Freedom in the World 2023 - Austria

/ 100
Political Rights 37 / 40
Civil Liberties 56 / 60
93 / 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.


Austria has a democratic system of government that guarantees political rights and civil liberties. The country has historically been governed by grand coalitions of the center-left Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and the center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). In recent years, the political system has faced pressure from the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), a right-wing, populist party that openly entertains nationalist and xenophobic sentiments.

Key Developments in 2022

  • Corruption investigations into leading ÖVP and FPÖ politicians continued during the year. Former FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who was convicted on corruption charges in 2021, was tried on separate bribery charges in June; Strache was acquitted in July.
  • In January, the National Council passed a measure making vaccination against COVID-19 compulsory. The vaccine mandate, which took effect in February, led to protests and was temporarily suspended the next month; the government ultimately abolished the mandate in June.

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

Executive elections in Austria are generally free and fair. The president is elected for a six-year term and has predominantly ceremonial duties. The president does, however, have the right to dissolve parliament and appoints the chancellor, who also needs the support of the legislature to govern. President Alexander Van der Bellen, former Green Party leader, narrowly prevailed in 2016 against FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer. The 2016 polls featured a runoff that was repeated twice after the Constitutional Court (VfGH) established that there had been problems with the handling of postal ballots. Van der Bellen was reelected to the presidency in October 2022 after securing an absolute majority of the vote.

Following snap elections in 2019, an ÖVP–Green government took office in January 2020, marking the first time the Greens have participated in a national government. Sebastian Kurz of the ÖVP, who led the previous ÖVP–FPÖ coalition, returned as chancellor. Kurz was forced to resign the chancellorship in October 2021 over corruption allegations, and ultimately left politics altogether. After Kurz’s resignation, then foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg was appointed chancellor; Schallenberg resigned several weeks later, in December.

In December 2021, ÖVP party officials chose then interior minister Karl Nehammer to become both party leader and chancellor. Nehammer was sworn in as chancellor that month, and was officially confirmed as ÖVP party chair in May 2022.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

Legislative elections in Austria are generally considered free and fair. The 183 members of the National Council (Nationalrat), the lower house of the Austrian national parliament, are chosen through proportional representation at the district, state, and federal levels, and serve five-year terms. The 61 members of the upper house, the Federal Council (Bundesrat), are appointed by state legislatures for five- or six-year terms.

Snap National Council elections took place in September 2019, after the Ibizagate affair triggered the previous ÖVP–FPÖ coalition’s collapse. The ÖVP was the clear winner with 71 seats, though it did not win a parliamentary majority. The Green Party returned after a two-year absence from parliament, winning 26 seats. Support for the FPÖ collapsed, with the party losing 20 seats and holding 31. The SPÖ won 40, while the Liberal Forum (NEOS) claimed 15.

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4 / 4

Austria’s electoral laws are fair and implemented impartially by the relevant bodies.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4 / 4

Austria has competitive political parties that form and operate without encountering undue obstacles. Recent years have seen the rise and fall of various competing parties and coalitions through democratic processes.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4

Opposition parties have a realistic opportunity to gain representation. Until recently, Austria has often been governed by grand coalitions, a trend that has fostered some public disillusionment with the political process. An ÖVP–FPÖ government, which collapsed in 2019, was succeeded by an ÖVP–Green Party coalition in January 2020.

Within months of forming, People Freedom Fundamental Rights (MFG)—a so-called antilockdown party focused on opposing COVID-19-related restrictions—was able to gain enough votes to enter the state parliament in Upper Austria in September 2021.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 4 / 4

Austrians are generally free to make their own political choices without pressure from any groups that are not democratically accountable.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3 / 4

The participation of Slovene, Hungarian, and Romany minorities in local government remains limited. There is little minority representation in the legislature. The number of people who have been naturalized has fallen since the establishment of a more restrictive national integration policy in 2009. To qualify for naturalization, individuals must have lived in Austria for 10 years—including 5 as a permanent resident—as well as provide proof of regular income and renounce their existing citizenship.

