Freedom in the World 2017 - Austria

Freedom Status: 
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 
Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 

Austria has a democratic system of government that guarantees both political rights and civil liberties. It is frequently governed by a grand coalition 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 Free Party of Austria (FPÖ), a rightwing populist party that openly entertains nationalist and xenophobic sentiments.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • In December, Alexander Van der Bellen was elected president after a close and controversial election that featured a repeat of the run-off between Van der Bellen and FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer.
  • The government further limited access to asylum seekers, introducing a ceiling for the number of people that can apply for asylum in Austria in one year.
  • Rightwing violence and race-based hate speech remained major concerns. 
Executive Summary: 

Political debate in 2016 was dominated by the presidential election and refugee policies, the latter issue being at the forefront of conversation since the spike in the flow of asylum seekers to Europe in 2015. Following a number of previous moves to counter migration flows to the country, the government further restricted access to asylum seekers and introduced an annual cap of 35,000 for asylum applications—a limit that will be in effect as of 2017. A number of legislators announced intentions to try to reduce this cap even further.

The Austrian presidential election was highly contested and divisive. Van der Bellen, the candidate of the Green Party, initially won the runoff against Hofer, the candidate of the FPÖ. The vote was later declared invalid, however, as the Constitutional Court established that there had been irregularities in the handling of postal ballots. A repeat of the runoff, held in December, confirmed the election of Van der Bellen.

Political Rights 37 / 40

A. Electoral Process 12 / 12

A1. Is the head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
A2. Are the national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair?


B. Political Pluralism and Participation 15 / 16

B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system open to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
B2. Is there a significant opposition vote and a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group?
B4. Do cultural, ethnic, religious, or other minority groups have full political rights and electoral opportunities?


C. Functioning of Government 10 / 12

C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
C2. Is the government free from pervasive corruption?
C3. Is the government accountable to the electorate between elections, and does it operate with openness and transparency?


Civil Liberties 58 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief 16 / 16

D1. Are there free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression?
D2. Are religious institutions and communities free to practice their faith and express themselves in public and private?
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free of extensive political indoctrination?
D4. Is there open and free private discussion?


E. Associational and Organizational Rights 12 / 12

E1. Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion?
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations?
E3. Are there free trade unions and peasant organizations or equivalents, and is there effective collective bargaining? Are there free professional and other private organizations?


F. Rule of Law 15 / 16

F1. Is there an independent judiciary?
F2. Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Are police under direct civilian control?
F3. Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system? Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights 15 / 16

G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of travel or choice of residence, employment, or institution of higher education?
G2. Do individuals have the right to own property and establish private businesses? Is private business activity unduly influenced by government officials, the security forces, political parties/organizations, or organized crime?
G3. Are there personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family?
G4. Is there equality of opportunity and the absence of economic exploitation?


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

Explanatory Note: 

This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Austria, see Freedom in the World 2016.