Now it’s official: The People’s Party (ÖVP) under Sebastian Kurz and Greens under Werner Kogler have announced that they will enter official coalition negotiations. That step followed several weeks of “sounding each other out”, a time-honored tradition in Austrian politics, where forming a coalition usually takes three to four months.
The leading party bodies of the ÖVP and Greens approved the move, but both party leaders made clear that entering these negotiations does not mean there will automatically be a positive outcome. However, Kurz confirmed there will be no parallel negotiations with any other party. The pre-negotiations had revealed marked differences in program and approach of the two parties, Kogler said, but also that there was no area without “some sort of topical overlap.”
Differences & visions
Still, both leaders stressed that the differing positions would be a formidable challenge, particularly on the environment and climate, not easily digestible for the business-friendly ÖVP, but central for voters of the Greens. The ÖVP instead saw the election confirming its positions on migration, security, economic and tax policy.
If an agreement is to be reached, Kurz expects “a new form of governing. If we can reach an agreement with the Greens, we will definitely have to be creative.” Both leaders also underlined that the atmosphere and basis for talks is a very good one.
Topics & negotiatiors for possible coalition
The ÖVP and the Greens have defined six principle areas, further segmented into 33 expert panels, and assigned chief negotiators, many of them political grandees of either party:
- State, Society & Transparency
Wolfgang Sobotka (ÖVP) & Alma Zadic (Greens)
- Economy & Finances
Harald Mahrer (ÖVP) & Josef Meichenitsch (Greens)
- Climate Protection, Environment, Infrastructure & Agriculture
Elisabeth Köstinger (ÖVP) & Leonore Gewessler (Greens)
- Europe, Migration, Integration, Security
Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) & Rudolf Anschober (Greens)
- Social Security, new fairness & fighting poverty
August Wöginger (ÖVP) & Birgit Hebein (Greens)
- Education, Science, Research & Digitalization
Margarete Schramböck (ÖVP) & Sigrid Maurer (Greens)
More than 100 negotiators from both sides will work through those topics and regularly present results to their party bosses, who plan to coordinate the effort. After one and half weeks, several groups have already hit snags on program details. At the same time, the slowly unfolding Casino affair – the Austrian press has published Whatsapp messages suggesting a trade of highly lucrative offices of the partially state-owned CASAG casino group under the previous government – also puts some outside pressure on both parties.
Nevertheless, with negotiation scheduled for the coming weeks and months, there is still plenty of time for disagreements and rapprochements. While nobody can be certain when a coalition agreement might be reached – or negotiations may be broken off – it now seems likely that Brigitte Bierlein’s interim government will remain in office through year end. Observers expect the parties’ concrete decision in the new year.
(Foto credit: https://www.facebook.com/pg/sebastiankurz.at)