Austria’s Beer Party founder vies to be next president

With his long dark hair and torn jeans, punk rock singer Dominik Wlazny of Austria's Beer Party seems an unlikely candidate for the country's next president.

Austria's Beer Party founder vies to be next president
This file photo taken on September 9, 2022 shows Dominik Wlazny, founder of the Beer Party (Bierpartei), as he presents posters for his presidential campaign in downtown Vienna, Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

But that’s exactly what the 35-year-old aims to be, as he seeks to shake up a presidential race dominated by politicians mostly backed by more established parties — several rocked by corruption scandals.

Running against six others, including incumbent Alexander Van der Bellen, Wlazny is the first-ever presidential candidate from the Beer Party, named for its advocacy of the popular beverage.

Wlazny describes his campaign for the October 9 vote as a “David vs Goliath fight”, with Van der Bellen widely tipped to clinch a second mandate.

But he’s hoping to win some voters over with his party’s unconventional approach to politics.

The party’s goals include having a fountain in the capital that dispenses beer, saying in a proposal to the city it could “raise the quality of life” for residents and draw tourists.

READ ALSO: Van der Bellen could avoid run-off in presidential election as still strong favourite: poll

Wlazny’s bare-bones presidential campaign, dubbed “Let’s talk about it”, pushes for gender equality and animal welfare, among other issues.

His messaging is also unconventional, sending updates via online satirical clips, and Wlazny says his appeal is to anyone who “has a desire for change”.

“Beer is a great thing. But actually it’s about how you can get involved, and you don’t have to be a beer drinker for that,” Wlazny, better known by his stage name Marco Pogo, told AFP.

Hiring reform

The Beer Party, founded by Wlazny in 2015 as a “satirical project”, now has some 1,000 members. Wlazny and 10 others serve as district counsellors in Vienna following 2020 city elections.

With some six million people eligible to cast their ballots, polls put Wlazny as likely to earn just around five percent in the presidential election with Van der Bellen getting some 60 percent.

The 78-year-old ecologist has to earn more than 50 percent of the vote, or else face his closest challenger in a run-off in November.

In 2016, Van der Bellen had to fight it out in two rounds when a far-right politician raked in more votes than expected, but a series of graft allegations has since eroded the far-right’s support and shaken the EU member’s conservative-led government.

The presidential post itself is mostly ceremonial, but Wlazny believes he could do “a lot of good things”.

READ ALSO: Austrian presidential elections: What exactly does the president do?

As president, Wlazny says, he would vet candidates proposed as ministers, making them go through a hiring process like in a company, to seek to avoid political chaos due to unfit leaders.

Currently the president usually doesn’t reject the government’s choices.

“I often have the feeling that it’s harder to get an apprenticeship in Austria than a ministerial post,” Wlazny said.

Cabaret on the side

Wlazny himself studied medicine in Vienna and worked as a general doctor in a hospital before quitting in 2014 to focus on music.

Besides being the lead singer of the band Turbobier, he performs cabaret and works with breweries to make his own beer, which is sold in Vienna supermarkets.

READ ALSO: Austrian presidential elections: Who are the seven candidates?

Wlazny said as president he would also want to push for the establishment of a so-called “Future Ministry” to check the impact of policy decisions on security, the environment, health and other sectors.

He said measures should have been taken decades ago to avoid the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, which hurts it now amid the ripple effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At a recent event where Wlazny unveiled his few campaign posters — he has put up just nine in total — dozens gathered near a central Vienna shopping street, some just curious, others ready to support him.

“I am very happy that there is someone who stands up for good values… He is young, he is of this era,” Brigitta Koppelhuber, 78, a retiree from Vienna, told AFP.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


‘Inhuman speech’: Austria’s far-right blasted for wanting to tie social benefits to German skills

Politicians in Austria criticised a far-right FPÖ leader who called for a suspension of citizenship granted to non-Europeans and for the tying of social benefits to proof of German skills.

