The Green Parties

Austria Table of Contents

Another clear sign that the Austrian party system is loosening up was the emergence during the early 1980s of organized environmental, or Green, parties. A major catalyst in the birth of the Green movement in Austria was the narrow defeat of the November 5, 1978, national referendum on nuclear energy. The Kreisky government, seeking to build a nuclear power plant in Zwentendorf near Vienna, decided to let the people decide on the question of nuclear energy.

The victory of the antinuclear forces encouraged environmental activists to run in local elections, and in 1982 two national Green parties were formed. The more moderate of the two, the United Greens of Austria (Vereinigte Grne sterreichs-- VG), had a strong commitment to working within the existing political system to change environmental policies. The Alternative List of Austria (Alternative Liste sterreichs--AL), founded in 1982 on the fourth anniversary of the Zwentendorf referendum, was more willing to challenge the political status quo. In addition to championing radical changes in environmental policy, the AL also advocated a guaranteed national income, a thirty-five-hour workweek, and greater government ownership in certain areas of the economy.

The prospects of the Green parties are limited by their frequent inability to form alliances for the purpose of contesting elections. When the AL and VG have campaigned on a common ticket, they usually have won seats in parliament. In 1983, the first national election in which the Green parties participated, the two groups ran on separate lists, and both failed to gain representation in the Nationalrat. The Green cause received a strong boost in 1984 from the confrontation between the SP-FP government and environmental activists opposed to the plan to build a hydroelectric plant in a wetland forest at Hainburg in eastern Austria. The government backed down from its plan, and the incident led to an increase in support for the Green parties from disillusioned SP voters, intellectuals, and others with strong views on the environment.

Green activist Freda Meissner-Blau ran in the May 1986 presidential election, taking a surprising 5.5 percent of the vote, which necessitated a run off between the VP and SP candidates. Encouraged by this showing, the AL and VG, after long negotiations, agreed to participate in the November 1986 national election on a single list, named the Green Alternative-- Freda Meissner-Blau List. The Green Alternative took 4.8 percent of the vote and won eight seats in parliament. This marked only the second time in the history of the Second Republic that a fourth party had entered the Nationalrat. (The KP had been in the parliament between 1945 and 1959.) The harmony between the two groups was short-lived, however, as they clashed over how to divide the federal financing that became available to the Green movement. In the 1990 national election, the VG put up its own list of candidates, and the AL ran as the Green Alternative/Greens in Parliament (Grne Alternative/Grne in Parliament--GAL). The VG polled only 1.9 percent of the vote and failed to win any seats. The GAL took 4.5 percent of the vote and increased the number of Green deputies to ten.

As of the early 1990s, the future of Green politics in Austria remained uncertain because of the strong differences between the GAL and VG over political strategy. The VG was committed to developing a centralized party structure along the lines of the VP and SP, while the AL preferred to allow complete autonomy for its affiliated organizations in the provinces. There were also questions about the longevity of the Greens' appeal to voters. Studies indicated that only 50 percent of Green voters had close ties to a Green party, and roughly 35 percent of Green votes came from floating voters who had abandoned the two major parties. However, many Austrians felt a lack of confidence in the abilities of the VP and SP to fashion constructive policies, and as long as this doubt persists, the Green parties will have opportunities to elect deputies to parliament.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress