Wolfgang Schüssel (German pronunciation: [ˈvɔlfɡaŋ ˈʃʏsəl];
born 7 June 1945) is an
Austrian People's Party
Austrian People's Party politician. He was
Chancellor of Austria
Chancellor of Austria for two consecutive terms from February 2000 to
January 2007. While being recognised as a rare example of an active
reformer in contemporary Austrian politics, his governments were also
highly controversial from the beginning, starting with the fact that
he formed a coalition government with Jörg Haider's Freedom Party of
Austria (FPÖ) on both occasions. In 2011, he retired from being an
active member of parliament due to a multitude of charges of
corruption against members of his governments.
1 Early life, education, and start in politics
2 Minister in the "Grand Coalition"
3 Chancellor of Austria
3.1 The Schüssel I government
3.1.1 The "EU Sanctions"
3.2 The Schüssel II government
3.3 President of the European Council, 2006
4 Chairman of the ÖVP Parliamentary Group, 2006–2008
6 Life after politics
6.1 Corporate boards
7 Honours and awards
9 External links
Early life, education, and start in politics
Born in Vienna, Schüssel attended that city's Schottengymnasium, a
well known Roman Catholic gymnasium for boys, where he took his Matura
exams in 1963. He went on to study at the University of Vienna,
receiving a Doctorate in Law in 1968.
Schüssel was secretary of the parliamentary group of the Austrian
People's Party from 1968 to 1975. From 1975 to 1991, he was Secretary
General of the Austrian Business Federation, a sub-organization of the
Austrian People's Party.
Minister in the "Grand Coalition"
He became Minister for Economic Affairs on 24 April 1989 in a
coalition government under Chancellor
Franz Vranitzky (SPÖ) formed by
the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the Austrian People's Party
On 22 April 1995, at the 30th Party Congress of the ÖVP, Schüssel
staged a leadership coup and ousted
Erhard Busek as chairman of the
Austrian People's Party. He also replaced the party’s ministers in
the governing coalition.
On 4 May 1995, Schüssel replaced Busek as Vice-Chancellor in Franz
Vranitzky's fourth government, and also took over as Minister for
Foreign Affairs. He held the same posts in Chancellor Vranitzky's
fifth Cabinet, as well as the first cabinet of Chancellor Viktor
Chancellor of Austria
The Schüssel I government
In the 1999 election, Schüssel's ÖVP finished third, trailing Jörg
Haider's Freedom Party (FPÖ) by 415 votes. After a series of talks to
renew the grand coalition with the SPÖ failed after several months,
Schüssel reached an agreement with the Freedom Party.
In the normal course of events, FPÖ leader
Jörg Haider should have
become chancellor, with Schüssel remaining as vice-chancellor.
However, when it became apparent that Haider was too controversial to
serve in the government, let alone lead it, Schüssel was sworn in as
chancellor on 4 February 2000. His government was the first in 30
years that was not headed by the SPÖ.
The government headed by Schüssel was – in its beginnings –
probably the most controversial since 1945, which to a large extent
was due to the presence of the populist right-wing FPÖ. Although
Haider was never a member of Schüssel's government, his participation
raised widespread criticism, both inside and outside of Austria.
Between 2000 and 2002 there were weekly Donnerstagsdemonstrationen
(Thursday Demonstrations) through the city and the inner districts of
Vienna. The coalition with the
Austrian Freedom Party
Austrian Freedom Party and various
policies aiming at achieving the much-maligned Nulldefizit (zero
budget deficit) were the main points of criticism.
The "EU Sanctions"
In an attempt to pressure Schüssel's democratically elected
government into submission, the heads of the governments of the other
14 EU members decided to cease co-operation with the Austrian
government, as it was felt in many countries that the cordon sanitaire
against coalitions with parties considered as right-wing extremists,
which had mostly held in Western Europe since 1945, had been breached.
Because nothing in the legal framework of the European Union supported
an official measure, informal (and officially non-existent)
"sanctions" were imposed by mutual consent. For several months, other
national leaders (most of all France's president Jacques Chirac,
Germany's chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and leading Belgian
politicians) ostracised the members of the Schüssel government,
refusing basic social interaction and keeping unavoidable contacts to
the legally required minimum.
Government supporters often blamed the opposition Social Democrats and
Thomas Klestil for the so-called "sanctions" imposed by the
EU14 and their loyalty to the country was thus put into question.
Indeed, the UK's mass circulation paper
The Guardian had reported
during the decisive days of Schüssel's negotiations that "Austria's
caretaker chancellor, Viktor Klima, urged fellow EU leaders to help
influence the coalition bargaining," and that as a result "diplomats
said that while an EU meeting was unlikely on constitutional grounds,
the issue could be discussed by leaders of the Socialist
Schüssel's ÖVP had been a member of all governments from 1945 to
1970 and from 1986 onwards, but had never been completely excluded
from power (even though its influence was considerably reduced during
Bruno Kreisky's era) because the tradition of social partnership meant
that representatives of all major interest groups in the country would
be consulted before any policy was enacted. When Schüssel came into
power, he broke with that tradition, which many Austrians had
considered an unwritten part of the constitution, to be able to
rapidly implement reforms that he felt to be necessary. Government
supporters claimed this to be the true reason for the demonstrations
and for the so-called "sanctions".
The organised unfriendliness carried on for months while both the
Austrian government (and – behind the scenes – also the EU-14)
sought a solution for the untenable situation. Because the "sanctions"
were only a means of coordinated diplomatic behaviour and not founded
in the EU-Charter, EU-law did not provide a way out. After a couple of
months a delegation of three experts (die drei EU-Weisen) was sent to
Austria to examine the political situation and to determine if the
EU-14's "sanctions" could be lifted. Their report did not find reasons
that would permit the other EU-members according to then existing
EU-law to engage in further measures going beyond those that are
allowed in international law. However, the more important conclusion
the report draw was that a framework for exactly these kind of
situations should be implemented and incorporated into EU-law. This
subsequently happened with the
Treaty of Nice
Treaty of Nice in 2001. Following the
report, the EU leaders tacitly returned to normality during the summer
of 2000 even though the Austrian government remained unchanged,
allowing the center-right parties to claim a sort of "victory".
Though the "sanctions" did little material damage, their psychological
effect was lasting and profound. In Austria, they essentially ended
the broad popular support which the European Union had initially
enjoyed in the country. In the populations of some EU member states,
the frequently highly manipulative media coverage of the affair
reinforced simmering anti-Austrian prejudices that dated back many
decades, or even to World War I.
The Schüssel II government
By the summer of 2002, a series of setbacks at local and regional
elections had resulted in considerable internal strife in the FPÖ,
which was instigated by Haider and some of his closest allies. When
the leading proponents of the more pragmatic wing of this party,
Susanne Riess-Passer and Finance Minister Karl-Heinz
Grasser, announced their resignation, Schüssel broke the coalition
and announced a snap general election for November 2002. The People's
Party won a smashing victory, taking 79 seats to become the largest
party in the National Council for the first time since 1966. However,
after negotiating for months with both the SPÖ and the Green Party,
Schüssel decided to renew his coalition government with the Freedom
Party, which had been reduced to a mere 10 percent of the vote. On 28
February 2003 he was sworn in as Chancellor again, heading the second
Schüssel government, this time with the confidence of having won
In April 2005, the FPÖ effectively split into two parties. The bulk
of the FPÖ—including Haider, the FPÖ cabinet ministers and most of
the FPÖ parliamentary caucus—broke off to form the Alliance for the
Austria (BZÖ), while the party base in most states remained
with the old party. In spite of this change in the nature of his
coalition partner, Schüssel continued the coalition until the end of
the current legislative period (see Austrian legislative election,
2006). However, after the election Schüssel mentioned that a
coalition with Haider's party or the Freedom Party would not be
Following the death of
Liese Prokop on 31 December 2006, Schüssel was
sworn in as interior minister on 2 January 2007, and served in this
additional post until a new government was formed, which occurred
on 11 January.
President of the European Council, 2006
Austria succeeded the United Kingdom in holding the European Council
Presidency on 1 January 2006. In the presence of German Chancellor
Angela Merkel, Schüssel promised to lead the European Union "Hand in
Hand" with Germany, and Merkel promised that Germany would do
everything to "help"
Austria during its presidency and make it a
success. Schüssel also stated that
Austria needed "some friends of
the presidency". This led to Brussels diplomats describing the
Austrian presidency as "the small German presidency", according to
French newspaper Le Figaro.
Chairman of the ÖVP Parliamentary Group, 2006–2008
Following the 2006 election, Schüssel became Chairman of the ÖVP
Parliamentary Group. He announced after the September 2008 election
that he would continue to sit in parliament only as a backbencher;
Josef Pröll was to replace him as Chairman of the ÖVP Parliamentary
Group. In addition to his parliamentary work, Schüssel served on the
Commission of Eminent Persons on The Role of the
IAEA to 2020 and
Beyond, chaired by Ernesto Zedillo, whose report Reinforcing the
Global Nuclear Order for Peace and Prosperity was launched in June
In 2011, Schüssel retired from parliament due to massive charges of
corruption against members of the governments led by him.
The government's attempts at achieving a balanced budget (called
"Nulldefizit") – while being more successful than most of its
contemporary initiatives abroad – failed. Changes involved a mixture
of raising taxes and fees on the one hand and cost-cutting measures on
the other which proved highly visible and prompted significant
criticism. For example, the Austrian education system suffered
considerably, shown by the
PISA study released in 2004: many salaries
and expensive projects were cut at universities, even though the
government proclaimed it would bring teaching and research to a
"world-class" level. Cost-cutting in the security sector was blamed
for an increase in crime.
At the same time, Schüssel's government increased public spending in
certain areas. For example, the new "Kindergeld" (children money) to
help families replaced the old "Karenzgeld", which was dependent on
the recipient standing in employment. This change was a nod to the
Freedom Party, which had campaigned for this measure.
