Greens agree controversial coalition deal in Austria

The Austrian Green Party has reached an agreement to form a controversial coalition government with the right-wing Austrian People’s Party, subject to ratification by its party congress, which will see it support a ban on Islamic headscarves in schools and tougher rules on asylum.

Werner Kogler
Werner Kogler

Austrian Green Party leader Werner Kogler

Green World

The Austrian Green Party is set to enter government as part of a controversial coalition with the right-wing Austrian People’s Party (OVP), which will see it support a ban on Islamic headscarves in schools and tougher rules on asylum.

Following months of negotiations after the 29 September 2019 general election, which saw the Greens win a historic 14 per cent and the OVP fall short of the 92 seats required to win a majority, a deal between the OVP and the Greens was agreed on Wednesday (1 January), bringing the Green Party into a federal government for the first time.

OVP leader Sebastian Kurz will return as Chancellor and Austrian Green Party leader Werner Kogler will become Vice-Chancellor, with the Greens set to be handed control of a new environment ministry that will encompass infrastructure, traffic, energy and technology, as well as the justice ministry and the social affairs ministry.

The deal, which still needs to be approved by delegates to a special Green Party congress on Saturday 4 January, will see a return to majority government in Austria after the fall of Kurz’s previous coalition with the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) in May 2019 following the Ibiza Affair.

Vice-Chancellor leader of the FPÖ Heinz-Christian Strache was covertly filmed offering government contracts to a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch, in return for help in his election campaign, leading to Kurz to call time on the coalition and a subsequent vote of no-confidence in the government.

The coalition agreement has caused divisions in the Green Party, with many firmly against working with the anti-immigration OVP, but the leadership has taken the position that compromises need to be made in order to influence policy and address the climate emergency.

These compromises, however, will be tough to take for Greens, with the coalition programme announced today (3 January) including a ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves by girls in school aged up to 14, the introduction of 'precautionary detention' of dangerous asylum seekers and a cut in corporation tax to 21 per cent from 25 per cent.

Concessions to the Greens in the deal include a goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, a target to produce 100 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030, a new flat rate air passenger tax of €12 (£10) and subsidies for public transport.

The coalition agreement means that Austria joins Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and Luxembourg as European countries with Greens in government, with Germany mooted as the next European country in which Greens could make the breakthrough into government, either in the 2021 general election or if the grand coalition between the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats falls.