Austria elected 18 MEPs in 2004, and will elect 17 in 2009. All Austria’s MEPs are elected to represent the entire country. MEPs are elected by party list, although there is some room for candidates to receive personal votes. Voters may vote for individual candidates on each list, and if a candidate receives 7% of their party’s vote they are elected first, before candidates are elected in the order they sit on the party list.
The 2004 election saw a slim victory for the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPÖ – Party of European Socialists) over the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP – European People’s Party), 33.33% to 32.7%. Both parties gained extra votes compared to 1999, with the SPÖ winning 7 seats to the ÖVP’s 6. The 1999 election had seen the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ – No affiliation) win 23% of the vote, and this fell to 6.3% in 2004, with the FPÖ losing 4 of its 5 seats. The Freedom Party was at the peak of its popularity in 1999, when they followed up their Euro victory with a huge result in the October national election, resulting in the party going into government. In contrast, the 2004 election happened in the dying days of the conservative coalition government, with FPO leader Jörg Haider leading a split in the party in early 2005.
The remainder of the Freedom Party’s vote went to the Greens (European Greens), who gained 3% and a second MEP, and Hans-Peter Martin, who ran as an independent after previously being a Social Democratic MEP, winning almost 14% of the vote and two seats. His running mate, Karin Resetarits, has since fallen out with Martin and joined the ALDE.
The largest change since the 2004 election has been the split in the Freedom Party in early 2005, with FPÖ leader Haider forming the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ). Both parties gained ground at the 2008 parliamentary election.
Recent polls show the far right gain ground. The BZÖ has been polling around 5%, after never contesting European Parliament elections before, and the FPÖ is polling around 14-17%, up from 6.3% in 2004.
Both major parties have lost ground, polling in the high 20s, down from polling 32-33% in 2004. The ÖVP has been polling in first place in this week’s polls, although polls earlier in May had the SPÖ in first place. Both Hans-Peter Martin and the Greens have slightly lost ground, polling around 10% after getting 14% and 12% respectively in 2004.