputes over implementation of the pact, and Austria waived its rights to intervene.

Although the OEEC continued to function as a coordinating body for European economic integration after the end of the Marshall Plan in 1952, six of its members sought closer economic integration. In 1957 they formed the European Economic Community. Because Austria's main trading partners, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and Italy, belonged to the EEC, Austria would have liked to join that organization. But provisions in the EEC agreement imposed obligations in time of war, which were viewed as inconsistent with Austrian neutrality. Further, EEC membership also raised questions regarding unification with Germany, which was forbidden by the State Treaty. Austria thus joined six other countries in a looser, strictly economic association, the European Free Trade Association, established in 1960. This was not an entirely satisfactory solution, and in 1961 Austria sought limited, associated membership in the EEC.

The Soviet Union objected to Austria's association with the EEC as a violation of Austria's neutrality. Austria responded that because its neutrality was a matter of Austrian law, Austria alone had the right to judge what were or were not violations. Nonetheless, Austria proceeded cautiously to avoid needlessly provoking the Soviet Union. EEC members also questioned Austria's membership. Italy blocked Austria's application to the EEC in 1967 because of the dispute over South Tirol. French president Charles de Gaulle was cool toward Austrian membership, both because of his desire to maintain relations with the Soviet Union and because of his concern that it might strengthen West Germany's position to the detriment of that of France. Austria's persistence, the resolution of South Tirol's status, and de Gaulle's retirement, however, paved the way for an agreement between Austria and the EEC in 1972.

When Austria adopted a policy of neutrality in 1955, its leaders made it clear that political neutrality did not mean moral neutrality. Austrian sympathies clearly lay with the Western democracies, an attitude that was reinforced by its opposition to the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Nonetheless, Austria attempted to cultivate good relations with the Soviet bloc countries, which accounted for about one-sixth of Austrian exports in the mid-1960s. Austria thus benefited when dÚtente eased relations between East and West in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Austria's efforts to make itself a bridge between East and West-- an idea the Austrians had proposed as early as 1945--however, remained a largely unfulfilled ambition.

Elections and Parties

The outcome of the four parliamentary elections between 1955 and 1970 hinged on relatively small changes in the division of the votes. The ÍVP consistently held the largest number of seats in the Nationalrat and thus leadership of the ÍVP-SPÍ coalition, the so-called grand coalition, even though in the 1959 election it polled fewer votes than the SPÍ. Prior to the 1966 election, the share of the vote received by the ÍVP fluctuated between 44 and 46 percent. By achieving an increase to 48 percent in 1966, the party was able to win eighty-five parliamentary seats, an absolute majority. Julius Raab served as chancellor between 1953 and 1961, when he was replaced by Alphons Gorbach. Gorbach brought some younger politicians into the party's leadership, where they began to press for reforms. One of these younger men, Josef Klaus, replaced Gorbach as chancellor in 1964 and headed the ÍVP government between 1966 and 1970. His rise, coming about the same time as the deaths of Raab and Figl, marked the passing of party leadership to a younger generation that had not experienced the trauma of the 1930s.

The SPÍ saw its share of the vote fluctuate between 42 and 45 percent over the course of the four elections. Although the SPÍ held the position of junior partner in the coalition, the electorate consistently gave the presidency of the republic to the SPÍ following reinstitution of direct elections for that post in 1951. Theodor K÷rner, who had succeeded Renner in 1951, died in office prior to the 1957 presidential election. Schńrf, who had been chairman of the SPÍ since 1945, handily won the 1957 election and was reelected in 1963. When he died in 1965, he was succeeded by the Socialist mayor of Vienna, Franz Jonas.

The VdU was reorganized in 1956 as the Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Ísterreichs--FPÍ). Its share of the vote ranged from about 5 percent to 8 percent. The party drew on a diverse base of voters that included liberals, anticlerical conservatives, monarchists, and former Nazis.

The KPÍ was hurt by its association with the Soviet Union and by events in Eastern Europe, particularly the Soviet invasion of Hungary. The party's already small share of the vote continued to decline, from about 4.5 percent in 1956 to just over 3 percent in 1962. After 1959 the KPÍ held no seats in the Nationalrat.

Domestic Tranquillity under the Grand Coalition

The pattern of political cooperation established during the occupation years and the economic reconstruction that took place through the Marshall Plan laid the foundation for eleven years of political tranquillity and economic prosperity. In 1957 the government informally established the Parity Commission for Prices and Wages. This commission soon far exceeded its intended function of setting prices and wages and effectively established the country's basic economic policy. By bringing together the representatives of the major economic interest groups--the social partners--and requiring unanimous decisions, the commission became a powerful stabilizing force in Austrian society.

The effort of the SPÍ to broaden its electoral base helped resolve long-standing questions about the status and role of the Roman Catholic Church. The party realized that its inheritance of liberal anticlericalism and Marxist hostility toward religion stood in the way of attracting supporters who were devout Roman Catholics. As the SPÍ moved away from Marxist rhetoric, party leaders began to bridge the gulf between the SPÍ and Roman Catholics. In this eased atmosphere, the coalition partners were able to put the divisive issue of the 1934 concordat behind them. A new agreement with the Vatican was signed in 1960.

The overall effect of the ÍVP-SPÍ grand coalition and the social partnership represented by the Parity Commission, which brought together major economic groups, was to limit parliament's power. Most major economic and social decisions were made outside parliamentary channels and simply ratified by the Nationalrat, usually unanimously. Because no major policy differences were at stake, elections mainly served to determine the proportion of the patronage positions that would be accorded to the coalition partners. As the country progressed from the trauma of World War II and the occupation, members of both major parties began to express dissatisfaction with the coalition and the toleration of mismanagement and abuse of public office that the system appeared to condone. In the 1966 electoral campaign, ÍVP leader Klaus called for an end to the grand coalition. After winning an absolute majority, however, the ÍVP proposed terms for continuing the coalition, which Kreisky and other SPÍ leaders unsuccessfully urged their party to accept. Despite the breakup of the coalition, the Klaus government introduced no significant breaks with past policy. The ÍVP's four years in office were thus a coda to the grand coalition before the long period of SPÍ domination under Kreisky began in 1970.

Austria History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress