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Party Patronage and Party Government in European Democracies$

Petr Kopecký, Peter Mair, and Maria Spirova

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199599370

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199599370.001.0001

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Party Patronage in Austria: From Reward to Control

Party Patronage in Austria: From Reward to Control

Chapter:
(p.31) Chapter 3 Party Patronage in Austria: From Reward to Control
Source:
Party Patronage and Party Government in European Democracies
Author(s):

Oliver Treib

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199599370.003.0003

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter seeks to provide up-to-date empirical information on party patronage in Austria. The results of the empirical analysis indicate that patronage practices have undergone a significant transformation over the past fifteen or twenty years. Austria still belongs to the countries with high levels of patronage. However, the old system of mass patronage has given way to elite patronage, primarily targeting leadership positions, thus decreasing the depth of patronage. More importantly, Austria has witnessed a change in the logic of party patronage: while party political appointments used to be mostly reward-driven, the main goal of the current system is to gain control over institutions that are crucial for policy delivery. The chapter argues that the electoral and public pressure exerted by the anti-Proporz campaign of Haider’s Freedom Party played a key role in transforming the Austrian patronage system.

Keywords:   Austria, party patronage, reward, control, mass patronage, elite patronage, Haider, freedom party

Introduction

Austria was traditionally considered a country marked by high levels of party patronage (Müller, 1989, 2006b: 189).1 However, this assessment rests on a conception of party patronage that differs significantly from the one used here. While we conceive of party patronage as the power of political parties to appoint people to positions in public or semi-public life, Müller’s understanding is much wider, also covering clientelistic practices of exchanging material benefits (subsidies, tax reliefs, access to jobs and public housing, etc.) for political support (votes, party membership, party activism).

It is true that clientelistic practices by the two major parties, the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP), were formerly widespread in post-war Austria, in particular in the area of public housing. According to an article published in the German weekly, Der Spiegel, in 1965, a person living in a public apartment building in SPÖ-led Vienna would most probably carry a Social Democratic membership book, while somebody living in an apartment building sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Trade, then governed by an ÖVP minister, would be likely to pay membership fees to the Christian Democrats (Der Spiegel, 1965: 72). The practice of tying access to public housing to party membership continued until the 1980s. According to an opinion poll conducted among party members in 1980, gaining access to public housing was mentioned as an important or very important reason for joining a party by approximately one-third of all surveyed party members (Müller, 1989: 339). Since the late 1980s, however, these practices of mass clientelism have been in decline. In particular, access to community housing was put on a more objective and transparent basis to prevent political parties from using it as an instrument of clientelism (Sickinger, 2006: 566).

However, there is also evidence suggesting that Austrian political parties traditionally had a tight grip on distributing jobs in the public sector. According to the article in Der Spiegel mentioned above, access to public sector jobs in the mid-1960s was firmly controlled by the two major political parties that had been in (p.32) power since the Second World War. Depending on the party political colour of the ministry in charge of a particular area, jobs were tied to party membership in the SPÖ or the ÖVP. An engineer working in a state-owned steel company in Austria would typically be a member of the Social Democrats, while an army officer would belong to the Christian Democrats, and a member of the traffic police would usually belong to the ‘reds’, while a village teacher would most probably be one of the ‘blacks’ (Der Spiegel, 1965: 72).

The study by Müller (1989) also contains empirical evidence on the pervasiveness of party patronage until the 1980s. He uses the results of staff representation elections in ministerial departments and their administrative subdivisions as an indicator for the role of party political appointments in the public administration. Indeed, the data indicates that party patronage was a very widespread phenomenon in post-war Austria up until the 1980s. In ministerial departments governed by ministers of the same party for several years, vast majorities of up to 74 per cent of the civil servants and employees voted for representatives belonging to the party of the minister. After a ministry was taken over by the other major party and this new party political leadership was sustained for several years, these majorities were significantly reduced. Also, opinion polls conducted among party members in the 1980s suggest that half of all surveyed party members had decided to join their party in order to gain job-related advantages.

Müller’s analysis certainly has the merit of representing the first systematic study on party patronage in Austria. However, it also has its limits. The different types of data he uses are only an indirect indicator of patronage practices. The analysis does not allow any conclusions as to whether there are differences in patronage between different levels of the administrative hierarchy or between different subdivisions of the administration. Neither does it shed light on the motives underlying party patronage. Since the analysis was done more than twenty years ago, it also needs updating to give us an appropriate picture of party patronage in contemporary Austria.

It is the aim of this chapter to fill this gap. It starts out with an overview of the traditional system of Austrian party government and Austria’s civil service tradition. Then it reports the main empirical findings of our study on party patronage in contemporary Austria, delineating the range and depth of party patronage, differences between individual sectors, the motivations of patronage appointments, the role of different party political actors in deciding upon appointments, and whether patronage is majoritarian or shared between government and opposition parties. It concludes with a discussion of the main changes in the system of Austrian party patronage since the late 1980s, arguing that the extent of party patronage has not changed dramatically, but the political logic of appointments and the type of people appointed did change considerably.

(p.33) Background

The reach of parties within society

Austria has a long tradition of strong party government. The voting system applied in elections for the first chamber of the federal parliament (Nationalrat) is party-list proportional representation. Since 1992, there has been a system of partly open lists, meaning that voters can, in addition to voting for a party list, cast preferential votes for candidates on that list. However, this electoral system still gives political parties complete control over candidate selection, making it virtually impossible to pursue a political career outside of, or without the support of, a political party. This also means that ministers and state secretaries are usually people with a strong party background. The appointment of independent ministers is a very rare phenomenon.

Since the late nineteenth century, the Austrian party system has been structured by the antagonism between the two large parties on the left and on the right: the Socialist/Social Democratic Party on the one hand and the Christian Social Party and its successor, the Austrian People’s Party, on the other. Both camps were deeply divided along two strong societal cleavages: the class cleavage, pitting capital against labour; and the religious cleavage, separating defenders of clericalism from supporters of laicism. In the 1930s, this conflict culminated in a civil war between the two sides under the Christian Social Chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuß. As a result of these violent clashes, Social Democracy was outlawed and its leaders had to leave the country or were imprisoned.

