Header Ads

SEO tools
  • Breaking News

    Austria’s Conservative Forms Coalition With The Green Party

    Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, left, and Green Party leader Werner Kogler at a press conference in Vienna, Austria, Jan. 2, 2020 (AP photo by Ronald Zak).
    VIENNA—When Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s conservative political boy wonder, and Green Party leader Werner Kogler stepped in front of the nation’s TV cameras to announce an unlikely new coalition government in early January, after months of talks, neither seemed very excited. The gaps between their parties were still wide, and the compromises many.

    Nevertheless, in the end, they had agreed on a governing program that emphasizes restrictions on migration and more border security, including a much-criticized ban on headscarves for girls under the age of 14 and preemptive detention for migrants who have not committed any crimes. There is also an ambitious if discordant goal to make Austria climate neutral by 2040.

    “It was clearly the wish of the electorate to have this coalition,” Kurz said of the pairing, which brings together the leftist Greens and his conservative Austrian People’s Party, or OVP, which in recent years has moved further to the right to appeal to nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiments.
    Kurz, who first became Austria’s chancellor in 2017 when he was just 31, didn’t have much of a choice, after the previous government that he led in a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, or FPO, disintegrated last year over a salacious scandal known as “Ibizagate.”

    A video was leaked to the press that showed the Freedom Party’s then-leader in a rented villa on the island of Ibiza promising state contracts to the purported niece of a Russian oligarch, in return for off-the books donations and other favors to his party. The scandal led to Kurz losing a vote of no confidence in Parliament, setting up snap elections last September. But Kurz managed to come out not just unscathed but strengthened. His party was the election’s clear winner, taking 37.5 percent of the vote, up six percent compared to the 2017 election—good for 71 seats in Parliament, a gain of nine seats.

    The Freedom Party was not as fortunate. Further weakened by another scandal in September, shortly before the election, over party expenses for politicians’ private mansions, dinners and even garden fences, it saw its vote share fall to 16 percent, down 10 percent from its showing in 2017. It lost 20 seats in Parliament, down to 31. No matter how well the OVP and FPO’s politics align, forming another coalition would have likely led to massive protests.

    Traditionally, the OVP has formed governments with the center-left Social Democratic Party, or SPO. Last fall, however, the SPO came in a distant second—losing 12 seats, down to 40, with 21 percent of the vote, a slide of six percent from 2017—making it a hard sell. Enter the Greens, which celebrated its best result in a national election since its founding in the 1980s: 13.9 percent of the vote, good for 26 seats in Parliament. In the last election, it only garnered 3.8 percent of the vote and had lost all its parliamentary seats.

    Its leader, Kogler, is a political veteran who has worked for Green Party interests since the 1980s, including by occupying a national park around the Danube River to stop the construction of a hydropower dam. With his coalition deal, he is now Austria’s vice chancellor. Standing before the cameras with Kurz on Jan. 2, Kogler described the long negotiations as “painful.” Partly defending the new government’s program, partly apologizing for it, he reminded Austrians that the Greens were, after all, the junior partner.

    Four ministries, including the environmental and justice portfolios, are now headed by Green Party politicians. In opposition, the Greens were among the harshest, loudest critics of the previous government’s anti-immigration policies, which included tighter border controls, stricter laws on the settlement of asylum-seekers and migrants, and a refusal to sign the United Nations’ global migration pact.

    But if Kogler was equivocal, Kurz was clear: “Migration will continue to be the centerpiece of my politics.” The new government, he said, would prioritize further border controls and reject any EU-wide system to distribute refugees among member states. The ban on headscarves for girls under the age of 14 in public schools would be enforced with additional oversight of Islamic educational institutes. And there would be stricter regulations on settling in Austria, with a harsh line drawn between asylum-seekers and those looking for better economic opportunities.
    City and countryside, academics and farmers, left and right—this could really be a chance not just to connect, but to unite the Austrian people.
    “Both of them said that they had to make a lot of concessions, but when you ask OVP politicians about it, they struggle to come up with examples of things that really hurt them,” says Peter Hajek, a political analyst in Vienna. For the Greens, however, the list is long. Many policies will not only be a hard sell for their voters, but for Green politicians personally. Six of the party’s 26 newly elected parliamentarians are first- or second-generation immigrants, roughly representative of Austria’s demographics. By contrast, all of the OVP’s 72 parliamentarians were born to parents who are native Austrian.

    “Agreeing on a program is one thing, but my expectation would be that they won’t be able to do as much as they’d hope, because their differences in terms of values is too large,” says Kathrin Stainer-Hammerle, a political scientist at the University of Applied Sciences Carinthia in Villach.
    The idea of detaining asylum-seekers who have not committed and do not stand accused of a crime, simply by ruling that they could pose a risk to public security, has been widely criticized; only the OVP and FPO have supported it. But it still made it into the coalition agreement. Working out the details could lead to government discord.

    The Greens vehemently opposed such measures when they were first proposed by the previous government’s hard-line interior minister, Herbert Kickl of the Freedom Party. Asked about the obvious capitulation less than a year later, Kogler paid lip service: All new laws, he said, would have to be in line with the Austrian Constitution. Some points introduced by the Greens, whose voters are typically well-to-do, middle- and upper-class city residents and university students, could also spell trouble.

    To reach the goal of climate neutrality, the government plans to invest in green energy and make it mandatory to reduce greenhouse gases. To partly fund these investments, there will be a slightly higher tax on plane tickets and a new, nationwide annual ticket for public transportation that breaks down to a cost of 3 euros per day. That should appeal to voters on all sides of the political spectrum, but it won’t be nearly enough to make Austria—a country of 9 million people—climate neutral in just 20 years.

    “It’s an ambitious goal, but how do they want to realize it?” asks Stainer-Hammerle, pointing to the fact that any reduction of climate gases or new taxes for high-emission industries will cut into the voter base of the pro-business-and-industry OVP. A planned ban on heating with oil could also lead to public backlash, she says. “After all, this is a country full of homeowners.”
    Though weakened, the Freedom Party is preparing to form a fervent opposition.

    After two major scandals, the party rid itself of longtime leader Heinz Christian Strache and, just this month, replaced its two general secretaries. It has already launched attacks against the new justice minister, the Green Party’s Alma Zadic, who fled the war in Bosnia at the age of 10. Before being sworn in, Zadic was the target of a vicious online campaign of hate and harassment from far-right activists galvanized by Freedom Party politicians. She has been given round-the-clock police protection.

    “This can appeal to some core voters,” Hajek says of that kind of vitriol, “but for the majority, these types of attacks are too harsh. And they are definitely too harsh to propel the FPO back to garnering more than 20 percent” of the vote. Kurz’s already-harsh migration policies will also leave few Austrians longing for more of them, according to Hajek. When it comes to the far right’s anti-immigrant agenda, he says, “Kurz is a political strategist, and he’ll make sure to take the wind out of their sails.”

    And yet, for all its internal disagreements and contradictions, this new coalition represents vastly different parts of Austrian politics, whereas the previous government was seen as only representing the right and far-right spectrum of society. That could provide some stability, and perhaps even unity. “City and countryside, academics and farmers, left and right—this could really be a chance not just to connect,” Stainer-Hammerle says, “but to unite the Austrian people.”

    Denise Hruby is a journalist based in Vienna, Austria, who covers politics, environmental and social issues. Her reporting has appeared in National Geographic, CNN, the BBC, the Guardian and The Washington Post. She’s a National Geographic Explorer and International Women’s Media Foundation fellow.

    No comments

    Post Top Ad