Going Through the Motions

“Und nun?” (Now what?) asked Simon Rosner in the Wiener Zeitung after the Ibiza video bombshell: The coalition shattered and the once powerful Kanzler Kurz kicked out of office.  Indeed, what next?

The reassuring part of all of this is that a government crisis in tranquil little Austria is not a Staatskrise, a national crisis. As they used to say in the shtetl:  “The situation is hopeless but not serious.” Our scholarly and grizzled President Alexander Van der Bellen is quietly assembling an interim government of competent political eunuchs and most Austrians are dusting off their grills and bicycles for the long hot summer.

The Hamburg weekly Die Zeit has turned its cool Northern gaze on what should be a raging political firestorm. Kurz’ chic turquoise may have a few splotches but the opposition parties are short on talent, ideas and money, it observed. After their brief, sweet moment of parliamentary revenge, the opposition is “a coalition of losers,” commented Vienna’s Die Presse.

Possible scenarios have been endlessly aired in the media, but predictions as Maynard Keynes said ”are notoriously difficult. Especially about the future.” Kurz is still easily the most popular politician in the country and likely to remain so, barring a disastrous error. Having been ignominiously forced out of office, he will play the victim, a handsome young St. Sebastian pierced with the arrows of an opportunistic opposition. Either way, his personal standing will likely power the ÖVP to 35-40%.

The SPÖ look likely to slide below 25%, the FPÖ below 20% and the Greens and NEOS at a little over 10% each. A coalition government is inevitable and the mathematics of majority inexorable. Assuming that the Social-Democrats still shun the right wing (ex) Chancellor he would be short of a majority with only the NEOs and unlikely to persuade the lefty Greens.  But Rendi-Wagner’s SPÖ could partner with both the NEOs and the Greens: Now that could be interesting!

But the math may not work: In a robust polemic after the vote, editor Wolfgang Fellner of the mass-circulation Österreich lambasted all players for putting party before country and predicted a gloomy vision of ongoing political malfunction: A toppled ÖVP Chancellor Kurz will dominate the new election but fail to reach a majority; a struggling SPÖ Rendi-Wagner will likely drop to a lowest-ever 20%; a disgraced FPÖ may hold their share, but will be unacceptable coalition partners; and the two smaller parties won’t cut it either – the NEOS won’t reach the numbers, and Kurz won’t want the Greens.

No parliamentary majority, no stable government. Hopeless, but in the land of Schmäh, probably not all that serious.

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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