After the end of the Second World War, the leaders of the SPÖ and the ÖVP decided to turn conflict into cooperation by agreeing to form a grand coalition government with proportional representation of both sides. This grand coalition system proved to be the dominant form of government in the post-war period. The two large parties cooperated in government between 1947 and 1966, and between 1987 and 2000, and they have been doing so again since 2007. In between, there was a long period of single-party government by the SPÖ (1970–83), and shorter periods of ÖVP single-party government and coalitions between the ÖVP or the SPÖ and the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ).

In electoral terms, the traditional dominance of the SPÖ and ÖVP, which during the 1970s regularly received more than 90 per cent of the vote in national elections, has given way to a more balanced system in which the three smaller parties, the Greens, the right-wing populist FPÖ, and its split-off Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), also play an important role. Since the late 1980s, in particular the right-wing camp has significantly gained electoral support, mostly as a reaction to public criticism of the dominant grand coalition system. In the parliamentary elections of 1999, the FPÖ for the first time won slightly more votes than the ÖVP, with the ÖVP and the SPÖ together receiving no more than approximately 60 per cent of the vote. In the most recent parliamentary elections in (p.34) 2008, the combined SPÖ/ÖVP share of the vote even plummeted to slightly more than 55 per cent, with the FPÖ receiving around 17 per cent, and the BZÖ and the Greens receiving roughly 10 per cent of the vote each (Pelinka, 2009: 624).

Given the widespread practices of mass clientelism in the provision of public housing and of mass party patronage in the distribution of jobs in the public sector during the post-war period, it comes as no surprise that Austrian political parties have traditionally been marked by very high figures of party membership. The peak of mass party organization was reached by the end of the 1970s, when almost one and a half million Austrians, or almost 28 per cent of registered voters, were members of one of the two major parties. Between the end of the 1970s and 2002, however, the number of party members of the SPÖ and the ÖVP dropped by more than a third. It seems that these losses affect the SPÖ much more severely than the ÖVP. While the latter lost only one in eight members since the end of the 1970s, the SPÖ membership in 2002 was less than half the size of 1979.2

The decline of party membership is a general phenomenon affecting many established democracies (Mair and van Biezen, 2001), and it thus needs to be explained by more general processes of societal change in Western countries—changing lifestyles, declining party identification, etc. In Austria, however, it is certainly also a reaction to the waning importance of clientelistic practices in the provision of public housing and, as this chapter will show in more detail below, to the transformation of party patronage in public and semi-public institutions from a mass phenomenon to an instrument targeting primarily leadership positions.

Despite declining electoral support and membership rates, both major parties still have an exceptionally strong societal basis. In 2002, the membership of SPÖ and ÖVP amounted to slightly less than one million, which means that about 16 per cent of the electorate are members of one of the two main parties. This is still by far the highest ratio of party membership among European countries (Mair and van Biezen, 2001: 9).

In addition, both parties are deeply rooted in several societal organizations. The SPÖ has close ties to the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB), the chief association of trade unions in Austria. Despite declining union membership, the ÖGB still represents approximately one-third of all employees in Austria (Karlhofer, 2006: 466). At the same time, a minority of unions, in particular the union of public employees, belong to the Christian Democratic camp. More important are the ÖVP’s tight connections with business interests, in particular with the Federation of Austrian Industries (Industriellenvereinigung), which is one of the biggest donors of the ÖVP (Fink, 2006: 453; Sickinger, 2009: 160–70).

There are also close ties between the two major parties and the corporatist system of chambers: the Chambers of Labour, Business, and Agriculture. These chambers operate on the basis of compulsory membership. Each chamber has nine regional organizations, one in each of the nine Austrian provinces (Länder), with representative bodies elected by the members in each province and leaderships determined by these elected bodies. Each chamber also has a federal (p.35) representation. The leadership of the Federal Chamber of Labour and of the Federal Chamber of Business is determined by the respective regional chambers. The Chamber of Agriculture is represented at the federal level by a conference of the nine regional presidents.

Delegates in all chambers are organized according to party lines. In each chamber, there is a Social Democratic and a Christian Democratic faction. Sometimes there are also smaller factions belonging to the FPÖ, the Greens, and the BZÖ. Chamber representation of the ÖVP is organized according to the three traditional ‘leagues’ (Bünde) of which the party consists, with party membership usually being tied to membership in one of these leagues: the Business League (Wirtschaftsbund), the Farmers’ League (Bauernbund), and the League of Blue and White Collar Workers (Arbeiter- und Angestelltenbund). The Social Democrats dominate the Chambers of Labour. They hold the majority in all regional chambers except for Tyrol and Vorarlberg, where the Christian Democrats hold the majority, and they control the Federal Chamber of Labour. Conversely, the Chambers of Business and the Chambers of Agriculture are dominated by the respective ÖVP leagues (Pelinka, 2009: 628–30). The ÖVP Farmers’ League also has close ties with the Raiffeisen Group, a powerful conglomerate of agricultural cooperatives, banks, and dairy producers (Krammer and Hovorka, 2006).

In addition, there is a wide array of sports clubs, automobile associations, charity organizations, student associations, etc. which have ties to either the Social Democratic Party or the People’s Party (Karlhofer, 2001: 345–9; Müller, 2006a: 352–3). Although these ties may have become weaker since the 1970s, there are still distinct Social Democratic and Christian Democratic milieus that reach deep into society.

The administrative tradition

The origins of Austrian administration date back to the eighteenth century, when Maria Theresia, and especially her successor Joseph II, implemented far-reaching reforms to build up a strong, centralized bureaucracy for the Habsburg Empire. These reforms were built upon the principles of hierarchical organization and merit-based appointment and promotion (Müller, 2007a). Austria’s administrative tradition thus conforms to what Max Weber later on described as the ideal-typical model of modern bureaucracy (Weber, 1922/1978: 956–1003).

