Environmentalists in power: the story of Austria’s Greens

REPORT

On 7 January 2020 the Austrian Green Party, or Die Grüne Alternative, entered into coalition with the conservative ÖVP, making them the first environmentalist party to ascend to power in Austrian history. As many across Austria ask what is next for the Greens, Politika News follows the story of their rise, fall, and recent comeback.

Foundation And Early History

The Austrian Greens, as the party is known in English, was founded in 1986, but arose out of a wider environmentalist movement which has its origins in a campaign against the opening of a nuclear power station in Zwentendorf in 1978. The Green movement saw a surge of support in 1984 during a sit-in protest against a hydro-electric plant in a wetland forest at Hainburg, before combining with a second organisation in 1986 as a single party: Die Grüne Alternative. Despite its relative novelty, the party performed well in the 1986 elections and won 4.82% of the vote, granting them 8 seats in the Austrian Parliament.

Election Results: A Familiar Opposition

From 1986, Die Grünen Alternative became a staple opposition party in Austrian politics. During the 1990s and 2000s the party steadily increased its vote share, achieving 7.4% in 1999 and 10.4% in 2008. The Austrian representational voting system meant this increase led to a direct augmentation of the number of Green MPs in Parliament, which in turn caught the attention of other, traditional parties. The party’s rising popularity culminated in 2002, when the Greens achieved what was, at that time, the best result for an environmentalist party in Europe with 9.5% of the vote. They were approached about a possible coalition with the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), though talks ultimately collapsed.

The Fall

Despite increasingly positive election results, the Greens received a crushing blow in the 2017 general election. Amongst fears of a far-right victory, the Greens lost many votes to more centrist parties, resulting in a 3.8% share of the vote, the worst result in the party’s history. Falling short of the crucial 4% threshold, the party failed to qualify for representation in Parliament.

The Rise

Hope and recovery for the Austrian Greens seemed a long way off. But with the appointment of a new leader, Werner Kogler, the party began to rebuild. 2019 brought a new opportunity with a snap general election; the ruling coalition between the ÖVP and far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) had collapsed suddenly following the so-called “Ibiza scandal” in which FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache was recorded offering a woman posing as a Russian oligarch lucrative public contracts in return for campaign support. A collapse in support for the FPÖ and the increasing prevalence of environmental concerns among young people led to the Green’s best ever result: 14.08% of the vote and 26 seats. The party entered coalition talks with ÖVP leader, Sebastian Kurz, and despite the two parties being unlikely allies, Die Grüne Alternative officially entered government on 7 January 2020.

What next?

The Austrian Greens have not long been in power – but they have already come under criticism for the absence of major green policies on the national agenda as well as their coalition partners’ stances on issues such as immigration and equal rights. Despite this, party supporters believe there is hope for the future. Coronavirus has shifted government agendas across the globe and the party’s ambitions are sure to be limited in a conservative coalition – but Die Grüne Alternative continues to promise that it will deliver on its green promises. Only time will tell.

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