Austria's conservative-green coalition, though currently facing a crisis linked to corruption allegations, has been cited as a possible model for Germany's current post-election talks to form a new government. Could there be a logic to pairing the center-right CDU and the Greens in Berlin?
BERLIN — It was late September, 2019. Austria's elections had just taken place and the political parties, which had attacked each other throughout their campaigns, suddenly started talking, sounding each other out about joining forces. Three months later, on New Year's Day, a coalition government was formed, an alliance between the Austrian People's Party and the Greens.
Before the elections, the Greens' left-wing base was adamant they would never sell their soul to the devil by forming a coalition with their arch-enemy Sebastian Kurz, the man who had previously governed alongside the right-wing nationalist Freedom Party of Austria.
But Kurz and the Green Party's pragmatic leader, Werner Kogler, knew what was really important: trust and respect. So both sides compromised. Over the past two years or so, Kurz and Kogler have led a stable coalition, through a terror attack in Vienna to a global health pandemic. The first major crisis arrived Thursday, as Reuters reports, when the Greens cast doubt on Kurz's ability to lead after he was placed under investigation for alleged corruption.
Economy and/or environment?
Still, just this past week had also seen the alliance of the Austrian conservatives and the Greens had reached a peak success in legislation: Long nights of negotiations have finally achieved what was thought to be impossible two years ago: a win for both the economy and the environment.
The "eco-social tax reform" agreed in Vienna on Monday has three main focuses: Citizens will have to pay more for their carbon footprint; the burden on poorer citizens will be eased; and income from higher carbon prices will be used to reduce taxes and boost the economy.
Austria's message to the German parties currently trying to form their own government is loud and clear: A coalition can be more than the sum of its parts. It can add value through bringing together parties with different priorities. That's also possible in Germany.
A dose of optimism.
The carbon tax and the call for social equality were both central to the manifestos of the four parties that look set to form a coalition in Germany: It will be some combination of the Christian Democratic Union, the Social Democratic Party, the Free Democratic Party and Greens. The FDP also called for lower taxes, more economic growth and support for entrepreneurs. Some members of the CDU and Greens would support these measures, although the SPD is unlikely to.
Why, exactly? There is some room for manoeuvre. Austria has announced tax cuts while its national debt stands at 83.9% of GDP. Germany is in a better position, with only 69.8%. Kurz and Kogler plan to fund the tax cuts through economic growth. They are optimistically betting on the future.
Germany needs a dose of that same optimism. A coalition of unequals doesn't only require trust. It also demands courage.
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