Parteibuchwirtschaft (Austria and Germany)

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Parteibuchwirtschaft
Location: Austria and Germany
AustriaGermany map.png
Author: Roland Arbesleitner
Affiliation: School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London

Original text: Roland Arbesleitner, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London

The term Parteibuchwirtschaft is a compound word formed from Parteibuch (party membership book) and Wirtschaft, which in this context translate as economy or enterprise. The Demokratiezentrum Wien (The Democracy Centre Vienna 2015)[1] describes Parteibuchwirtschaft as a means of improving an individual’s chances of access to employment, housing or career opportunities. Thus, this party political distribution of opportunities is designed to foster the cohesion of a political camp, but habitually neglects the principle of objectivity.

This practice has its origins in the early days of the Austrian Second Republic of the 1950s. At that time, identifying with a political party was not only an expression of a person’s political standpoint, but often the only way to be granted access to employment in public administration or in the important sector of state enterprises (Sickinger 2011)[2]. Allegedly, the practice of Parteibuchwirtschaft was deemed so important that teachers were said to have routinely possessed not one, but two membership books – one for the conservative party (ÖVP) and one for the socialist party (SPÖ) (Parsons 2014). The practice of boosting one’s chances of access to relatively cheap co-operative or council flats by becoming a member of a certain party was well established in Austria up until the 1980s. This informal practice was not only restricted to economic or administrative managerial positions (in which it still plays a vital role today), but also encompassed subordinated elements such as the distribution of housing space. Consequently, not being a member of or associated with one of the major Austrian parties resulted in severely diminished social prospects, and limited career opportunities in the public sector and in state-owned companies. In the late 1980s Parteibuchwirtschaft attracted considerable public criticism and as a result was partly abandoned by the nationalised industries (Sickinger 2011)[3].

Parteibuchwirtschaft however, is not limited to Austria: Von Arnim (2008)[4] points out that political parties in Germany not only make staffing decisions concerning parliament and the cabinet in this way, but also actively influence human resource considerations in both public administration and the public service sectors in which party-affiliated persons are frequently placed. The author also identified other arenas in which membership of, or association with a political party can open otherwise locked doors. Examples included state-owned enterprises such as electric power stations, savings banks and public transportation services. According to the author, all enterprises in Germany in public ownership, or operating in the public sphere, offer employment opportunities for party-affiliated persons (von Arnim 2008)[5]. Nevertheless, it should be noted that practices such as Parteibuchwirtschaft are still more pronounced in Austria than in Germany, even though the overall level of corruption appears to be similar same in both countries (Sickinger 2006)[6].

The economic consequences of practices such as Parteibuchwirtschaft have been much commented upon both by authors and journalists: Poosch (2010)[7] questions whether these practices are ethically correct and economically optimal. Based on a critique by Transparency International, the German newspaper Handelsblatt (2009)[8] reported that the Austrian government makes independent bank supervision exceedingly difficult. It drew attention to the fact that the two top positions of the Austrian Financial Market Authority (the body entrusted with bank supervision) are filled by persons affiliated to two major Austrian political parties.

The above-mentioned case is not the only incidence of Parteibuchwirtschaft reported in the Austrian media. In 2013, the Austrian newspaper Der Standard reported a disagreement between political parties about appointments within the local public sector, following the election of the government of Carinthia (the southernmost Austrian state) earlier that year. In Germany, the newspaper Stuttgarter Nachrichten (2012)[9] reported a debate on similar lines in the newly formed state parliament of Baden-Württemberg after elections in the previous year. In general, debates among parties over the appointment of persons affiliated to a party in one way or another are a recurrent source of conflict, especially in Austria (Schmidt 2010)[10]. This explains why Parteibuchwirtschaft and similar practices are frequently discussed in both Austrian and German media.

The greatest problem in countering these practices is that they are difficult to quantify, even though there appears to be no general doubt that the ownership of a favourable party membership book plays an important role in human resource decisions (Röhl 2007)[11]. Ennser-Jedenastik (2012)[12] attempted a quantitative analysis of the effects of changes in parliament by investigating top-managerial positions in government-related enterprises in Austria. He examined the political affiliation of top-level managers in these companies between 1995 and 2010, and examined possible correlations with the composition of the Austrian government coalitions during the same time period. Among other findings, the results of the study show that the composition of the government had a major influence on appointments to high-level vacancies in state-owned enterprises. The study shows that vacancies in larger companies were more likely to be filled by party-affiliated persons than vacancies in smaller companies. Furthermore, the study showed that positions on the boards of directors of companies were in greater demand by the party affiliated applicants than executive positions (Ennser-Jedenastik 2012)[13]. Indications are that Parteibuchwirtschaft is not a thing of the past. On the contrary, it still plays a major role in today’s publicly owned industries and in the public sector in general.

Previously observed and in part linked to Parteibuchwirtschaft was an increase of political apathy among all social groups and across all political camps in Austria. This was a contributing factor to the rise of Jörg Haider, leader of the FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria) and later of the BZÖ (Alliance for the Future of Austria) in the years between 1986 and 2008. Jörg Haider became well known throughout Europe for his populist rhetoric and political programmes on which the fight against corruption, privilege, Parteibuchwirtschaft and similar practices was based (Neurieser 2008)[14].

The question of how Parteibuchwirtschaft has endured for so long time is pertinent. It appears to be advantageous for political parties to employ a system in which they promote and place party-affiliated persons in important positions, rather than making human resource decisions based solely on the professional skills of candidates. Von Armin (1995)[15] argues that parties often assign functions and awards to people who have some degree of influence over the public, thereby making them indebted to the political establishment. Consequently, it can be argued that Parteibuchwirtschaft is a tool for power and influence.

