The coalition with Chancellor Kurz’s oVP is driving Austria’s Greens into an identity crisis. This is particularly evident in refugee policy.
Vienna, Sept. 11: Demonstration in favor of accepting refugees from Moria Photo: Herbert Pfarrhofer/picture alliance.
A whole 100 children from Moria. Should we accept a symbolic number of unaccompanied minors from the Greek refugee camp or not? This is the question on which the coalition partners oVP and the Greens are currently sharpening their profiles.
The Greens are appealing to conscience and demanding a humanitarian gesture. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is setting the tone for the oVP, is also talking about conscience: He cannot reconcile the acceptance of refugees with his Christian conscience. In his logic, the distribution of refugees among EU members would only lead to the emptied camp on Lesbos immediately filling up with new asylum seekers. Thus, one would only give more people hope that they have a future in Europe, and thus promote the business of unscrupulous traffickers.
Not everyone in the oVP thinks this way. After all, the Austrian People’s Party was originally the home of Catholic farmers, conservative economists and enlightened bourgeois. Since Sebastian Kurz discovered the recipe for success in cutting off the right-wing FPo by rephrasing its dull slogans a little nicer, these bourgeois voices have largely fallen silent. And the polls confirm that the hard-line course against refugees has been well received by the population.
For months, the Austrian People’s Party (oVP) has been solidly three to five percentage points above its result in the National Council elections a year ago. That is why the Greens have given up on making further appeals to their coalition partner. Before the elections in Vienna on October 11, in which the oVP wants to double its share of the vote at the expense of the FPo, which has been weakened by Ibiza and donation scandals, a departure from the "close the borders" slogans is not to be expected.
No heart for refugees
The artist Andre Heller can remind us of the "social revolutionary Jesus Christ" and quote from the Gospel, "what you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me," in order to soften the Catholic heart of the chancellor. It does not help that oVP mayors declare their willingness to take in refugee families and even the Catholic Bishops’ Conference appeals to the government to practice charity towards the refugees.
In Austria, almost no one dares to demand the distribution of the more than 12,000 refugees stranded in Lesbos. There is always talk only of children, preferably those unaccompanied. There is no mention of the obligation under international law to protect asylum seekers from war or persecution or the human rights imperative to restore dignity to disenfranchised people. Assuming that the hostile mood in the country can only be turned around with the suffering of innocent children, the proponents of admission have largely abandoned the human rights discourse.
But even the appeal to the heart is no longer effective. An oVP minister of the interior once caused outrage when she assured that she would not be impressed by the doe eyes of a 15-year-old schoolgirl who had gone into hiding before being threatened with deportation. The torching of the Moria camp by desperate residents now also provides the well-founded argument that one does not want to reward perpetrators of violence.
Of course, the chancellor is also right when he says that a currently unaccompanied child would soon be followed by relatives. But what’s wrong with taking in a family instead of an orphan? And the pull effect is highly controversial among migration researchers. Most consider the push effect, which drives people from their homeland, to be far more powerful.
In their work in government, the Greens painfully experience every day what it means to be at the mercy of a coalition partner almost three times as strong. In the government negotiations, Kurz even negotiated a clause that would allow him to look for other majorities on the migration issue if there were no agreement. In practice, this means: If you are not willing, we will get the FPo. The Greens have to be provoked again and again by the opposition parties SPo and Neos, when they bring passages taken word-for-word from the Greens’ party program to a vote and then mock the ecos’ deputies when they have to vote against them out of coalition discipline.
More and more grassroots Greens are calling for a break with the coalition to end the constant self-denial
This is not without consequences for the Green base, which is visibly eroding. If Green participation in government had initially triggered cautious euphoria, disillusionment is now spreading. For six months, the sober management of the Corona crisis by Health Minister Rudolf Anschober had given the Greens rising poll ratings, but now they are only polling at 14 percent. The SPo, which at times ranked behind them, has recovered and even the FPo is threatening to pass them again.
More and more grassroots Greens are calling for a break with the coalition that would end the constant self-denial. No one from the government members and deputies wants that. They probably rightly point out that the oVP would bring the FPo back on board without batting an eye and push through even more inhumane policies.
In order to keep its coalition partner happy, the oVP has at least doubled the foreign disaster fund from 25 to 50 million euros and immediately brought a shipment of 55 tons of aid supplies such as heatable tents for a new camp to Athens. Minister of the Interior Karl Nehammer (oVP) did not miss the opportunity to accompany the flight himself and hand over the tents and blankets wrapped in a red-white-red flag. The oVP knows a thing or two about staging.