However, after the demise of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918, and in particular under the rule of the Austrofascist regime in the 1930s, the Austrian administration became more and more colonized by members of the Christian Socialist camp. Since social democrats were excluded from the public bureaucracy, the vast majority of civil servants at the time thus belonged to the Conservative camp. Under Nazi rule, many civil servants lost their jobs or were even persecuted because they were Jews, followers of the old regime, or simply supported the (p.36) idea of an independent Austrian state. Instead, new Nazi partisans were brought in and some of the old civil servants joined the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) for opportunistic reasons (Liegl and Müller, 1999: 114; Müller, 2007a: 40).

Under the grand coalition that took office after the end of the Second World War, the Social Democrats in particular feared that the process of denazification would lead to the re-establishment of Conservative dominance in the public administration. To solve this problem, the grand coalition established the so-called Proporz system, according to which both governing parties should get a roughly equal share of the jobs in the public sector. With the exception of the army, which the SPÖ sought to turn into a bipartisan organization, the system worked based on the principle of the ministers’ personnel autonomy within their sphere of competence—meaning that the ministers of each party would appoint individuals to jobs within their part of the administration dependent on their suitableness to the party. Likewise, jobs in the nationalized industries were divided between both parties. With certain adaptations in phases where only one of the parties was in government, this system of strong party politicization of the state machinery has put its mark on the Austrian public sector until the present day (Liegl and Müller, 1999: 114–16; Müller, 2007a: 43–51). However, as this chapter will show in more detail below, the Austrian system of party patronage has significantly changed its modus operandi.

Following the First World War, the scope of the spoils available to the ÖVP and SPÖ was considerable, especially since post-war Austria used to have one of the largest nationalized sectors among Western industrialized countries (Lauber and Pesendorfer, 2006: 610). The Austrian state owned the Federal Railways Company (ÖBB), the Austrian Post, several large banks, as well as steel, energy, aviation, and tobacco companies. Starting in the mid-1980s, however, all state-owned banks and many of the nationalized companies were (fully or partly) privatized. Nowadays, the last remaining company that is entirely owned by the Austrian state is the Federal Railways Company. In addition, the state holds a majority of the shares of Austrian Post and of the electricity company, Verbund, as well as a minority of shares of Telekom Austria and the energy company OMV.

Today, about 470,000 employees work in the Austrian government sector (Statistik Austria, 2010: 195–6). The federal level makes up about a third of all government employees. The nine provinces employ slightly more than half of all government employees, and the remaining 16 per cent work at the local level. These figures underline the fact that the provinces are important actors in administrative terms. Although they have little legislative power, the provincial administrations are in charge of implementing federal legislation in many areas, in particular with regard to schools and health care.

People working in the government sector are employed on two types of contracts. On the one hand, there are career civil servants with permanent tenure. On the other hand, more and more staff are hired as ‘employees under contract’ (Vertragsbedienstete), i.e. employees with employment contracts under private (p.37) law and without permanent tenure. Almost two-thirds of all state employees are employees under contract. Most of these work at the regional and local levels, however. In contrast, more than 60 per cent of all employees at the federal level are still career civil servants with permanent tenure, although there has been a far-reaching moratorium on creating new tenured civil service positions in the federal administration since 2000. There are also plans to restrict the status of civil servants with permanent tenure to the core executive functions of the state, such as the Military and Police, or the Judiciary.

Compared to the other countries in our sample, the number of government employees in Austria is relatively moderate. In 2007, only 11.8 per cent of the economically active population in Austria worked in this sector. This is the third smallest government sector after Greece and Germany. The share of employees working in the general government sector in Hungary is almost twice as high as in Austria, and the government sectors of Norway and Denmark are about two and a half times as large as the Austrian one.3

Empirical analysis of patronage

Scope and reach of patronage

Formally, political parties in Austria are able to reach all types of institutions in all sectors analysed.4 Although the party organizations as such are usually not endowed with the right to appoint people, persons representing political parties, typically the ministers in charge of particular organizational units, are legally entitled to decide upon appointments. In practice, they make wide-ranging use of their patronage opportunities. As Table 3.1 shows, the overall patronage score

Table 3.1 The index of party patronage in Austria

Policy area

Ministries

NDACs

Executing institutions

Policy area total

Economy

0.67

0.67

0.67

0.67

Finance

0.67

0.44

0.67

0.59

Judiciary

0.67

0.11

0.39

Media

0.33

0.22

0.44

0.33

Military and Police

0.67

0.22

1.00

0.63

Health Care

0.67

0.22

0.67

0.52

Culture and Education

0.67

0.00

0.22

0.30

Foreign Service

0.67

0.33

0.22

0.41

Regional and Local Administration

0.67

0.33

0.67

0.56

Total

0.63

0.31

0.52

0.49

(p.38) of Austria is 0.49 (see Chapter 2 for more details on how this score was calculated). This is the second highest score among all the countries included in our analysis (see the Conclusion of this volume in Chapter 18).

Our interviewees overwhelmingly suggested that these appointments are party political appointments. We asked our respondents about the role of parties in these appointments for each type of institution in each sector (see Table 3.2). In 88.9 per cent of all cases, the answer was that parties play a large role. In 7.4 per cent of all cases, our interviewees considered the role of parties to be small. The remainder pertains to cases where respondents did not answer the question.

Taken together, these results suggest that Austria can still be considered a country with high levels of party patronage. To learn more about the character of party patronage in Austria, it is useful to explore the reach and depth of patronage appointments within the state sector. How many of the public and semi-public institutions are affected by patronage, and how deep down the organizational hierarchies of these institutions does it reach? Table 3.3 presents standardized scores of the range and depth of patronage. The average score of reach is 0.84. This means that patronage affects a very large part of the institutions we studied. Parties appoint people to all ministerial departments and to most non-departmental agencies and executing institutions. In contrast, the average score of depth is much lower, amounting to a value of 0.53. In other words, patronage almost always penetrates the top levels, and to some extent also the middle levels, but almost never the lower levels of public and semi-public institutions.

These data suggest that party patronage in Austria today is a phenomenon that concentrates to a considerable extent on leadership positions rather than reaching down to the level of ordinary employees in the state sector. This finding is in stark contrast to the all-pervasive system of patronage that was built up in the immediate post-war period and was still very much alive in the 1980s (Müller, 1989). The concluding section of this chapter will discuss the reasons for this transformation of Austrian party patronage.