An analogous practice to Parteibuchwirtschaft is Parteipatronage, also referred to as Ämterpatronage. Both terms describe the preferential treatment of fellow party members or party-affiliated persons over others (Rechtslexikon 2014)[16]. Other practices such as Vetternwirtschaft have widely been used synonymously, even though this term refers to the nomination or promotion of people based on personal bonds such as kinship rather than party affiliation. Synonyms for Vetternwirtschaft are Nepotismus (nepotism) (Politik-Lexikon 2008)[17] and Freunderlwirtschaft, the latter being a colloquial term especially popular in Austria (Duden 2015)[18]. Proporz is another term often used synonymously, even though it has a slightly different meaning. Proporz is an abbreviation for proportionality. In politics this term refers to the proportional representation of parties in political bodies and public functions (Demokratiezentrum Wien 2015b)[19], thus this term has a more official connotation than Parteibuchwirtschaft. Other expressions worthy of mention include Klientelpolitik or Klientelismus (clientelism): although a number definitions have been designated to this particular term, common usage of Klientelpolitik is not necessarily limited to persons associated with a particular party, but is generally used to imply a broader network (Muno 2013).

All of the above terms are frequently used synonymously in the media as well as in public and private discussions, even though most of them have slightly different connotations. What these terms have in common however, is the tendency to place interpersonal over performance criteria when it comes to human resource decisions and the granting of other benefits.

Notes

  1. Demokratiezentrum Wien. 2015a. ‘Wissenslexikon’, demokratiezentrum.org, http://www.demokratiezentrum.org/wissen/wissenslexikon/parteibuchwirtschaft.html
  2. Sickinger, H. 2011. ‘Politische Parteien in Österreich’, historisch-politische bildung. Themendossiers zur Didaktik von Geschichte, sozialkunde und Politischer Bildung, 4: 9-19 Stuttgarter Nachrichten. 2012. ‘Opposition wirft Grün-Rot Parteibuchwirtschaft vor’, 28 November
  3. Sickinger, H. 2011. ‘Politische Parteien in Österreich’, historisch-politische bildung. Themendossiers zur Didaktik von Geschichte, sozialkunde und Politischer Bildung, 4: 9-19 Stuttgarter Nachrichten. 2012. ‘Opposition wirft Grün-Rot Parteibuchwirtschaft vor’, 28 November
  4. Von Armin, H. H. 2008. Die Deutschlandakte: Was Politiker und Wirtschaftsbosse unserem Land antun. Munich: Bertelsmann Verlag
  5. Von Armin, H. H. 2008. Die Deutschlandakte: Was Politiker und Wirtschaftsbosse unserem Land antun. Munich: Bertelsmann Verlag
  6. Sickinger, H. 2006. ‘Korruption im öffentlichen Raum - Ein internationaler Vergleich’, in V. v. Nell (ed.), G. Schwitzgebel (ed.), M. Vollet (ed.), Starker Klientalismus - mäßige Korruption: Ein österreichisches Paradoxon?. Wiesbaden: Deutscher Universitätsverlag: 27-58
  7. Poosch, H. 2010. Handbuch Total Factor Governance: Das Geheimnis langfristig erfolgreicher Unternehmen. Norderstedt: Books on Demand
  8. Handelblatt. 2009. ‘Vetternwirtschaft erschwert Bankenkontrolle’, 25 September Muno, W. 2013. ‘Clientelist corruption networks: conceptual and empirical approaches’, Zeitschrift für vergleichbare Politikwissenschaft, 7: 33-56
  9. Stuttgarter Nachrichten. 2012. ‘Opposition wirft Grün-Rot Parteibuchwirtschaft vor’, 28 November
  10. Schmidt, E. 2010. ‘Die Konflikte innerhalb der Großen Koalition’, Dissertation (Dr. phil.), Universität Wien
  11. Röhl, I. 2007. Das Primat der Mittelmäligkeit - Politische Korruption in Deutschland: Ein Kompendium. Berlin: LIT
  12. Ennser-Jedenastik,L. 2012. ‘Die parteipolitische Besetzung von Spitzenfunktionen’ in ‘österreichischen Staatsunternehmen: eine quantitative Analyse’, 06 December, http://homepage.univie.ac.at/laurenz.ennser/Ennser-Jedenastik_Parteipolitische_Posten besetzung.pdf
  13. Ennser-Jedenastik,L. 2012. ‘Die parteipolitische Besetzung von Spitzenfunktionen’ in ‘österreichischen Staatsunternehmen: eine quantitative Analyse’, 06 December, http://homepage.univie.ac.at/laurenz.ennser/Ennser-Jedenastik_Parteipolitische_Posten besetzung.pdf
  14. Neurieser, J. 2008. ‘Zwischen Liberalismus und Nationalismus. Programmatische Transformationsprozesse in der Geschichte des dritten Lagers in Österreich nach 1945’, Thesis (Mag. phil.), Universität Wien
  15. Von Armin H. H. 1995. ‘Zeitschrift für Rechtspolitik’, Demokratie vor neuen Herausforderungen, 28: 340-352
  16. Rechtslexikon. 2014. ‘Parteipatronage’, rechtslexikon.net, http://www.rechtslexikon.net/ d/parteipatronage/parteipatronage.htm
  17. Politik-Lexikon. 2008. ‘Vetternwirtschaft’, politik-lexikon.at, http://www.politik-lexikon.at/vetternwirtschaft/
  18. Duden. 2015. ‘Rechtschreibung’, duden.de, http://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/ Freunderlwirtschaft
  19. Demokratiezentrum Wien. 2015b. ‘Wissenslexikon’, demokratiezentrum.org, http://www.demokratiezentrum.org/index.php?id=1141