Several parties include support for gender equality in their platforms. In the 2019 elections, 39 percent of the members elected to the parliament were women, a slight increase compared to 2017. The country’s first majority-female cabinet was appointed in January 2020.

Non-Austrian EU citizens are entitled to vote in municipal elections as well as in European Parliament elections.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4

The freely elected president and legislative representatives work with the chancellor, vice chancellor, and cabinet ministers to determine the policies of the government.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3 / 4

Public-sector corruption is problematic, and the political class is widely perceived as corrupt. The Council of Europe (CoE)’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) has criticized Austria for failing to regulate lobbying and prevent corruption.

Investigations related to Ibizagate—which began with the 2019 release of a video of then FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache offering state contracts in exchange for donations and favorable media coverage—continued in 2021 and 2022. Strache was found guilty of corruption in August 2021 and given a 15-month suspended sentence. An appeal was pending as of year-end 2022. Strache was also tried on separate corruption charges in June 2022, based on allegations that he had awarded board positions at a state-owned company in return for donations to an FPÖ-linked organization. He was acquitted in July.

In recent years, the corruption prosecutor’s office has investigated numerous allegations of false testimony, bribery, and corruption involving senior FPÖ and ÖVP politicians, including former chancellor Kurz. High-level corruption investigations continued in 2022, including into the president of the National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka, who has been implicated in numerous corruption scandals.

Following a 2019 EU directive requiring member states to pass laws implementing rights and obligations regarding whistleblowers, the government drafted a bill in June 2022 that would introduce far-reaching measures to protect whistleblowers. The act had not been passed at year’s end.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 3 / 4

Austria’s government has frequently been criticized for inadequate transparency. Official secrecy remains enshrined in the constitution, and Austria’s overall legal framework on access to information is weak.

In February 2021, the ÖVP–Green Party government agreed on a draft Freedom of Information Act, which would provide for the end of official secrecy; the draft had not passed as of year-end 2022. The draft legislation has been criticized as weak and overly narrow by information rights groups.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 3 / 4

The federal constitution and the Media Law of 1981 provide the basis for free media in Austria. However, libel and slander laws protect politicians and government officials, many of whom—particularly members of the FPÖ—have filed defamation suits in recent years. Media ownership remains highly concentrated, particularly in the provinces, and the government exerts some influence on the state broadcaster, the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF).

Media outlets are eligible to receive government funding through advertising and in the form of press subsidies intended to ensure media diversity. In March 2022, a broad parliamentary majority approved amendments to a 2004 media financing law, including reforms making €20 million in government funding available annually.

In 2021, several ÖVP politicians resigned over allegations of having purchased favorable news coverage during the 2017 elections. Former family minister Sophie Karmasin was arrested on corruption charges related to the scandal in March 2022.

While there is no official censorship, Austrian law prohibits any form of neo-Nazism or antisemitism, as well as the public denial, approval, or justification of Nazi crimes, including the Holocaust.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3 / 4

Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed. Austrian law divides religious organizations into three legal categories: officially recognized religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations. Many religious minority groups allege that the law impedes their legitimate claims for recognition and demotes them to second-class status.

Foreign funding for Muslim houses of worship and imams is prohibited by a 2015 law; Orthodox Christian and Jewish groups with similarly strong links to communities abroad face no such restrictions. The FPÖ has been criticized for stoking anti-Muslim sentiment through controversial advertising campaigns. In recent years, antisemitic and anti-Islamic tendencies have become more prevalent.

Nearly 1,000 antisemitic attacks were recorded during 2021—a more than 65 percent increase over those recorded in 2020. According to the Jewish Community of Vienna (IKG), the number of antisemitic incidents reported in the first half of 2022 marked a 32 percent decrease compared to the same period in 2021. In 2021, the ÖVP–Green government established a new staff unit in the fight against antisemitism. In May 2022, representatives from 15 European Union (EU) member states met in Vienna to discuss standardizing the recording of antisemitic incidents and crimes.

D3 0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4

Academic freedom is generally upheld, and the educational system is free from extensive political indoctrination.