Patronage in ministerial departments

The data show that there are significant differences between different types of institutions. In terms of institutional differences, ministerial departments are most

Table 3.2 The role of the party in appointments

Percentage of respondents who said that parties have a…

Ministries

NDACs

Executing institutions

Total

Small role

12.0%

10.7%

7.4%

Large role

96.4%

80.0%

89.3%

88.9%

No answer

3.6%

8.0%

3.7%

(p.39)

Table 3.3 Range and depth of patronage, by policy area and institutional type

Ministries

NDACs

Executing institutions

Range

Depth

Range

Depth

Range

Depth

Economy

1.00

0.67

1.0

0.67

1.00

0.67

Finance

1.00

0.67

0.67

0.67

1.00

0.67

Judiciary

1.00

0.67

0.33

0.33

Media

1.00

0.33

0.67

0.33

0.67

0.67

Military and Police

1.00

0.67

0.67

0.33

1.00

1.00

Health Care

1.00

0.67

0.67

0.33

1.00

0.67

Culture and Education

1.00

0.67

0.00

0.00

0.67

0.33

Foreign Service

1.00

0.67

1.00

0.33

0.67

0.33

Regional and Local Administration

1.00

0.67

1.00

0.33

1.00

0.67

Total

1.00

0.63

0.71

0.38

0.81

0.59

Average range: 0.84, average depth: 0.53

affected by party patronage. Each and every ministerial department is penetrated by political parties, and in all but one ministry party political appointments cover both the top and the middle levels.5 At the top of the hierarchy, ministers appoint the members of their ministerial cabinets or bureaus according to party political criteria. The members of these cabinets or bureaus are not career civil servants but political appointees whose fate is directly linked to the political survival of the minister. Although there are differences between ministries as well as between individual ministers, the size of these cabinets has increased considerably since the 1970s (Liegl and Müller, 1999: 102). Currently, the number of people employed in the ministerial cabinets of the federal ministries in our eight policy sectors varies between two (Foreign Ministry) and thirteen (Interior Ministry). The average number of cabinet members is eight.6

Apart from that, ministers also appoint the heads of departments (Sektionschefs) in their ministries, i.e. the leading positions at the middle level of the ministerial hierarchy. Although there are differences in the extent to which individual ministers actually fill these positions exclusively on the basis of party political affinity,7 it is safe to conclude that these appointments in general are done on party political grounds. However, heads of departments do not come and go with the minister, but are staffed with career civil servants. Until the mid-1990s, these were permanent positions, which meant that a new minister had to live with the heads of departments of his or her predecessor and could only appoint new people to these positions after one of the heads of department had retired. Inspired by the principles of New Public Management, the new system, which became effective in 1996, provided that appointments to heads of departments and a couple of other senior official positions be made for a fixed term of five years (Liegl and Müller, 1999: 101). This has considerably shortened the party political shadow of history within ministerial departments. Ministers now have many more opportunities to (p.40) change the personnel of heads of sections according to their party political tastes. At the same time, ministers’ powers of reorganization were also strengthened by the new system. While the old system required ministers to provide a job of the same rank to senior officials they wanted to remove from certain positions, the new rules now only require them to make sure that they get another job with adequate payment. Moreover, the ability of civil servants to appeal against ministerial reorganizations was curbed (Liegl and Müller, 1999: 100).

While certainly not all ministers make use of the instrument of reorganization, working instead with their cabinets and using the tool of party political appointments for positions which become vacant when fixed-term contracts come to an end, there are several examples where ministers, usually taking over a ministry that had been headed by another party for several years, employed all available instruments to ‘re-colour’ the senior administrative staff in their ministry. Probably one of the most skilful examples was to be witnessed when the ÖVP minister Ernst Strasser took over the Interior Ministry in 2000. The ministry had been in the hands of the SPÖ for almost the whole post-war period, which meant that virtually all important positions were filled with SPÖ partisans. Within a few years, Strasser completely reorganized the ministry, abolishing old administrative units and creating new ones. Since the newly created positions could be appointed anew, the effect of this reorganization was that Strasser could replace a considerable number of SPÖ officials by civil servants loyal to the ÖVP (Müller, 2007b: 50).

The only restriction a minister has in his appointments is that all positions are subject to a regularized placement procedure. This requirement was introduced in 1989 as a reaction to growing public criticism of patronage practices. The new placement regulations have to be seen against the background of debates surrounding the accession to power of a new grand coalition government in 1987. The SPÖ single-party government (1966–83) had practised a less obvious form of party patronage than the grand coalition during the 1950s and 1960s. Despite making considerable inroads into the formerly ‘black’ ministries, the SPÖ decided not to fully exploit its patronage potentials, partly because it did not have enough personnel resources to fill all the available jobs. When the grand coalition came back to power in 1987, there was considerable public concern, fuelled by an aggressive anti-Proporz campaign of Haider’s Freedom Party, that the two parties would return to their old spoils system. The introduction of more formalized placement procedures was meant to appease these criticisms (Müller, Philipp, and Steininger, 1996: 105–6). The concluding section to this chapter will discuss in more detail the role of FPÖ pressure in transforming Austria’s patronage system.

According to the new system, jobs in the public administration have to be publicly advertised. Applications are screened by selection committees consisting of four members: two are appointed by the minister, one by the civil service trade union, and a further member comes from the central employee representation, the Zentralausschuss, which is usually dominated by trade unionists as well. The committee is chaired by one of the members appointed by the minister. It produces (p.41) a ranked shortlist of the most promising candidates, which is then put before the minister for a final decision. If the committee is split, the chairman’s vote is decisive (Liegl and Müller, 1999: 96–7).

Although this new procedure increased the relevance of professional qualifications in appointments (see below), it did not decisively diminish party influence. First, the job profiles defined in public announcements, especially for more important positions, are frequently tailored to specific party candidates. ‘Job offers often come with the photo of the targeted candidate’, as one of our interviewees put it. Second, even if the call is relatively open, there is usually a range of qualified candidates from which the committee can choose the person with the best party political fit. In fact, the party groups in the employee representation and in the civil service trade union keep track of the pool of candidates loyal to their party and seek to ensure that ‘their’ candidate is selected.8 Third, even if the committee selects somebody the minister dislikes, especially if he or she faces a ministry where the unions of the other party have a majority, he or she is not legally bound by the recommendation of the selection committee. All the minister has to do in that case is inform the employee representation about his or her reason for rejecting the top candidate (Liegl and Müller, 1999: 97).

