Correspondent in Brussels
Until now Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had managed to start a political movement with a European dimension. He had been the first Conservative leader to establish a coalition with an environmental party, which opened the way to consolidate the Greens in a generalized way in the traditional political current, causing them to enter a line of pragmatism after living since its inception in an environment linked to the extreme left or even to extra-parliamentary spaces. The experiment should have later been extended to Germany in the event of the victory of the Christian Democrats – as was initially expected – where the experience of a coalition between ecologists and the center-right will continue to be unprecedented at the federal level.
This political combination would have been
a political blessing for the European Union, where the binomial between Social Democrats and Christian Democrats that has been the basis of the consensus for European construction since its inception is weakening by leaps and bounds. For two legislatures in Brussels, the Liberals are also imperatively needed to achieve a majority that supports the appointment of the President of the Commission and all indications foresee that in the next lGreens may be essential to avoid a majority of Eurosceptics. The current president, the German Ursula von der Leyen, had marked the unequivocal course of his mandate (before the pandemic) towards the energy transition and the economic revolution that he has called the ‘Green Pact’ with all the billions of financing behind and that have been multiplied with the aid to reconstruction designed to take advantage of the Covid crisis as an accelerator of the process.
The proof that Brussels was involved in this matter is that in this Commission there is for the first time precisely un comisario verde, in Lithuanian Virginijus Sinkevicius, that although he occupies the Environment portfolio, he is framed by more powerful vice-residents. But it was a sign that the process started by Kurz and his ecologist vice chancellor Werner Kogler it could be the first step in a substantial change in the European political scene in which the Greens would become fully a party of the mainstream of the system, instead of remaining in the area of those who want to replace it by another still unknown. With the bulk of the principles that they have traditionally defended – respect for the environment and the fight against climate change – already assumed by the big parties, the Greens also need to ask themselves if they want to continue only in the protest demonstrations or if they prefer to become a force of power and not only with the left, but also being a pragmatic formation capable of negotiating with each other.
The german mirror
Many may now also wonder if what happened in Austria could not be connected in some way with what happened in Germany in the legislative elections, which have given the majority to the Social Democrats so that they can come to terms with liberals and greens. It is possible to intuit that from neighboring Austria Kogler may feel more uncomfortable right now looking in the German mirror, where his co-religionists are preparing to form governments with the Social Democrats, in this case for the second time since they were in league with Gerhard Schröder. For the Greens, the experience then was not very positive, since they felt that the SPD was using them as an ideological parapet without the coalition taking any real steps in the direction of its program. Angela Merkel, however, it has been the chancellor who has decided to put an end to the nuclear power plants on a fixed date, which was one of her historic demands.
Perhaps also what has happened in the German elections and the prospects that the results open may be part of the reason why Kurz has preferred to resign and propose his foreign minister as a candidate for chancellorship, so that the coalition scaffolding is maintained, rather than leaving the doors open for the greens to agree a different majority with the left, also as a mirror of what is coming in Germany, if it turns out just as well as when it decided to call elections in which it reinforced its majority and was able to discard of the extreme right.
For him European People’s Party (EPP), the political crisis in Austria is also a major setback. After having lost Germany, the most important country in the EU, the popular ones do not have plenty of solid references. Austria is a small country and Kurz is a young leader with more future than past but the news from Vienna does not help the popular to digest the defeat of Angela Merkel’s successor and all that it means. If Kurz manages to save at least the coalition for the second time, after the ordeal that the now resigned launched to the far right, it will help to reassure the popular ones throughout the EU. If the popular lose Austria, where for decades a coalition between Social Democrats and Christian Democrats ruled, the leadership crisis suffered once Angela Merkel disappeared from the scene will deepen. The closest consequences could occur in the European institutions at the end of the year, when the terms of the President of Parliament expire, and the Italian socialist David Sassoli, who wants to continue even though there is a prior agreement for the one who holds that position in the second part of the legislature, and that of the president of the Council, to be a popular one, Belgian liberal Charles Michel, who is elected by the other heads of government. Both positions of extraordinary importance are now pending the outcome of the political crisis in Austria.