The Rooster in Brussels or Austria’s Twitter ‘Evolution’

31 10 2009

Cremer_Hahn_28102009 Photo: Students protesting in the streets of Vienna, Oct. 29. Photo Credit: Cremer / Der Standard.

“I feel already well-equipped, and speaking English daily will hopefully not cause me to forget German,” Johannes Hahn – the last name Hahn translated into English means rooster or cock – replied confidently in his first public interview with the daily Der Standard of Oct. 28, when asked about his English language knowledge after his surprise nomination as Austria’s EU Commissioner. The current Federal Minister for Science and Research, in office since January 2007, will be Austria’s most influential European politician as part of Emanuel Barroso’s second European Commission.

With the unanimous decision by the Austrian government of Oct. 27 lunchtime, the show-down between the two coalition partners – Werner Faymann’s Social democrats and Josef Pröll’s Conservative ÖVP – eventually found an abupt end. The contest of nomination was mere on the surface, though, as Faymann declared already months ago that his party – though strongest in the Austrian Parliament – would not nominate a commissioner, but played a risky tactical game of which Conservative nominee they would support.
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Competing with the Far-Right on Europe

28 01 2009

Saturday, Jan. 17, was a historic moment for Austria’s Green Party. On the party congress, held in Klagenfurt, Eva Glawischnig, the nominated new party leader succeeding Alexander van der Bellen, received 97.4% of delegates’ votes (228 of 234), a truly remarkable result and the highest approval rate for any Green Party leader in its history.

Party officials hail this convincing result as a sign of unity of the party, severely shaken after its disappointing election result of Sept. 2008, where the Green Party dropped to the fifth place in parliament with 10.4%, unable to defend the third place (11 %) of 2006.

Glawischnig, in an attempt to differentiate herself from her more conservative-leaning predecessor van der Bellen, evidently plays the populism card on questions of the European Union in order to regain national attention.

“The Treaty of Lisbon is dead”, she declared in rhetoric similar to the far-right parties in an interview with Der Standard on Dec. 11, 2008. And she continued on the perspective that the accession negotiations with Turkey were successfully completed:

“Since the (European) Union failed at the Treaty of Lisbon, it has to ensure that its institutions work effectively with the new number of members. This is still a huge construction site. Under the current conditions, the EU is not receptive (to new members).”

This dramatic shift in European politics, announced first in a newspaper interview, inevitably provoked an open conflict with Johnannes Voggenhuber, longstanding MEP and as a member of the European Convention intimately acquainted with the EU constitutional process. Not surprisingly, Voggenhuber has been an adversary of the Constitutional Treaty and the succeeding Treaty of Lisbon.

Indeed, Glawischnig’s tactical shift on Europe was aimed at the removal of Voggenhuber as leading candidate for the elections to the European Parliament, to be held in June 2009. Following election result for the party at the last general elections, among young voters – a majority of voters aged 30 and younger supported the FPÖ with 44% – at the national election of September 2008, Glawischnig seems determined to win back this traditionally Green-leaning electoral segment at all costs.

Despite Glawischnig’s clumsy attempt of publicly undermining Voggenhuber, she did indeed succeed at the party congress on Saturday, Jan. 17: Ulrike Lunacek received the support of the majority of party delegates (54.7%) and consequently sent Voggenhuber into early retirement.

Nevertheless, Voggenhuber hit back by declaring his intention of a solidarity candidacy on 16th place. If he is supported by seven or more percent of the Green party electorate, he will be guaranteed the parliamentary seat.

Eva Glawischnig, the newly elected party leader has impressively demonstrated her assertiveness in personnel matters, yet the party has paid a high political price: Like the two far-right parties, sacrificing long-term political aims for short-term electoral gains. Soon we will know whether this was a wise strategy.

This is an excerpt, the full article was published in February 2009 in The Vienna Review.

Graz has voted – any surprises?

20 01 2008

Photo: Lisa Rücker, Green Party candidate for Graz, casting her vote on election day.

Graz has voted, and with all the districts counted, there is a clear winner: the Green Party led by Lisa Rücker (see picture above), gaining 6.10% now holding 14.60 % and the third place (previously fourth). The party had the highest increase of votes, almost doubled. Despite all the racist rattling by FPÖ under Susanne Winter the weeks before (see also my blog entry here), the party remains the fifth strongest, nevertheless gaining votes (now 10.80%). The Communist Party (KPÖ), strong in 2003, has dramatically lost and is down at 11.20% and the fourth place. Of the two large parties, the conservative ÖVP has confirmed its pole position (currently 38.40%), first acquired in 2003, with gains in votes, while the challenger, the Socialdemocrats (SPÖ), lost further, down to 19.70%. The far-right BZÖ of Jörg Haider gained 4.30% of the votes, also represented in the Gemeinderat.

Winter’s incompetent, hurting and racist comments seemed to have one effect: Strengthening the opponents. Firstly, the Green Party. Winter’s comment aided Green politician Rücker who gained profile and strengthening the party’s presence in the public and mobilizing the Green electorate . And voters disappointed by the the KPÖ – the popular leader Ernest Kaltenegger has left city politics for the Landtag (Regional Parliament) – rather chose not to vote this time or vote ‘green’; not the Socialdemocrats or the far-right FPÖ. Secondly, the second winner was the BZÖ: The result of 4.20% of votes is the strongest showing since the last General Elections of October 1, 2006.

What conclusions can be made? That remains up to the political parties in Graz. A strong showing of the Green Party gives hope for changes in Austria, establishing them as the third political force, already indicated in the 2006 General elections where the Greens landed third. On the far-right, the consequences are evident: The struggle of who represents this political spectrum is undecided still, though the FPÖ has the overall stronger showing. The 1990s, however, when Jörg Haider still led the party and massively gained votes in opposition, seem finally over. Together, however, the far-right would have won over the Greens and gone third.