Patronage in non-departmental agencies

Among the three types of institutions in our study, non-departmental agencies have the lowest overall score of party patronage (see Table 3.1 above). This does not mean that party politics does not play an important role in recruitment decisions, but that it is relatively less important than in ministerial departments and executing institutions. Some non-departmental agencies are considered virtually free of party patronage, and in those agencies where party politics does play a role, it typically covers only leadership positions, i.e. the jobs of directors, members of managing boards and/or members of supervisory boards. External party political influence is usually restricted to these top jobs because party political actors, usually the ministers in charge of the given agencies, do not have a formal say on appointments further down the hierarchy. Some of our respondents mentioned cascading effects from the top to the middle level, meaning that party appointees at the top appoint people according to party political criteria at lower levels of their organizations. However, reports about such practices were restricted to the Economy and Finance sectors, where party patronage in general is particularly widespread.

Among the thirty-seven non-departmental agencies covered by our study, agencies considered to be of strategic importance are more likely to be influenced by party politics than less important agencies. Where economically important decisions are taken, parties are particularly keen to ensure that loyal managers are appointed to leadership positions. This is true for many agencies in the Finance and Economy sectors such as the Financial Market Authority, which supervises (p.42) the entire banking, insurance, and stock market, the Federal Competition Authority, which monitors compliance with anti-trust regulations in Austria, or the Austrian Industry Holding, which manages the state’s shares in nationalized or partly state-owned companies. The same is true for agencies with more important regulatory or supervisory functions in the Media and Health Care sectors or at the provincial level. Party political criteria thus dominate top-level appointments in the Austrian Communications Authority, which is not only the competent authority for broadcasting regulation, but also administers the Austrian federal government’s press and journalism subsidies, the Federal Health Agency and Health Austria Limited, two agencies that are key players in implementing controversial cost-containment plans in health care, and the provincial schooling councils, which play a crucial role in selecting candidates for headmaster and teacher positions. In contrast, less important agencies are often left untouched by political parties. This category includes the Austrian Internet Monitor, the Austrian Interior Safety Board, the Study Grant Authority, and, at the regional level, the Federation of Lower Austrian Public Libraries.

In some cases, the strategic importance or unimportance of a particular agency is not obvious. For example, it seems surprising at first glance that the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), an agency administering a considerable share of Austria’s research and development budget, is left untouched by political parties. However, the main focus of FWF funding is basic research. Applied research, in contrast, is managed by a different agency, the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG). Given that funds for applied research can be used as an instrument of industrial policy by providing indirect subsidies to certain branches of the Economy or to certain companies, it comes as no surprise that the FFG leadership is controlled by party politics, while the FWF is relatively independent.9

Patronage in executing institutions

The extent of party patronage in executing institutions is slightly lower than in ministerial departments, but significantly higher than in non-departmental agencies (see Table 3.1 above). The executing institutions that are most heavily influenced by party political appointments are the armed forces and the police, where appointments according to party political criteria still reach down to the lowest levels. While all of these appointments are formally done by the ministers in charge of the respective sector, there is an interesting overlap of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms behind these appointments. Leadership positions are driven by the ministers in charge, with the aim of gaining control of the sector. At the same time, there is a more clientelistic bottom-up mechanism underlying recruitment decisions at the lowest level of the hierarchy. Local politicians who want to reward a loyal supporter intervene with the minister to ensure that this person gets a job in the army or the police, or will be transferred to another police (p.43) station or army base. What is party political about these procedures is that they work primarily between local politicians from the same party as the minister. One of our interviewees even described a case where a mayor of a town with army barracks lobbied the minister to ensure that a certain individual would get a job in the catering service of the local barracks.

Also strongly influenced by political parties are appointments in the management of large state-owned companies such as the Federal Railways Company, ÖBB, the state-owned energy company, Verbund, or Austrian Post, as well as management positions in the Austrian National Bank, the Austrian Broadcasting Company (ORF), the Federation of Austrian Social Insurers, and, at the regional and local level, in provincial hospitals, schools, and district authorities or city magistrates. Although the depth of patronage is declining in executing institutions, party influence on appointments in all of these institutions still reaches not only the top managerial level but also the middle level, mostly in the form of a cascading effect where the party appointees at the top appoint further party confidants in positions further down the hierarchy.

Party patronage also affects a number of further executing institutions, although in these cases the influence of parties is restricted to the top level. Judges of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Justice, members of university boards (one of the three top governing institutions in Austrian universities), the chief editor of the state-owned Vienna Newspaper, as well as ambassadors and permanent representatives are regularly appointed according to party political criteria. Among the few executing institutions that are free of party patronage are ordinary courts, whose judges are selected by independent committees of judges attached to the Supreme Court of Justice and the Courts of Appeal. According to our interviewees, this procedure is based on professional qualifications only, and thus shields the recruitment of judges from party political intervention.

Sectoral differences

Besides variation among different types of institution, there are also relevant differences in the scope and reach of party patronage between sectors. Table 3.1 reveals that Economy is the sector most affected by party patronage, closely followed by Military and Police, Finance, and Regional and Local Administration.10 At the other end of the spectrum, Culture and Education has the lowest score of party patronage, followed by Judiciary and Foreign Service.

There are two factors that explain this pattern. First, patronage heavily targets institutions that are of strategic importance for political parties, so that they can pursue policy goals they consider of vital importance in electoral terms. This is especially true for the Economy and Finance sectors, but also for many of the institutions under the control of provincial governors, like schools and provincial (p.44) hospitals. Sectors crowded by institutions that are less important for parties, in contrast, are less affected by party political appointments. This pertains to many institutions in Foreign Service, Culture and Education,11 as well as the Media and Judiciary sectors. This does not mean that Austrian parties consider courts, TV and radio stations, or schools to be unimportant. It only means that many of the institutions operating in these sectors are not so important and are thus largely ignored by political parties, while the few institutions that do have wide-ranging powers or a potentially significant impact on the public image of the government, such as the Austrian Communications Authority and the public broadcasting company, ORF, in the Media sector, or the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Justice in the Judiciary sector, are heavily affected by party patronage.

