Austria: Kurz’s People Party and the Greens enter coalition talks

Austria: Kurz’s People Party and the Greens enter coalition talks

Christian Trapl November 2019

In mid-November, after the snap parliamentary elections on 29 September , Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the centre right ÖVP decided to launch coalition talks with Green Party leader Werner Kogler .

Why the Greens?

Kurz’s vote share increased by 5.7% to 37.1% following the election, reaffirming his mandate to govern. As a result, the ÖVP could choose between their former coalition partner FPÖ, the second big election loser SPÖ (Social democrats), or explore an as-yet untested coalition with the Greens. Since the FPÖ and the SPÖ left the exploratory discussions soon after the vote, the Greens found themselves with no competition.

Climate change played a very significant role in the election campaign, and the Greens achieved their best result in their history with 14% of the vote. Kogler presented a simple and down-to-earth election campaign and was able to re-establish his party in the Parliament after they failed to win a seat in 2017, which at the time came as a surprise to most voters.

Following the overwhelming ÖVP election results, one might ask if Kurz is able to “green” his political mindset, thereby risking the wrath of those right-wing voters and climate change deniers who left the FPÖ and voted for him.

Great political rifts complicate negotiations

Comparing the ÖVP and the Green party’s programs reveals the extent to which the two parties differ from each other. The core topics and respective solutions almost never match. The gap between the parties becomes especially wide when it comes to migration and environmental policies such as traffic regulation or CO2 taxes on high emitting industries. Moreover, Kogler often emphasised his general rejection of Kurz’s style of governing and referred to his entourage as “shallow and dumb know-it-alls“.

How far Kurz and Kogler are willing to bend their personal beliefs, overcome their aversions against each another, and make compromises is a question to which party leaders have to answer in the coming weeks and months. It is clear that difficult negotiations lie ahead.

Last resort, ÖVP-FPÖ coalition 2.0?

As several sources from the ÖVP and political experts suggest, the coalition talks with the FPÖ should not be written off too quickly. On the day before the coalition talks with the Greens were officially launched, the ÖVP emphasised their regret in a public TV debate that the FPÖ withdrew from exploratory discussions. Furthermore, the FPÖ reacted with anger to the  start of coalition negotiations with the Greens.

In the meantime, Kurz is still keeping all options open

Did Kurz, the renowned political mastermind, plan this all along? Are conspiracy theorists right to assume that negotiating with the Greens, which seems highly difficult and unlikely to form a solid government program, is only part of Kurz’s masterplan to choose the FPÖ as last resort and to restore the public’s support in their “coalition 2.0” after all that happened during their scandal-plagued last mandate?

In this sense, one eagerly awaits the next developments…