'Inhuman speech': Austria's far-right blasted for wanting to tie social benefits to German skills

Austrian politicians criticised Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) member Maximilian Krauss in Vienna after he demanded proof of German as a prerequisite for social benefits and asked for “no citizenship to be granted to people who come from outside Europe”.

Jörg Konrad, a member of the liberal party NEOS, denounced the “inhuman speech” and said that the sole criterion for receiving the benefits was “need”. “Serious politics and striving for solutions simply cannot be expected from the FPÖ,” Konrad said.

During a Vienna Parliament session on Wednesday, Krauss, chairman of the FPÖ, pointed out that more than two-thirds of the total 260,000 people “collecting” minimum benefits in Austria lived in Vienna. 

READ ALSO: What measures against foreigners is Austria’s far-right trying to take?

According to him, the majority of them, almost 60 percent, did not have Austrian citizenship and were “making themselves comfortable at the taxpayers’ expense” in Vienna.

“The majority of minimum income recipients were social migrants unwilling to work”, Krauss said.

The FPÖ representative stated: “By now, we know that neither rocket scientists nor the urgently needed skilled workers came to our country in 2015”.

Krauss called for obligatory German language skills for tenants of municipal apartments or proof of German as a prerequisite for social benefits, such as the minimum income. He also demanded that Austrian citizenship should not be granted to people who come from outside Europe and said that immigration or family reunifications must be slowed down or suspended.

What is the ‘minimum income’?

The issue was raised because, according to Krauss, migrants came to Austria and, in particular, to Vienna, looking to live off of the country’s social system and the city’s “Minimum Income” (Mindestsicherung).

According to the City of Vienna, the “minimum income” is financial support to secure the cost of living and the rent of Viennese with little or no income. Only Austrians, EU or EEA citizens, persons entitled to asylum or third-country nationals who are long-term residents can apply for this assistance. 

The applicant must also generally prove their willingness to work via registration with the labour office AMS. In addition, there are several other preconditions and required documents to apply for assistance.

The monthly payment amount varies according to each person’s conditions, but, in 2022, it’s not more than € 978 per person, with possible extra payouts of up to €117 per minor child and up to € 176 if the person has a disability.

A sign reading ‘control’ (‘Kontrolle’) stands on the road at the German-Austrian border near Lindau, southern Germany. (Photo by STEFAN PUCHNER / DPA / AFP)

‘Xenophobic instincts’

“The minimum income serves as a social safety net against poverty, especially for children, single parents and people who are particularly at risk of poverty”, said centre-left SPÖ member Kurt Wagner. 

He went further: “The FPÖ rarely contribute to solving a problem but are often the problem themselves because of their populism and xenophobic instincts”.

READ ALSO: Is Austria’s Freedom Party a ‘far-right’ party?

Green politician Viktoria Spielmann said that the minimum income is enough to ensure the most basic needs: “Have you ever had to make do with such an amount? To put the amount into perspective, rents in Vienna averaged €500. So the minimum income was the least that would secure people’s existence.” 

For her, calling recipients “lazy” or unwilling to work is unfair.

So, how much do foreigners take up?

In 2021, 135,649 Viennese received the minimum income, according to Stadt Wien data. The number of non-Austrians receiving the payments was 77,746, accounting for about 57 percent of recipients. 

However, the City of Vienna mentioned that the Austrian capital has a higher proportion of foreign residents and cited a study that concluded that compared to Austrians, migrants from non-European countries had more difficulty getting jobs, even after years of living in Austria.

READ MORE: Diversity and jobs: How migrants contribute to Vienna’s economy

Additionally, foreigners also bring money into the Austrian economy. 

Figures from Austria’s Chamber of Commerce (Wirtschaftskammer) showed that business owners in Vienna with a migration background generate € 8.3 billion in revenue and create around 45,500 jobs. 

Walter Ruck, President of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, said: “Companies with a migrant background not only enrich the diversity of the corporate landscape in Vienna, but they are also an economic factor.”