D4 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4

Private discussion in Austria is generally free and unrestricted. However, there have been some difficulties related to the balance between ensuring freedom of speech and enforcing legal prohibitions on hate speech.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally protected and respected in practice. However, beginning in March 2020, assemblies were periodically subject to strict regulation under COVID-19-related public health measures. In March 2022, the government lifted most remaining restrictions, including limits on event sizes.

Despite COVID-19-related restrictions on public gatherings, large protests against lockdown measures were held throughout 2020 and 2021. Demonstrations against COVID-19-related restrictions, including some against the government’s vaccine mandate, continued into 2022.

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate without restrictions.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4 / 4

Trade unions are free to organize and to strike, and they are considered an essential partner in national policymaking. According to government statistics, some 1.2 million workers are members of trade unions.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4

The judiciary is independent, and is generally held in high regard among Austrians. The Constitutional Court examines the compatibility of legislation with the constitution without political influence or interference.

Austrian judges are appointed by the executive instead of a politically independent body, which the CoE has criticized as an insufficient separation of the state government from the judiciary.

In recent years, ÖVP officials have drawn criticism for allegedly attempting to obstruct judicial investigations into corruption allegations involving ÖVP politicians.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4 / 4

Due process generally prevails in civil and criminal matters. However, scandals involving Austria’s intelligence apparatus in recent years raised concerns about the potential politicization of the justice system, and respect for due process.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 4 / 4

People in Austria are generally free from the illegitimate use of physical force, war, and insurgencies. However, terrorist threats are a concern, and counterterrorism agencies have been found to “lack sufficient capacity” to adequately address existing risks.

The number of right-wing extremist crimes reported in Austria rose sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, peaking in 2021 with more than 1,000 such crimes reported. In April 2022, security forces seized Nazi memorabilia and illegal weapons stockpiles from far-right groups while conducting raids across the country.

Conditions in prisons generally meet high European standards.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3 / 4

Some groups face difficulty exercising their human rights before the law. Strong rhetoric has been directed against refugees and migrants in recent years. Some asylum seekers can be deported while appeals are pending. In recent years, international organizations have criticized the Austrian asylum system for failing to meet international standards. Continuing deportations during the COVID-19 pandemic and, in 2022, ÖVP attempts to exclude asylum seekers from receiving certain forms of state aid have led to conflict between the coalition partners.

LGBT+ people face some societal discrimination. Although hate crime legislation prohibits incitement based on sexual orientation, no law prohibits service providers from denying services on that basis. In May 2022, the government amended blood donation regulations, removing restrictions that had previously prevented gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

Despite some improvement, gender equality remains an issue in Austria. According to Eurostat, Austria’s gender wage gap of nearly 19 percent is among the largest in the EU.

Several members of Austria’s armed forces have faced disciplinary proceedings and criminal charges in recent years for allegedly engaging in far-right extremist activities. In late 2022, government officials promised to pursue legal reforms mandating the automatic dismissal of any public employee convicted of violating the ban on the use of Nazi symbols.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4

Austrian citizens generally enjoy freedom of movement. However, restrictions were periodically imposed between March 2020 and March 2022 to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Roma and other ethnic minorities face discrimination in the labor and housing markets. The Labor Ministry has sought to promote integration of younger immigrants by providing German-language courses and job training.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4 / 4

Austrians may freely exercise the right to own property and establish businesses.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 4 / 4

Same-sex marriage became legal in Austria in 2019. Restrictions on same-sex couples adopting children ended in 2016.

The 2009 Second Protection Against Violence Act increased penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence and authorized further punitive measures against chronic offenders. However, gender-based violence remains a problem; Austria has one of the highest rates of femicide in the EU.

G4 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3 / 4

A 1979 law guarantees women’s freedom from discrimination in various areas, including the workplace.

In June 2022, Austrian police announced that an antitrafficking investigation had uncovered a large-scale labor trafficking operation in which more than 230 Iraqi asylum seekers had been forced to work in illegal conditions and subjected to systematic wage theft.