Borderline | Austria’s Coalition Under Pressure

The present ÖVP-GRÜNE government was always an unlikely marriage. The growing possibility of another flood of refugees over the Turkish-Greek border is putting the young partnership to the test.

Honeymoons are by definition short, political honeymoons often fleeting. The coalition pact between the present Austrian government’s two parties, the dominant conservative ÖVP and the smaller left-leaning Greens, involved painful compromises for both. ÖVP leader Sebastian Kurz built his mainstream popularity on his tough actions as foreign minister, sealing the so-called West Balkan refugee route. The coalition agreement reflects this attitude- no more refugees. The Grünen reluctantly accepted this as the price of participation, but made it clear that they would never support Schutzhaft, preventative detention. Part of former Interior Minister Herbert Kickl’s “hostile environment” to discourage asylum seekers, it was probably unconstitutional, and for the Grünen, totally unacceptable. The papering over of policy cracks between the two partners was from the beginning dangerously thin.

EU-Turkey agreement

And then came what was probably inevitable: another surge of Syrians, adding to the 3.8 million refugees already overloading Turkish capacity. The four-year EU-Turkey agreement for €6 billion in aid (some called it a bribe) to ensure the Turks held back the tide, is due to expire this month. Turkish Premier Recep Erdogan has seized the political moment to announce that his security forces would no longer prevent refugees making their way to the frontier with Greece. Media report that Turkish authorities are not only allowing the desperate refugees through, but actively encouraging them, by announcing that the Greeks had already allowed in 36,000 and laying on busses to help them get there. No matter the strenuous denials from the Greeks: The surge had begun. The damage was done.

Heart-rending pictures of weeping children soon flooded the media. Kurz remained firm: If you let a few in, tens of thousands will follow. For the Grünen, caught between their commitment to the coalition pact and their traditionally humanitarian positions, the political situation has been tricky.  Green party boss Werner Kogler pleaded to at least allow the children in. But this was just his “private opinion,” he added hastily.  ven President Alexander Van der Bellen joined in with a similar plea. Kurz still said plainly: Nein

At present all agree that Turkish president Erdogan is engaged in a cynical blackmail scam to squeeze more money out of the EU. And at the expense of the long suffering victims. So for the moment the coalition is solid, but whether the thin line of barbed wire will hold, is another question.

(Foto: © Parlamentsdirektion / Johannes Zinner)

Simon Ballam
English, studied in NY and worked in London, Düsseldorf, NY, Fankfurt, Prague and Vienna. This covered stints in market research and the film industry, international advertising coordination and strategic planning. Currently business school lecturer and journalist.

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