Second, some of the patronage-heavy sectors are still marked not only by control-driven appointments of leadership positions but also by more traditional forms of clientelistic patronage, motivated by reward considerations. Our data indicate that this is particularly true for Military and Police, but partly also for Regional and Local Administration and the Finance sector. In these policy areas, all of which belong to the group of sectors most affected by party patronage, we still find traces of the traditional, more clientelistic, system of reward-driven patronage described by Müller (1989), in addition to the now dominant mode of control-driven patronage. As described above, bottom-up appointments aiming to reward partisans are still particularly widespread in the military and the police.

This type of patronage usually targets jobs below the level of leadership positions because it usually involves more people than could be satisfied with the limited number of available top managerial jobs, and it often involves appointees with lower levels of qualifications than those required for many leadership positions. For these reasons, party patronage in sectors that are still partly marked by reward patronage reaches further down the organizational hierarchies than patronage in sectors dominated by control motivations. This increases the overall patronage scores of these sectors.

Motivations and selection criteria

Our respondents overwhelmingly indicated that control is the dominant motive of patronage appointments in Austria today (see Figure 3.1). Almost 80 per cent of our interviewees mentioned control as the dominant motive. Some also said that control and reward was crucial, but no one argued that reward was the decisive motive. The answers highlighting the role of reward in addition to control were concentrated on the three exceptional sectors that were just identified as characterized by reward patronage in addition to control patronage: Military and Police, Finance, and Regional and Local Administration.

The overall distribution of party patronage across the state machinery corroborates the experts’ views. Apart from a couple of noteworthy exceptions, patronage (p.45)

Party Patronage in Austria: From Reward to Control

Figure 3.1 Motivations for party patronage in Austria

mostly concentrates on leadership positions and, to some extent, also on influential positions among the middle management. Moreover, agencies and institutions that are considered to be of strategic importance are more likely to be targeted by party patronage than institutions regarded as less powerful.

Concerning the characteristics of successful appointees, our respondents hinted at a mixture of professional qualifications, party political links, and personal ties (see Figure 3.2). Many argued that professional qualification is a crucial prerequisite for being appointed. This is also due to the fact that jobs in the public and semi-public sector nowadays need to be filled on the basis of a public job advertisement. This does not mean, however, that parties cannot influence such appointments. There is usually a range of qualified candidates from which a minister can choose a person who is close to him or her personally or has links to his or her party, or both. Whether personal ties or party links are more important depends on the case at hand and, according to many respondents, is hard to disentangle. What is important to note, however, is that patronage today usually does not involve appointments of people who are not qualified for the job.

In sum, this suggests that patronage is not driven by the goal of finding attractive posts to reward loyal party members but by the objective of finding trustworthy and qualified persons for important management positions.

Who appoints?

As Figure 3.3 shows, patronage is clearly a prerogative of the parties in government. Almost 80 per cent of our respondents argued that patronage is a matter for government parties to decide. In this sense, party patronage in Austria is a (p.46)

Party Patronage in Austria: From Reward to Control

Figure 3.2 Qualifications of appointees in Austria

Party Patronage in Austria: From Reward to Control

Figure 3.3 Patronage power

majoritarian phenomenon. At the same time, it needs to be added that grand coalitions have been the dominant form of government since the Second World War. As the traditional logic of patronage under grand coalition governments in Austria was power sharing, balancing, and mutual monitoring between the two major parties, patronage has a certain element of proportionalism between the SPÖ and the ÖVP.

(p.47) However, the system of proportional patronage between the SPÖ and the ÖVP can only work if both parties remain in power. Patronage practices under the ÖVP-FPÖ (later on ÖVP-BZÖ) coalition in power between 2000 and 2007 clearly suggest that opposition parties do not get a slice of the cake. The ÖVP defended and expanded its sphere of influence, while the FPÖ/BZÖ, despite its long-standing criticism of the party political appointment practices of previous grand coalition governments, did everything to move people from its camp into the available positions under its control. The SPÖ could defend some of its own positions simply because the new government did not have enough time to replace them entirely by ÖVP or FPÖ/BZÖ confidants.

There are only very few exceptions to the general pattern of government-driven patronage. In particular, a number of members of the Austrian Broadcasting Company’s governing board (Stiftungsrat) are determined by the parties represented in the federal parliament according to their relative strength, which means that opposition parties also get their share. The Austrian provinces, via the second chamber, may also appoint members of the governing board. This provides patronage opportunities for parties that are in opposition at the federal level, but are part of a provincial government. Given that the government appoints the largest group of governing board members, however, it usually has a comfortable majority in the Stiftungsrat.

Who are the partisan actors that determine patronage appointments? Our interviews clearly suggest that ministers are the crucial players in party patronage. Almost 80 per cent of our respondents considered the minister in charge of a particular sector to be the key actor deciding upon appointments. In general, ministers have the power to appoint people in institutions under their jurisdiction, and they also make use of this power. This corroborates existing knowledge on the general autonomy of ministers within the Austrian system of public administration (Pelinka, 2009: 614–15). When important appointments are at stake, however, the party chairman of the minister’s party also comes into play, and it depends on the standing of the respective minister within the party to decide who gets their way.

In contrast to the federal level, appointments in the Austrian provinces are much less sectorialized. Although provincial governments also have a sectoral structure, there are no separate ministries at the provincial level. The centrepiece of the provincial administration is the Office of the Provincial Government. The Office comprises all administrative functions of the core provincial bureaucracy. It has functional subdivisions, but these are not headed by other members of government but belong to the sphere of responsibility of the governor, who is the head of the provincial government and administration. The key player in provincial appointments is thus the governor, who ultimately decides on all important appointments at this level.

