‘We wanted to stop the right-wing authoritarian trend,’ says Green Austrian MP

"Yes, it is risky for us to agree to a coalition paper which contains many issues that do not correspond to our positions. [...] But we wanted to stop the right-wing authoritarian trend in Europe. It started in Austria, and now the counter-movement is also coming from Austria." said Green Austrian MP and climate spokesperson Lukas Hammer. [Die Grünen Wien]

In an interview with EURACTIV Germany, Green Austrian MP Lukas Hammer spoke about his party’s negotiations with the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) on drafting the coalition agreement and why his party took the risk of accepting tough migration policies in exchange for increased climate protection.

Lukas Hammer is a Green Austrian MP who used to work as the environmental spokesperson for Greenpeace Austria. He will now take on the role of the party’s climate and energy spokesman.

Are you satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations?

I am very happy that we were able to end them on a positive note. We are facing a turning point in Austria because we have stopped the right-wing authoritarian tendencies of 2017.

To what extent are you stopping this?

Since 2017, the discourse had been directed against NGOs, and people were riled up against those with migration and refugee backgrounds. Now we have a minister who led an NGO, as well as a minister with a migration and refugee background, who has already faced a wave of hatred online.

But especially in the areas of migration and integration, measures are planned which will continue to reflect the hard line of the last government…

Yes, and I can say frankly now: we managed to get what there was to get. We knew from the beginning that these issues were going to be difficult. Nobody expected that the ÖVP would make a 180-degree-turn regarding their positions.

That would have been a miracle – and I do not believe in miracles. But if someone else had been sitting at the negotiating table instead of us, the programme would have looked very different again.

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One difference from the last government programme is a clear commitment to European solutions and multilateralism. Does that bear the green signature?

Yes, it does. We were surprised at the difficulty of this part of the negotiations. We actually thought that we had two pro-European parties sitting opposite each other, who ultimately wanted the same thing for Europe.

What were the differences between the parties?

It was in the role that the EU and nation-states should play, that is to say in the interpretation of subsidiarity. And when it comes to the future development of European institutions.

One example: We were in favour of the European Parliament obtaining the right of initiative, but we could not impose it as an Austrian position.

Austria will now become a pioneer in European climate policy. What are the plans?

First, full support for the Green Deal.

If a Conservative EU Commission president came up with such an idea, it would be unthinkable for us that an Austria co-governed by the Greens would not support it. Austria also supports the improvement of European climate targets.

Which EU climate measures will Austria support or initiate?

Recycling management, eco-design, border-tax adjustment and the expansion of European emissions trading. There will be initiatives in these areas, and we will support initiatives. Austria now has the opportunity to go “from zero to hero”. But to be credible, we must also do our homework and make sure our national climate policies move up a gear.

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Let us now turn to EU migration policy. The Greens have so far been in favour of a distribution mechanism. But according to the government programme, this has “failed”, and Austria should not provide any initiatives on this?

You have to read that carefully. The fact that we are not taking any initiatives here does not say how we will behave when others take initiatives. This is a classic compromise because these were tough negotiations in this area.

The word ‘in conformity with human rights’ appears remarkably often in the chapter on migration. Does that also bear the Green stamp?

Yes, and it is the fruit of this compromise. There were many ÖVP measures we were unable to talk them out of. At least they had to ensure that they were implemented in conformity with the constitution and human rights.

Yet many measures contradict your positions. Why did you agree to them?

We did so out of a sense of pan-European responsibility. We see a right-wing authoritarian and anti-European development in many parts of Europe. Austria has been a questionable example of this for the last two years.

Yes, it is risky for us to agree to a coalition paper which contains many issues that do not correspond to our positions. And it is also a risk for the party to govern with a coalition partner who has blown up two governments – because both previous coalition parties are not doing so well today.

But we wanted to stop the right-wing authoritarian trend in Europe. It started in Austria, and now the counter-movement is also coming from Austria.

What signal is Austria sending to countries in which such trends prevail?

We tell them that there is another way. We are observing a polarisation of political camps and a division of societies. We, the Greens, and the ÖVP have also moved further and further away from each other and are now nevertheless trying to form a coalition. Let’s remember basic democratic values and work together – across ideological boundaries.

Do you think that, in spite of everything, this coalition will last for five years?

We all want it to. But this is an attempt, and no one can say how it will end. We are determined to implement some measures that are featured in the programme. That is the guarantee of the coalition. The eco-social tax reform is due to come in 2022, and even before that, new laws to expand renewable energy and energy efficiency. I simply have an extremely strong desire to implement this.

But this will cost money. And the ÖVP wants to maintain a ‘zero deficit’ and reduce public debt. But according to the government programme, the planned climate investments will nevertheless be secured. So, could this mean more debt after all? 

Exactly, this is a rejection of a strict zero deficit. The ÖVP does not like telling this story.

But studies say that these environmental subsidies will ensure returns that are double and triple in value. But for that, we need to get our hands on some money first.

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[Edited by Benjamin Fox/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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