The End of Green Politics in Austria?

Austria’s Greens are the losers of the national elections of October 15, 2017. Between paralysis and reinvention, the party is trying to find explanations for why their values are outdated.

The election was held over a sunny weekend. The Monday following the elections, Vienna gets ready for a new working week. A mild breeze swirls up fallen leaves and the sun gives the city its beautiful golden colour on an autumn day. On the metro and in coffeeshops, the unusually high temperature for October seems to be a big issue of discussion, almost as important as yesterday’s result of the national elections. While more greenhouse gases are in our atmosphere than at any point in human history, Austria’s Green party has to pack up and go home. Literally. By the 8th of November.

While a political era is being put into boxes and a party disbanded, Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) starts coalition talks with Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of Austria’s far right-wing party (FPÖ).
After 31 years, the Green’s office in Löwelstraße 12 is now history. Here, in the center of the city, were the headquarters of the environmental activists, the center of a movement towards a more sustainable society. No journalists or photographers are allowed to document the moment of defeat, only posts on social media reveal some pictures showing melancholy amongst the members. Back in 2013, more than 12 % of voters had made a statement for more cultural openness, gender equality and environmental protection. This time however, the Greens could not even reach the 4 % mark.

At first glance, the internal division of the party seems to be at fault for the disaster. The party’s biggest « troublemaker » and fouding father Peter Pilz left the Greens in order to pursue his political career with his own party « Liste Pilz ». Chancelor Christian Kern made an attempt to unite the left and Sebastian Kurz managed to give the conservative party a fresh coat of paint. The conservatives are not as black as they are painted. Kurz’ « turquoise » program seemed to attract a whole lot more voters from the Green camp than the Green party itself. Environmentalists have failed to tackle climate change, Austria swings to the right and the Green party lies broken and motionless. In 2016, Alexander Van der Bellen was elected President of Austria. His multi-million electoral campaign of almost one year (due to inconsistencies in postal votes) lead to a budget deficit of the Greens, who had actively supported their former spokesman. On top of a political reconstruction, the party has to deal with a possible insolvency.

While the socialist party prepares for opposition, the Green party has to cope with an enormous identity crisis. «Die Grünen» were a strong opposition party, and an even stronger voice against climate change – with regard to global warming, but also in terms of social policy. Their values based on ‘grassroots democracy’ have often been criticized as too far from reality and elitist, situated somewhere between upper middle-class ecologists and naive leftists. At the latest since the election of the moderate, liberal Van der Bellen, the Green party is as far from being a radical leftist group as from being close to their electorate.

A majority of the Austrian population voted for a right-wing policy, with a discourse against refugees and in favor of cuts in social services to promote a liberal economic policy.

We are all too quick to forget about that last time a ÖVP-FPÖ coalition was in power and left Austria with a deficit of more than 17 billion Euros. The debt is, still to this day, discharged by taxpayers. State-owned enterprises like the postal service and the Austrian telecommunications company were listed on the stock exchange or directly sold to private investors. To put this in perspective, 17 billion represent Austria’s education budget for a whole year.

In December, Sebastian Kurz and Heinz-Christian Strache will unveil their coalition. On the same date, Austria’s former minister of finance Karl-Heinz Grasser will have to stand trial. Grasser is facing charges of corruption related to his activities in the government of 2000, a government whose neoliberal experiment had failed.

The rescue operation for the « Green crisis » may involve personnel changes – maybe the Greens should opt for a charismatic male top candidate. At least that was a commonality of the other parties who gained votes. So long, feminist values, hello male-dominated world. At least in this regard we don’t have to fear climate change.

Laura Costan

Masters of European Studies