Austrian Greens are showing signs of comeback

Students in Vienna take part in worldwide climate protest on 24 May. The issue of climate protection has been brought to the top of the political agenda by these students and caused the 'green wave' in the European elections. [Fridays for Future Austria]

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 words “2040: Mama, what is Ibiza?”(2040: Mum, what is Ibiza?) is on one of the cardboard signs that stand out from the crowd of students protesting at one of Vienna’s main squares. Underneath the writing, one can spot an island that has sunk into the sea.

The message is that climate protection is the only problem of real importance. Compared to the climate crisis, even the biggest corruption scandals appear less important.

On Friday (24 May), on the second day of the EU elections, the Fridays For Future movement organised its second ‘Global Climate Strike’. Thousands of students gathered in Vienna, wanting to show what they expect from politics.

Young people also made their expectations clear in the EU elections. As in many other EU member states,  the Austrian Green Party received 28% of the young peoples’ vote (under-30s). Overall, the party received 14% of the votes.

From the outside, it would seem that Austria missed out on the ‘green wave’. Compared to the previous EU elections in 2014, they even lost 0.44 percentage points.

But a lot has happened in domestic Austrian politics since. In the 2017 national elections, for example, the Green Party lost 3.8 percentage points compared to the previous national elections because of turmoil within the party.

If one compares the EU election results with the 2017 national election results, they have actually gained 10 percentage points. It is the second-best election result for the Green Party so far – only 2014 was better.

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The main reason for voters to vote ‘green’ was because of the party’s views on substantive issues. According to a survey by Austrian social research institutes SORA and ISA, 47% of surveyed Green voters cited this reason.

No other party could score this high on substantive issues. The Socialist Party (SPÖ) followed with 31%, Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) with 24% and then the People’s Party (ÖVP) with 18%.

For those who voted in favour of the ÖVP, it was above all the approval of the party’s top Austrian candidate that was decisive for the decision in the polling booth.

Campaign costs amounting to 480,000€

For the Austrian Greens, election results also meant a financial respite: after the party lost all its seats in the National Council in 2017, it barely had any resources left.

However, according to their own statements, they set aside 480,000€ for the European elections.

According to the Austrian law on party financing, an amount of 2.4€ per eligible voter will now be distributed among parties that have managed to claim at least one seat, according to political scientist Herbert Sickinger, an expert in party financing.

The sum is capped at the actual cost of the EU election campaign. This means that the Greens have recouped their entire European election budget.

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The two top candidates for the Green Party in the European election campaign were Werner Kogler and star chef Sarah Wiener. Now the question is how the positions will be allocated in the future.

In any case, the Greens have become pragmatic in times of need, Sickinger continued: “Almost everyone within the party has agreed to the appointment of Kogler and Wiener, without candidates challenging their appointment. That is completely atypical,” he added.

With climate protection always having been a core issue for the Austrian Green Party, it has now become one of their strongest weapons. In 2017, while the party rebuffed its stance on climate change,  migration was the core issue of the time.

But with a change in the political climate, particularly with Fridays for Future catapulting the climate protection issue to the top of political agendas, the Austrian Greens are now experiencing a comeback.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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