A further departure from the general rule of ministerial patronage powers can be found in the few areas where the government as a whole is responsible for appointments. This is true for ambassadors, for the president and vice-president (p.48) of the Court of Administration, and for the president and vice-president as well as the majority of the other judges of the Constitutional Court. In these cases, appointments are not determined by the respective ministers alone. Instead, the party chairmen of the government parties also play an important role.

A crucial issue for the functioning of a system of party patronage that is as wide-ranging as the Austrian one is how political parties manage to monitor open positions and keep track of suitable candidates. While the central party offices, or the leagues in the case of the ÖVP, were key in fulfilling these tasks during the 1960s and 1970s, this role has been taken over mostly by the respective party groups in employee representations and in the civil service trade union. They keep an eye on potential candidates and bring their knowledge to bear in the committees that screen the candidates applying for jobs in the public sector. As outlined above, these selection committees always involve a member of the employee representation and a representative of the trade union—usually partisan actors belonging to one of the two traditional party camps.

Especially when a minister takes over a portfolio that has been in the hands of the other party for a long period of time and the employee representatives and trade unionists therefore tend to belong to the opposite camp, the tasks of keeping track of party politically suitable candidates and of ensuring that they are evaluated positively by the selection committees are sometimes also fulfilled by the ministerial cabinets. This was the case, for example, when the ÖVP minister Ernst Strasser took over the Social Democratic Ministry of the Interior in 2000.

At the provincial level, finally, it is usually the so-called ‘Landesamtsdirektor’, the top civil servant in the provincial administration, also responsible for human resource management, who is in charge of administering white lists and black lists and ensuring that the right candidates are selected.

In other words, keeping track of personnel with the right political credentials for being appointed has changed from a task managed by the central party offices into a decentralized system run by trade unionists and close political confidants of ministers and provincial governors. This reflects a general shift of patronage powers from the party in central office to ministers and provincial governors.

Conclusion: from reward-driven mass patronage to control-driven elite patronage

The information gathered through our interviews indicates that patronage practices have undergone a significant transformation. More than 70 per cent of our respondents pointed out that party patronage has changed significantly over the last fifteen or twenty years. As outlined earlier in this chapter, party appointments in the post-war period up until the end of the 1980s were a mass phenomenon (p.49) covering not only leadership positions in public and semi-public institutions, but also ordinary employees in ministerial departments, public authorities, state-owned companies, and other institutions under the grip of political parties. The data presented in this chapter, by contrast, show that party patronage in Austria today primarily targets leadership positions, and to a certain extent also positions in the middle management, of public and semi-public institutions.

This shift from mass to elite patronage goes along with a change in the logic of party patronage. In former times, rewarding loyal party members used to be at least as important as gaining control over important corridors of power. This gave rise to appointments irrespective of professional qualifications, which is seen as one of the reasons why many state-owned companies ran into deep economic trouble in the 1990s. After growing public criticism of the economically ineffective patronage system of former times, more objective and transparent procedures for appointing important positions were introduced, and many of the state-owned companies were fully or partly privatized.

This did not put an end to party patronage in the companies where the state continued to be an important capital owner, but it meant a serious blow to reward-driven mass patronage. Nowadays, professional qualification is generally considered an important precondition for appointments. Parties apply political criteria only in order to select the most suitable people from a pool of qualified candidates. More than half of our respondents explicitly mentioned the increasing importance of professional skills when asked about important changes in party patronage. A number of experts also argued that appointment practices focusing on rewarding loyal partisans have given way to a more control-driven system. At any rate, as shown in Figure 3.1 above, the vast majority of our respondents agreed that control was the dominant motive underlying patronage appointments today.

In sum, the old system of mass patronage, which was at least partly reward-driven, has been transformed into a system of elite patronage, primarily aiming to gain party political control over public and semi-public institutions that are crucial for policy delivery.

A crucial element in bringing about this change was the electoral success of Jörg Haider’s right-wing populist FPÖ in the second half of the 1980s (Kitschelt, 2007). After Haider assumed the position of FPÖ party chairman in 1986, he started an aggressive campaign against the patronage-ridden Proporz system of the two major parties, the SPÖ and ÖVP. This strategy yielded ample electoral success. The first national election with Haider as FPÖ chairman, the parliamentary election of 1986, resulted in a decisively strengthened FPÖ, which had almost doubled its share of the vote compared to the previous election. Despite the FPÖ success, the two major parties formed a new grand coalition in 1987, and this government constellation remained unaltered for the next thirteen years. This set the stage for an unprecedented electoral upswing of the FPÖ, which continued to thrive on Haider’s anti-Proporz strategy until it had received almost 27 per cent in (p.50) the 1999 national election, finishing a few hundred votes ahead of the ÖVP as the second largest party.

Threatened by the electoral challenge of the FPÖ, and pressurized by growing public awareness of party patronage and increasingly critical media reports, the two governing parties started to react. Already in 1989, they introduced a new Appointment Act according to which all jobs in the civil service needed to be advertised publicly and placement decisions needed to be based on professional criteria (Müller, Philipp, and Steininger, 1996: 105–6; Liegl and Müller, 1999: 97). The grand coalition also initiated a process of privatization and de-politicization of state-owned companies to fend off growing public criticism of the ineffectiveness of the party-controlled public sector. The ÖVP in particular adopted an increasingly liberal policy on state ownership (Kitschelt, 2007: 308). Privatization was finally pushed ahead when the FPÖ entered into a right-wing coalition with the ÖVP in 2000.

Some of the former party fiefdoms in the public sector were thus released from the grip of parties through privatization. More important was the growing public criticism of reward-driven appointments irrespective of professional qualifications. Rather than cutting back decisively on patronage altogether, the parties changed their strategy, focusing more on important positions and taking account of public pressure by increasing the role of professional skills in their politically motivated appointments. It is through this defensive process, propelled by the anti-Proporz campaign of the FPÖ, that party patronage slowly moved away from reward-driven mass patronage and turned into a system of control-driven elite patronage.

