From Black-Blue (ÖVP-FPÖ) Coalition to the Founding of BZÖ
The FPÖ had emerged from the 1999 National Council elections with 26.9% of the vote and, for the first time ever, had become Austria’s second-strongest party. Jörg Haider then agreed on a joint coalition with the ÖVP. With ÖVP Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel as its partner, the Freedom Party thus assumed government responsibility at the federal level for the second time in its history. Susanne Riess-Passer became FPÖ Vice-Chancellor and the FPÖ also received five additional cabinet minister posts and two junior minister (“state secretary”) positions.
On 4 February 2000, the new federal government was sworn in. Throughout its early months, the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition was confronted with the sanctions imposed by the European Union. Notwithstanding the government’s early successes, such as in respect of pension reform, or the introduction of child benefit, differences soon arose between the ÖVP and the FPÖ. In addition, there were discussions within the party about the government’s ideological orientation. On the one hand, many voters and party functionaries regarded the FPÖ government’s direction under Riess-Passer – for example in European and social policy – as a break with the traditions of the Third Lager. On the other hand, Haider remained the dominant personality within the party, despite his resignation as Party Chairman and his replacement in that position by Susanne Riess-Passer. In the summer of 2002, the situation came to a head: the flood disaster in the country caused the black-blue government to postpone the scheduled tax reform. However, this was not accepted by Carinthian Governor Jörg Haider and elements within the party’s grassroots. In their opinion, this decision placed a central FPÖ project in jeopardy.
At a meeting convened in Knittelfeld, Styria, party delegates approved the demand for an extraordinary party conference and did so very much against the wishes of FPÖ Vice-Chancellor, Susanne Riess- Passer. In response to the Knittelfeld decision, she resigned, along with FPÖ Parliamentary Party Leader Peter Westenthaler and FPÖ Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser. Wolfgang Schüssel promptly responded by terminating the coalition.
At the National Council elections of November 2002, the ÖVP was able to register 42.3 per cent of the vote, while the FPÖ achieved only 10.01 per cent. Nevertheless, the ÖVP renewed the black-blue coalition with Herbert Haupt as FPÖ Vice-Chancellor and with the Freedom Party government team almost halved.
There followed an intensification of disputes within the FPÖ, where many were fearful of being enveloped in the embrace of a rampant ÖVP. In addition, from 2004 onwards, the party leadership around Haider and Federal Party Leader Ursula Haubner witnessed the growth of an internal party rival, in the form of Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the FPÖ’s provincial branch in Vienna. The conflict between the national wing of the party and the federal party leadership finally came to a head at the beginning of 2005, having been exacerbated by electoral defeats in the federal provinces and by the party’s collapse at the European Parliament elections of June 2004, when Andreas Mölzer, representing the anti-government wing of the FPÖ, won the party’s only seat.
On 4 April, Jörg Haider and the whole FPÖ government team broke away from the FPÖ and founded the “Bündnis für die Zukunft Österreichs“ (“Alliance for the Future of Austria”, or BZÖ). The Freedom Party, whose leadership was temporarily assumed by the former chairman of the Vienna FPÖ, Hilmar Kabas, in his capacity as the longest-serving member of the Federal Party Executive, was thus faced with rebuilding the party from the ground up.