Born in Vienna, Schüssel attended a well-known Catholic grammar school for boys in Vienna (the Schottengymnasium) where he took his Matura exams in 1963. He went on to study at the University of Vienna and received a Doctorate in Law in 1968.
Schüssel was secretary of the parliamentary group of the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) from 1968 to 1975. From 1975 to April, 1991 he was Secretary General of the Austrian Business Federation, a sub-organisation of the People's Party.
Schüssel became Minister for Economic Affairs on April 24, 1989 in a coalition government under Chancellor Franz Vranitzky (SPÖ) formed by the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the Austrian People's Party.
On May 4, 1995 Wolfgang Schüssel was sworn in as Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs in Franz Vranitzky's fourth government. He held the same posts in Chancellor Vranitzky’s fifth Cabinet. In Chancellor Viktor Klima's (SPÖ) first government, from January 28, 1997 to February 4, 2000, Schüssel was again Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The government headed by Schüssel is probably the most controversial since 1945, which to a large extent is due to the coalition formed with the right-wing Austrian Freedom Party, whose former leader is Jörg Haider. Although Haider has never been a member of Schüssel's government, his detrimental influence on federal and party politics was strongly felt, so much so that general elections were announced by Schüssel and held prematurely in November 2002. However, after negotiating for months with both the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the Green Party, Schüssel, whose own party had won a landslide victory, decided to renew his coalition government with the Freedom Party, which had been reduced to a mere 10 per cent of the vote and thus could be the more easily persuaded to accept Schüssel's policies.
Apart from the association and cooperation with a right-wing party, Schüssel's government has been severely criticized by the opposition for its allegedly undemocratic way of installing their followers in top positions both public and private and for interfering with the media and thus reducing the freedom of the press. In addition, the government's attempts at achieving a balanced budget led to unpopular measures such as the introduction of study fees at state universities (which had been abolished in the early 1970s by a Social Democratic government under Bruno Kreisky) or a drastic reduction of future state pensions and at the same time a de facto raising of the retirement age for everyone who is still part of the workforce. In the spring of 2003 it was also announced that, starting in September, the number of lessons per week to be held in Austrian classrooms would be reduced by two.
in front of the Austrian Parliament in Vienna
Resistance to the government for the reasons listed above already set in on the day it was sworn in on February 4, 2000. In an unprecedented move, the designated cabinet ministers, on their way to Federal President Thomas Klestil to be sworn in, used an underground corridor because they would not cross the Ballhausplatz square (as all governments before them had done -- traditionally the first occasion for press photographs of the new cabinet) as it was full of anti-government demonstrators. For years, there were weekly Donnerstagsdemonstrationen (Thursday Demonstrations) through the city and the inner districts of Vienna. Schüssel has also been heavily criticized for not reacting to accusations made by the opposition, for not speaking out against Haider's subversive public statements and, generally, for appearing uncommunicative and taciturn.
Schüssel keeps a low profile as far as his private life is concerned. Married with two children, he lives in Vienna and says he prefers spending his vacations in Austria. He is fond of mountaineering in the Austrian Alps (he has actually co-authored a tour guide) and, a lover of music, plays several instruments including the piano.