Five years after our study “Civil Society Index – Rapid Assessement” we asked ourselves: How have the climate and the framework conditions changed for civil society in Austria since 2014?

In cooperation with the WU, University of Economics and Business of Vienna, we updated the CSI 2014 and focused on the general political climate in relation to civil society, democracy and participation, fundamental rights and financing. Our new study is based on 53 interviews with experts and representatives of civil society organisations conducted between August 2018 and February 2019. In February 2019, a quantitative survey was conducted on changes in resources, the climate and the legal situation and 310 CSOs’ representatives responded. Further, a representative survey was made on the perception of civil society by the population. This was complemented by three focus groups in which the results were discussed.

With regard to the general climate, a clear polarisation of the discourse and delegitimisation of civil society have taken place in Austria. This can be seen for example through the imputation of profit interests, the devaluation of CSO´s work, and the increase of a generally negative rhetoric. According to democracy and participation, CSOs are much less involved in legislative procedures. Review periods have been shortened, and the CSOs are no longer included in the legislative process. Civil rights are well developed in Austria by international standards. However, freedom of assembly has been restricted in recent years, above all through the extension of the notification period for assemblies and the establishment of so-called protection areas. A detailed examination of public funding shows that the situation is stable, but in particular areas, like migration, art, women’s policy or labour market policy  some CSOs have experienced existentially threatening restrictions of public funding.

Although Austria is a fundamentally liberal democracy with well-developed fundamental rights,  its quality is threatened: The changes as a whole result in a clear pattern and correspond to the processes of development of authoritarian governments known from the literature. There are clearly observable tendencies to limit the critical potential of civil society and its participation in political decision-making processes. By analysing the gradual process of the development of authoritarian politics in a relatively stable and developed democracy, the findings are relevant for current tendencies in many European countries.


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