Austrian Greens likely to join government coalition, shape priorities

After having governed with the Eurosceptic FPÖ from 2017-2019, the ruling conservative ÖVP may just have another EU-friendly party at its side. EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA [EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA]

Austria’s Green party is expected to join the government for the first time, with negotiations already underway. After Sebastian Kurz’s ÖVP party governed alongside the Eurosceptic far-right group FPÖ from 2017-2019, this could now prompt a change in Austria’s foreign and EU policy. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The whole of Europe is watching closely as Austria experiments with setting up a government coalition, in which the Greens are likely to take on an important role. At the moment, the Greens are conducting coalition negotiations with the conservative ÖVP and  a result is expected for January.

Not only would this be a first for the country, but it could also have far-reaching consequences for the EU, as it would serve as an example for other EU member states. It could also impact Austria’s EU policy, regarding migration and environmental protection.

Strengthening the Paris climate targets

The Greens have clear plans for Austria’s future role in the EU.

For them, it is essential that Austria does not only support the Green Deal and the targets under the Paris Climate Agreement but that it would also take on a “pioneering role” in European climate protection. This is according to a well-informed source from the circle of negotiators, who spoke to EURACTIV on condition of anonymity.

In government negotiations, which took place behind closed doors, “it was already clear to all participants that Austria would have to take on a very progressive role”. For instance, Austria would have to make a “massive” commitment at European level to measures such as recycling management, eco-design rules or improved product durability.

But negotiations are still being hampered because the Greens want to strengthen the Paris Agreement’s climate targets from 40% to 55%. And the fact that a part-Green Austrian government would not support reaching the Paris agreement’s climate targets would be “unthinkable”, according to the source.

Austrian Greens are showing signs of comeback

Across Europe, green parties have benefited from the fact that the climate crisis has become the focus of attention, including in Austria. The Austrian Green Party,  which has had no seats in the national parliament since 2017, is now gearing up for snap parliamentary elections in autumn. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The green card

Like many European countries, Austria’s Green Party also saw a massive surge in 2019 as it won a record 13.9% of the votes in the September elections.

“Conservative and Social Democratic parties in Europe are observing this trend and are starting to wonder whether this ‘green card’ could be the alternative?” said Paul Schmidt, General Secretary of the Austrian Society for European Policy (ÖGfE).

Since the Greens have become stronger across Europe in 2019, they suddenly deserve to be taken seriously as potential government partners.

For example, this is the case in Germany, where the Greens’ ratings lie between 20-25%, while support is weakening for the conservative CDU/CSU and SPD. Schmidt expects that the results of this Austrian experiment will determine to a large extent whether green parties throughout Europe will be entrusted with governmental responsibility.

Kurz, Greens emerge as big winners of Austria's snap election

After months of political turmoil, Austrian voters on Sunday (29 September) gave former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz a clear mandate to reclaim power with 37.1% of the votes while Kurz’s former coalition partner, the far-right FPÖ, lost by a wide margin. EURACTIV Germany reports.

New migration policy

For the Austrian Greens, it is not just about climate policy and the European Green Deal, as European migration policy also appears to be of interest. In this area, it is “incomprehensible that Austria has resisted European solutions under the last ÖVP-FPÖ government,” the source stated.

According to the Greens, there is a need for a solidarity-based distribution system, which would entail reform of the Dublin system, as well as the implementation of coercive measures against member states that “de-solidarise” themselves and oppose a European solution.

The source is convinced that it is doubtful whether this is feasible under Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP). According to the current Chancellor, a distribution of asylum seekers according to fixed quotas “would not bring Europe any further”, although “some changes” of the European migration policy could well be made.

With regard to EU free trade agreements, it should also be emphasised that Austria, with the participation of the Greens, should pay more attention to environmental and social standards.

The ÖVP knows that this is important for the Greens and will not officially oppose it, even if there are significant differences between the parties behind the scenes in this matter, the source added.

Austria's Kurz on quest to form government coalition

Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s conservative Chancellor who was re-elected on 30 September after being ousted in May, has been meeting with potential coalition partners. With the Austrian Freedom Party preferring to join the opposition and the social democrats still hesitant, the Greens may become a new partner. EURACTIV Germany reports.

EU agendas firmly in ÖVP’s hands

Will the Greens be able to set new priorities for Austria’s EU policy?

Even if the Greens were to obtain the foreign ministry, the EU agenda is likely to fall back in the hands of the Chancellery, which is firmly in the hands of Kurz’s ÖVP.

But for ÖGfE Secretary-General Schmidt there is no doubt.

“Even if they have other dossiers, the Greens will get involved in European policy,” he said. And apart from their influence on European climate and migration policy, Schmidt expects the Greens to bring about change through the party’s fundamentally pro-European attitude alone.

For in the last two years Austria’s EU policy has been slowed down by the participation of the Eurosceptic FPÖ in the government. The far-right party was opposed to cooperation at the EU level on a matter of principle.

If two pro-European parties are once again forming a coalition government, Austria’s EU policy will have more room for manoeuvre. And this would make it possible to act more freely, forge alliances and push for initiatives, according to Schmidt.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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