The decision to replace the old Draken fighter planes of the
Bundesheer with 18 Eurofighters (originally 24 were ordered, this
number was reduced after the 2002 floods) was seen as waste of money
by the opposition, most of all because of the attempts to save money
in almost every area of the public administration. The government's
arguments for this was that the Austrian State Treaty, according to
Austria needs to be able to defend herself, is to be read to
Austria must be in complete control of her air space. The
opposition argued that this goal could have been reached in a much
Starting from around 2030, the unfavorable structure of the population
pyramid had been forecast create a ratio of active to retired workers
of 1:1. Schüssel's pension reform made provision for this in the
reduction of future pensions and raising of the retirement age.
Schüssel's reform of the Austrian pension system is more
broad-sweeping and thus more likely to be effective than all previous
reforms in this area combined. Demographics experts insisted that it
ideally should have gone further, whereas the SPÖ
and the Austrian Federation of Trade Unions (ÖGB) protested heavily
and argued that the pension losses, limited by Schüssel to 10% and
later reduced to 5%, were excessive. Such measures
laid the groundwork for later military reform and pension reform.
Mandatory military service
Mandatory military service to reduce to six months or even its
abolition. From 2005 onwards, corporate tax was cut to 25% to
stimulate investment and economic growth. This was an example of
harmonization toward neighbouring taxes as recent EU and Schengen area
Slovakia had consistently lower tax rates. However, critics
argued that such a tax advantage for firms was unfair to many sole
Life after politics
Since his retirement from Austrian politics, Schüssel has held paid
and unpaid positions, including the following:
Investcorp, Member of the European Advisory Board (since 2011)
RWE, Member of the Supervisory Board (since 2010)
Deutsche Vermögensberatung (DVAG), Member of the Advisory Board
Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Chairman of the Board of Trustees (since
United Europe, President (since 2013)
World Economic Forum
World Economic Forum (WEF), Member of the Global Agenda Council on
Public Finance and Social Protection Systems
DER Dialog Europe-Russia, Member of the Board (since 2011)
Foreign Policy and United Nations Association of
President (since 2008)
Bertelsmann Foundation, Member of the Board of Trustees (since
Allensbach Institute, Member of the Board of Trustees
Broader European Leadership Agenda (BELA), Member of the Advisory
Gesellschaft für Außenpolitik, Member of the International Advisory
Austrian Society for China Studies (ÖGCF), Member of the Presidium
European Council on Foreign Relations
European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), Member
European Policy Centre
European Policy Centre (EPC), Program Chair "European Politics and
Global Leadership Foundation, Member
Honours and awards
7 July 1995: Grand Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic
1996: Grand Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit
8 June 2000: Grand Cross with Diamonds of the Order of Merit of the
Principality of Liechtenstein
2004: Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Romania
2006: Grand Cross of Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary
20 January 2006: Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of
Poland ("for outstanding achievements in the development of
Polish-Austrian cooperation, for their involvement in activities on
behalf of those affected by the Third Reich")
2007: Order of Merit of Baden-Württemberg
2007: Bavarian Order of Merit
Honorary Citizen of Tirana, Albania.
^ Top drawer European Voice, 22 July 1998.
^ EU leaders urged to keep Haider out. The Guardian, 29 January 2000.
^ "New government coalition formed in Austria". KUNA. 1 March 2003.
Retrieved 16 October 2013.
^ "Austria's chancellor sworn in as temporary interior minister",
Associated Press (IHT), 2 January 2007.
RWE holt Reizfigur Schüssel Süddeutsche Zeitung, 24 February 2010.
^ Advisory Board
Deutsche Vermögensberatung (DVAG).
Wolfgang Schüssel zum Vorsitzenden des Kuratoriums der
Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung gewählt Konrad Adenauer Foundation, press
release of 12 October 2015.
^ Global Fiscal Systems: From Crisis to Sustainability World Economic
Forum, Global Agenda Council on Public Finance and Social Protection
Systems, May 2016.
Wolfgang Schüssel in das Kuratorium der Bertelsmann Stiftung
berufen Bertelsmann Foundation, press release of 19 April 2007.
^ Board of Trustees Allensbach Institute.
^ Advisory Board Broader European Leadership Agenda (BELA).
^ European Politics and Institutions
European Policy Centre
European Policy Centre (EPC).
^ Boletín Oficial del Estado
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Wolfgang Schüssel.
Biography, contact details and speeches since 1996 of Wolfgang
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ÖVP site for Klubobmann
Wolfgang Schüssel (in German)
Minister for Economic Affairs
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Vice-Chancellor of Austria
Chancellor of Austria
President of the European Council
Party political offices
Leader of the People's Party
Chancellors of Austria
Walter Breisky (acting)
Reinhold Mitterlehner (acting)
Vice-Chancellors of Austria
Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg
Foreign Ministers of Austria
First Austrian Republic
Second Austrian Republic
Party Chairmen of the ÖVP
Presidents of the European Council
Joop den Uyl
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
Dries van Agt
Aníbal Cavaco Silva
Poul Nyrup Rasmussen
José María Aznar
José María Aznar López
Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Jan Peter Balkenende
Herman Van Rompuy
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