Despite high hopes, the Greens were once more left without a governing option, though, in a party-system strongly and persistently shifting to the right. Can a new strategic positioning make the Greens the party that puts a halt to this trend?
The best result of all times. We are now the strongest Green party in Europe, giving us a great reason to celebrate. Nevertheless there is no real party mood inside the Austrian Green party. In the first place this is due to the fact that the political landscape in Austria has moved even more to the right: four parties are now occupying this space. They range from centre-right (the Christian-Democrat ÖVP) to right-wing populist (the Freedom Party of Austria, FPÖ). In addition the Austrian political space now includes two varieties of bought liberal parties, the euro-sceptic Team Stronach and the liberal newcomer “NEOS”. Bought, as both depended exclusively or largely on the support of a single powerful millionaire: Austrian-Canadian car-parts tycoon Frank Stronach for his “Team” and liberal construction-magnate Hans-Peter Haselsteiner finally coming out to support the NEOS. Those four parties together account for 60% of all votes cast. A potential Red-Green coalition of SPÖ and Greens is as far away from a majority as it has ever been.
In 2013, we Greens made tactically clever use of a series of corruption scandals involving high-ranking politicians from all other established parties. This resulted in five successive election breakthroughs – after this year’s regional elections, Greens are now in government in a total of 5 out of 9 Austrian regions. The objective for the national elections was participation in government at federal level as well. As this aim was not achieved, the only thing left will be a further stint in the opposition. Therefore, the question will arise as to what the role of the Greens might be independent from being in or outside government.
Two things are called for: we Austrian Greens must reposition ourselves as a left-wing party and we need to develop a strategy not only to become part of the government, but to actively shape society in the long run. This means more than the legitimate will to govern and to grow as a party. It is about long-term strategies concerning the future of my town, my country and the planet. This also means that we no longer accept the “voter market” and public opinion as a given, rather we should aim at forming and shaping public opinion – as our great right-wing opponent the FPÖ has been successfully practising for years.
The Green century?
A few days before the election the latest IPPC report was published – with an alarming prognosis. There is little doubt that in this century we face changes that will call our way of living, working and consuming into question. Since its foundation this has been the historical task of the Greens: to deal with these changes in a way compatible with solidarity as well as sustainability. This century could become green – one that is decentralised and at the same time cosmopolitan, one that conserves resources and is at the same time fair and one that is innovative and at the same time oriented towards cooperation. To shape this transformation creatively and by exploiting our potential – that is the core of the Green narrative we yet have to formulate collectively. We need to show that an ecologically more sensitive way of life is in no way a poorer way of life but one that raises the quality of life for all of us. More open access to the web and more urban public space, energy cooperatives and local markets are just as much a part of this alternative as healthy food, innovative models for care of the elderly, child care and well developed means of public transport.
The Greens could be the party that supports a pluralistic movement in search of these various alternatives and introduces them into the parliamentary process. We could be the party that besides enhancing Parliament and expanding direct democracy, experiments with various forms of participative democracy, with citizen participation and the involvement of experts and the general public.
“The boat is full”
The coming years will most probably strengthen the trend towards the more extreme right-wing parties. The FPÖ, which as an opposition party has made the topic of “foreigners” politically acceptable, will also bring the topic of “Europe” into the forefront of the public arena. In this election there was little to counter the new variation on “the boat is full” – this time not voiced against the “foreigners” but against “the lazy Southerners” according to for example even Maria Fekter, the Austrian ÖVP finance minister. This comes as no surprise, as there are four parties (ÖVP, FPÖ, Team Stronach and the NEOS) whose leading principle is exclusion and who want to determine a person’s opportunities in life either through his or her passport or bank account. The FPÖ is ideologically dominant, consistently emphasising that the boat is full and that it is of primary importance to protect us from the others. And the largest party in the country, the historically commendable SPÖ, whose programme includes much that is creditable, has neither the imagination nor the strength to counter this exclusion model systematically.
A good life for all
Thus the Greens remain the main credible anti-pole to the Right. It will be up to us to strengthen this anti-right position. This requires an independent pole with its own narrative that does not expend itself on anti-positions. We have to become this anti-pole which goes beyond anti-racism, anti-anti-Semitism, and anti-anti-EU. The right-wing exclusion model – and that is not only that of the FPÖ – does not only offer exclusion as an answer to financial and economic crises but also to the environmental crisis. If there is no room for everyone, if there is not enough for everyone, then some, the less industrious and those who achieve less, will simply have to go under: no passport, no heating, no job. The city of Graz, Austria´s second largest city, gave an impression of this upcoming polarisation. On the left side of the river, the Greens are the strongest party in nearly all districts, on the right side, the FPÖ is the strongest party.
The Green answer can only be the historically left answer: we want a good life for all, not just for the few. The socio-ecological alternative model is a model of inclusion, solidarity and sympathy – with people and with nature. Who, if not we Greens, could talk about an emancipatory transformation in the 21st century?
This article was originally published on Die Grüne Bildungswerkstatt.