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Friedhelm Frischenschlager (1943 – )

Friedhelm Frischenschlager was a Salzburg politician and a member of the National Council from 1977. He co-founded the Atterseekreis and during the 1970s and early 1980s, he used his role there to significantly shape the FPÖ’s programme profile. He served as Federal Minister for Defence in the SPÖ-FPÖ coalition led by Kreisky and Steger.

Short biography

Friedhelm Frischenschlager was born in Salzburg on 6 October 1943. His father was a professor at the Mozarteum University Salzburg. His mother came from a family of North German merchants and worked among other things as a piano teacher. After primary school, Friedhelm Frischenschlager attended secondary school in Salzburg from 1953 until 1962. Having graduated from high school in the city of Mozart, he completed his military service and in 1963 commenced his studies of law at the University of Vienna. Frischenschlager obtained his doctorate in 1969. He remained in the university sector, initially working as a university assistant at Salzburg University’s Institute for International Law, before switching in 1971 to an assistant position at Salzburg University’s Institute for Political Science. Frischenschlager eventually became a senior lecturer.

While still a student at the University of Vienna, Frischenschlager had developed a lively interest in university politics and took the first steps in his political career within the FPÖ. In 1964 he became general secretary of the Ring of Freedom Party Students (RFS) and was responsible for all of the RFS’s political and organisational work. As the most senior representative of the Ring of Freedom Party Students, he in 1969 also rose to become deputy chairman of the central committee of the Austrian National Union of Students.

Though still a young politician, Frischenschlager played a leading role in the 1971 founding of the “Attersee Circle” (Atterseekreis), an FPÖ working group or political think tank. Friedhelm Frischenschlager also made a career within the Attersee Circle, which saw itself as a liberal counterweight to the German-national oriented camp within the party. He became a member of the FPÖ’s full party executive as early as 1972. That same year, Frischenschlager entered the Salzburg municipal council on an FPÖ ticket and became a member of that council’s Senate. He continued to exercise this role until 1977. Even when he was a federal minister in the 1980s, Friedhelm Frischenschlager remained politically connected to his native province. From November 1985 until November 1987, he was chairman of the Salzburg FPÖ.

In June 1977, the then 33-year-old Friedhelm Frischenschlager became a Freedom Party member of the National Council, where he soon played a central role in the FPÖ parliamentary party. The Freedom Party had at that point been led by Friedrich Peter for nearly 20 years. Yet in 1978, when Peter did not stand for re-election as party leader, a struggle ensued over the party’s future political orientation. The wing of the party around Alexander Götz – who was FPÖ federal party chairman from 1978 until 1979 – represented a more German-national, conservative position, whilst the wing around Norbert Steger was inclined to a more liberal point of view. At the beginning of the 1980s, the latter group – to which Frischenschlager also belonged – initially prevailed and in 1983 formed with the SPÖ the so-called “small coalition” (Kleine Koalition), which was to last until 1987. After the 1983 National Council elections, at which the SPO lost its absolute majority, Friedrich Peter, the former long-serving party chairman and then chairman of the FPÖ parliamentary party, negotiated with Bruno Kreisky the modalities of the “small coalition”. At the head of this government stood Fred Sinowatz, the Federal Chancellor, as well as Norbert Steger, who was Vice Chancellor and Federal Minister for Trade. Friedhelm Frischenschlager was appointed to the government as Federal Minister for Defence; Harald Ofner took on the role of Federal Minister for Justice and the FPÖ held three junior ministerial positions (state secretaries). From 1984 until 1988, Frischenschlager was also deputy FPÖ federal party chairman.

During his tenure as Federal Minister for Defence, Friedhelm Frischenschlager had to contend with fierce political headwinds. The decision to acquire interceptor fighters was met with particular criticism, especially from Styria. Yet Frischenschlager vehemently pursued the Draken purchase from the moment he took the post of Federal Minister. Frischenschlager justified this by reference to his predecessors’ neglect of airspace surveillance. He also defended his choice of airplane type and stressed that this would for the next 10 to 15 years provide an effective solution to Austria’s airspace surveillance problems. Speaking at the time about the positive outcomes of his term in office Frischenschlager identified the acquisition of the interceptors and the completion of the "Goldhaube" air surveillance system, as well as a widespread public discussion on national defence and the Austrian Armed Forces’ introduction of term-limited, professional soldiers (“Zeitsoldaten”).

In May 1986, Friedhelm Frischenschlager was replaced as Federal Minister for Defence by the former FPÖ general secretary, Helmut Krünes. Frischenschlager thereupon returned to the National Council and became Friedrich Peter’s successor as chairman of the FPÖ parliamentary party there. This meant that during the final months of the coalition, he led the FPÖ parliamentary party in the National Council and Federal Council.

In Innsbruck in September 1986, Jörg Haider beat Norbert Steger in the election for FPÖ federal party chairman, but this hotly-contested election resulted in a premature end to the SPO-FPÖ coalition. After the 1986 National Council election, Jörg Haider also assumed the leadership of the parliamentary party and Friedhelm Frischenschlager was appointed alongside him as its executive chairman, or manager. He retained this position until 1990 and simultaneously served as the Freedom Party’s defence spokesperson in the National Council.

However, Frischenschlager's views on European policy differed somewhat from those of the party and he gravitated to the group around former FPÖ general secretary Heide Schmidt. In February 1993, this group of MPs launched the Liberal Forum. On 4 February 1993, as part of this move, the National Council MPs Hans Helmut Moser, Klara Motter and Thomas Barmüller resigned from the FPÖ. The Liberal Forum set up its own parliamentary group, of which Friedhelm Frischenschlager became the first chairman. In 1996, he switched to become a Liberal Forum member of the European Parliament. Among the honours awarded to Friedhelm Frischenschlager are the Grand Decoration in Gold with Sash for Services to the Republic of Austria.

Main political positions

1972–1977

Municipal Councillor, Salzburg

1977–1983

Member of the National Council

1983–1986

Federal Minister for Defence

1984–1988

Deputy FPÖ Federal Party Chairman

1985–1987

Provincial Party Chairman, FPÖ Salzburg

1986–1986

Chairman of the FPÖ Parliamentary Party in the National Council

1986–1996

Member of the National Council (FPÖ and Liberal Forum)

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