The Mayor of Vienna and leading member of the SPÖ, Michael Häupl, has raised the possibility of a Red/Green coalition governing Austria after the next general election. In his comments made in the Kurier newspaper on Thursday and reported here in the AustrianTimes, Häupl talks about such a coalition being a “reasonable alternative offer” to voters who are or might consider backing the far-right FPÖ.
Michael Häupl’s view seems to have been influenced by his experience of working with the Greens – the junior partners here in the Vienna State government. The Vienna coalition was the first ever between the two parties in any Austrian state.
Should the SPÖ and the Greens at a national level start talking positively about the possibility of working together, in a future national government, it could strengthen their appeal to those centrist and left voters frustrated by the deadlock that often seems to be projected by the current Social Democrat (SPÖ)/conservative (ÖVP) grand coalition. Oddly I would suspect that, whilst this idea might bring some voters back from the FPÖ into the SPÖ fold, such a strategy may in fact have more impact in dislodging a further chunk of the liberal ÖVP vote (especially in the cities) over to both the Greens and the SPÖ. One danger could, however, be that oddly this centre-left alliance might also have a negative effect on the SPÖ vote, if the FPÖ successfully attacked this new alliance as too moderate – FPÖ popularism has already made inroads into former SPÖ strongholds in Vienna for instance.
If you where to look at the Mayor’s comments with a more cynical eye you might suspect that talk of a Red/Green alliance could have other motives. Current polls indicate that the centre-left would not have enough seats in the next parliament to be in a position to form a government, but as I’ve said above talk of such an alliance might help shift the polls and make this a reality. However, at the present time this idea looks a little more like a warning shot to the ÖVP that they are not the only show in town and unless they give some ground on key issues the SPÖ will make other plans, post the general election. Moreover, such talk may also be aimed at encouraging more liberal SPÖ voters who have or might switch to the Greens to stick with the SPÖ.
Whether through genuine commitment to a potential new alliance or some interesting politics, the Mayor of Vienna could well be creating a new dynamic in the Austrian political scene if he continues to make these comments.
How the ÖVP will react to all this could also be an interesting story to follow. The ÖVP has tried to broaden its appeal and restore its opinion poll ratings by seeking to project a more liberal and modern image. At the same time sections of the party have talked about the possibility of forming a governing coalition after the next election with the far-right FPÖ. So if the SPÖ and Greens really do start talking of an alliance what will be the ÖVP’s response? Will they throw in their lot with the far-right, seek to try and claim the ‘middle ground’, or try facing both ways and probably watch their vote disappear?