5 Things you need to know about the EU elections in Austria

5 Things you need to know about the EU elections in Austria

Patrizia Reidl and Christina Trapl April 2019

On Sunday, May 26, Austrian MEPs will be elected to the European Parliament. Of the total of 705 MEPs, 19 will be appointed by Austria – one more compared to the current mandate. Of the current 18 Austrian MEPs in the European Parliament, the Conservative Party (ÖVP) and Social Democrats (SPÖ) each hold five seats, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) four, the Greens three, and the neoliberal party (NEOS) one.  

Below are the five things you need to know about the EU elections in Austria:

1. Less than two months before the European elections, there is still very little interest in the elections in Austria. However, it is very much seen as a test for Austria, since it is the only nationwide election between the 2017 and 2022 national elections.

2. Even though Austrians have a reputation for euroscepticism, people’s support for the EU has grown noticeably with this year’s election just around the corner. According to the new Eurobarometer 2019, presented in February, more than three quarters of respondents see the EU as positive or neutral (40% and 37% respectively) and 22% have a negative image of the EU. In 2013, before the last European elections, things looked different: over a third (35%) rated the EU negatively and only a quarter (25%) thought positively about it.

3. Nevertheless, Austrians have no particular desire to vote in the elections. In EU elections, only half of all Austrian voters make use of their right to vote. In National Council elections, the turnout is 70 or 80%. Many think they have little influence over EU legislation and the EU’s political direction and therefore don’t see it as being particularly important.

4. This is slightly different to Austria’s young people, who seem to be more motivated to take part. According to a survey conducted by the Austrian Society for European Politics (ÖGfE), 55% of those questioned said they would definitely vote.

5. Finally, for many Austrians, European elections are often seen as an opportunity to express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the current national government. In contrast to their domestic strategy towards the public, which emphasises harmony, the main candidates from the current ruling coalition, Othmar Karas from the ÖVP and Harald Vilimsky from the FPÖ, need to underline their different positions on Europe to address and engage their target groups. However, they also need to maintain the image of a government that works well together. Karas is expected to present himself as being more Europe-friendly, which contrasts with the domestic political orientation of his party the ÖVP. Vilimsky, on the other hand, will be more critical of Europe than his party’s representatives in the federal government. It will be interesting to see how domestic political interests and electoral tactical interests interfere during the EU elections. According to recent polling, conducted by the European Parliament for  Austria, the ÖVP is currently forecast to get 28%, the SPÖ 26%, the FPÖ 23%, the Neos and Greens 8% each, and the Liste Jetzt 3%.