However, it seems that the FPÖ’s entry into government in 2000 has decisively weakened the anti-patronage drive in the Austrian party system. Rather than refraining from patronage and pushing its coalition partner to do likewise, the FPÖ, and later on the BZÖ, made full use of the patronage resources offered by their taking control of several important ministerial portfolios (Heinisch, 2003; for a more journalistic account, see Sperl, 2003). One of the ironies of FPÖ/BZÖ participation in government is that it was exactly the FPÖ/BZÖ ministers who received the most public criticism for appointing party confidants with a lack of appropriate professional qualifications. Given the small membership basis of the FPÖ/BZÖ and their lack of government experience at the time, this could hardly have been otherwise. In the eyes of the wider public, however, the scandals surrounding many of the FPÖ/BZÖ appointments clearly indicated that these alleged anti-patronage parties were no better than the former Proporz parties, the ÖVP and SPÖ.

Since then, both the BZÖ and the FPÖ have considerably toned down their criticism of patronage practices. As a consequence, the Greens are at present the only major party that is openly critical of patronage practices. Since they are too weak to mobilize a decisive share of the electorate, there is currently much less pressure on the SPÖ and the ÖVP to cut down on their patronage practices than (p.51) there was fifteen or twenty years ago. Given that the reforms initiated in the shadow of FPÖ mobilization have diminished the likeliness of large-scale scandals due to incompetent appointees, it seems that the current system, although still facing public criticism from time to time, is relatively stable.

Notes

Notes:

(1.) See Abercrombie and Hill, 1976: 423–4: ‘Proessional careers show how patronage…is a central facet of an institution which is sometimes thought to be dominated by the principles of technical competence and achieved status…Professions’ monopoly supply situation and control over their internal affairs throw great power into the hands of elders, who control the career prospects of juniors in ways which are often independent of the market…The sponsorship of junior academics by senior professors is helpful at least, and more often essential, at each career stage.’ We would like to thank Nicole Bolleyer for drawing our attention to this reference.

(2.) The party membership figures were taken from Müller (2006a: 347) and Ucakar (2006: 332). To calculate the membership/electorate ratios, figures for the number of registered voters were taken from International IDEA (〈http://idea.int〉, accessed on 2 April 2010). They were 5,186,735 in 1979 and 5,838,373 in 2002. The other parties in Austria are negligible in terms of membership. In 2004, the FPÖ had approximately 45,000 members (Luther 2006: 374), while membership of the Greens amounted to slightly more than 4,000 in 2005 (Pelinka 2009: 627).

(3.) Source: International Labour Organization (ILO) labour statistics (〈http://laborsta.ilo.org〉 accessed on 2 April 2010). The available figures on public sector employment collected by the Austrian Statistical Office correspond to the ILO category of employment in the ‘general government sector’. This category excludes employment in ‘publicly-owned enterprises’. Given that there are no data on Austria for this latter category, all we can compare here is the size of the core government apparatus. In some cases—e.g. in Greece—the rather low figures of employment in this sector would increase significantly if state-owned enterprises were included.

(4.) The following analysis of patronage practices in Austria is based on 28 expert interviews conducted between May 2008 and April 2010. The empirical work was hampered by severe problems of finding experts with appropriate knowledge who were also willing to give interviews and to talk plainly about the role of political parties in appointments in the public and semi-public sector. We contacted more than 60 potential interviewees. Only 31 of these agreed to give an interview. Three interviews were not included in the analysis since there are serious doubts as to the validity of the information provided. The resulting 28 expert interviews are evenly distributed over the nine sectors, guaranteeing that there are at least three interviews per sector. Although the overall number of interviews is lower than originally intended, we are confident that the information from these expert (p.52) interviews provides a reliable picture of party patronage in Austria today. In particular, it should be stressed that the answers of the individual interviewees within each sector are highly convergent. It is thus very unlikely that adding more interviews would alter the picture significantly.

(5.) The exception is the media sector, which does not have its own ministry. Instead, the small central administration of this sector is attached to the Chancellor’s Office. Since December 2008, with the accession of the government under Chancellor Faymann, the media portfolio is held by a junior minister. His administrative staff is concentrated on the Ministerial Cabinet and comprises four employees (source: website of the Chancellor’s Office, accessed on 9 April 2010).

(6.) Source: websites of the federal ministries involved in our study (accessed on 7 April 2010). The count does not include administrative staff. If we add administrative staff, the number of employees is almost twice as high.

(7.) Apart from the personal styles of different ministers, there are two ministries with a certain tradition of appointing not only partisans but also independents to senior official positions. This is true for the Ministry of Justice because this ministry has often been headed by independent ministers. Likewise, there is a rather strong group of independents within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the so-called Gruppe Ballhausplatz), which is also represented at the level of senior official positions.

(8.) This practice was already observed by Müller, Philipp, and Steininger (1996: 107) in the mid-1990s. Our interviews confirm that civil service trade unions and employee representatives still play a key role in keeping track of suitable candidates and ensuring that selection committees recommend them for appointment.

(9.) Since the FFG is not supervised by the Research Ministry, but primarily by the Ministry of Transport, we did not include it in our study. The non-departmental agencies in research and education thus only comprise the FWF and the Study Grant Authority, both of which are largely independent of party politics. As a consequence, this is the only type of institution in any of our nine sectors that can be considered free of party political appointments. Had we included the FFG, the situation would have been different.

(10.) Given that Austria is a federal state with nine provinces, we decided to represent the level of Regional and Local Administration by a case study on party patronage in one province: Lower Austria. Lower Austria is the province with the largest territory and the second largest population in Austria. While Vienna, the province with the largest population, has a rather untypical administrative structure because it is a city province, Lower Austria, like most other provinces, is a territorial province with both urban and rural areas. It is also typical for other provinces in that it is marked by a system of proportional party government. The Lower Austrian government is made up of representatives from all parties that have a certain share of seats in the provincial parliament. The number of members in the (p.53) provincial government is determined by the relative strength of parties in the provincial parliament. At the time of writing, the Lower Austrian government consisted of six representatives of the People’s Party, including the governor (Landeshauptmann), two representatives of the Social Democratic Party, and one representative of the Freedom Party.

(11.) Note that appointments in public schools—which are of considerable strategic importance for Austrian political parties to be able to influence (or thwart) efforts to reform the Austrian schooling system—cannot be influenced by the Federal Ministry for Education, but are in the hands of provincial governors.