Austria’s New Odd Couple Government

Austria’s unlikely coalition between the conservative Austrian People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, or ÖVP) and the Greens has been formed after weeks of hard-fought negotiations. Their respective party chairs Sebastian Kurz and Werner Kogler announced that the middle of the week would successfully conclude their discussions.

Why Are The Greens Teaming Up With The ÖVP?

Before the announcement, the Greens had previously accepted an invitation to the ÖVP’s congress, who will have to vote on the coalition agreement for what is certainly considered a favor. For the ÖVP, Kurz does not need any official approval from the party committees; thus, the first ÖVP-Green coalition in history is a formality at this stage. An official announcement of the agreement is expected on Thursday, and the new government could begin to operate as soon as January 7.

A government with the Greens also means a new beginning for the old and new Chancellor Kurz. From the beginning of the negotiations, both party leaderships had indicated their parties were coming from diametrically opposed school of thought politically.

Austria Will Have To Embrace Its Creative Side

Creative solutions will thus be necessary above all for the core issues of climate policy and migration. Kurz and Kogler announced that significant encumbrances had been overcome in the past few days. However, no details were provided. Nevertheless, there are indications that both parties will enjoy individual liberties in the environmental and security area.

ÖVP chair Kurz recently announced his vision for the coming years on Facebook would remain “lower taxes. End debt policy” and another of Kurz’s signature stances, namely to “fight illegal migration.” The latter will be the most difficult issues to come together on for the coalition. However, Kurz made it clear during the government negotiations: his party received the Austrian people’s support based on his policies; hence the ÖVP’s identity will not be changed in years to come.

Nonetheless, the question of how refugee policy will be facilitated going forward remains unanswered at this stage. The establishment of a new state asylum agency was decided under the previous government. From 2021 onward, the same agency is also due to provide refugee return and legal advice. However, the NGOs that have been performing this task so far have agreed on a shorter notice period for their contractsleaving the new government with an immediate gap to bridge.

Healthcare Policy And The ÖVP

In the care and health sector, the ÖVP has already set priorities in the National Council election campaign by seeking to secure funding, ideally with some form of insurance. In particular, they have emphasized that home care should also be made more accessible. The Greens, on the other hand, have emphasized careers in the healthcare industry. Healthcare staffoften foreignersshould, therefore, be protected from exploitation and also have the opportunity to cost-effectively receive the right training for their job.

According to reports, the Greens are set to run the Department of Health and are thus likely to implement their agenda first. Besides the Department of Health, the Greens will run the Ministry of Infrastructure, the departments of Social Affairs, the judiciary, culture, and sport together with public service. Meanwhile, the ÖVP will control the departments of finance, home affairs, economy, and education as well as defense, economy, and the Foreign Ministry. Importantly, the final decision on who receives how much in the budget will remain with the Chancellor Party. Moreover, the international stage will continue to belong to the ÖVP: with Kurz in the leading role, but also with an ÖVP-led foreign ministry. The European agendas also remains with the ÖVP.

‘New Political Culture’

The new government will sound differently. Greens chair Kogler already indicated last Friday that the coalition would establish a “new political culture” after the ÖVP’s former coalition partner FPÖ had its fair share of controversies. What will be most interesting to see, however, is whether Kurz is about to expose himself as a political opportunist. When he entered the coalition with the far-right FPÖ, Kurz was heavily criticized, and against his better judgment, he decided to cooperate with the FPÖ to become Austria’s Chancellor.

For a coalition with the Greens now, the very same man Sebastian Kurz will have to either transform to accommodate the Greens partially leftist ideology without losing his core principles or simply embrace a role as a leader who is willing to sacrifice his convictions to remain in power.