In a move that will surprise many outside of Austria, the Social Democrat Party (SPÖ) are believed to have agreed by way of secret ballot to open up the possibilities for a coalition government with the nationalistic Freedom Party (FPÖ). Chancellor Christian Kern of the ruling SPÖ is not expected to announce the final results for another 24 hours, but journalists at Kronen Zeitung – Austria’s largest newspaper – have reported that the motion has been passed by a massive 72% of the party’s members.
The move signifies an end to the SPÖ’s self-imposed ban on working with the Freedom Party which has been in place since 1986. Many in the party are of course upset about this expected change in position, including Mayor of Vienna Michael Häupl who defeated current FPÖ leader Heinz Christian Strache in the 2015 mayoral election.
However, this change of approach for the SPÖ is not only born out of practicality, but necessary for the party’s long-term survival.
As has happened across Europe, ordinary lower-middle-class workers have moved away from their traditional support for the centre-left socialist party and toward the nationalist option. This has happened in direct correlation with globalisation, especially as the SPÖ nailed their globalist colours to the proverbial mast. This has occurred to the extent that almost 80% of self-identified working class voters under 35 in the 2016 presidential election chose Norbert Hofer, the FPÖ candidate.
In order for socialist parties to survive, they must now seek to bring in from the cold their traditional base by accepting that these people are against globalist policies of immigration, integration and the deterioration of the nation state as an entity. These people are patriots, therefore the socialists cannot ignore this or they will face decimation at the polls.
The political system in Austria is such that no party will gain a majority of seats in the National Council, therefore coalition government is inevitable. Like in Germany, the two main political parties – the SPÖ and ÖVP (People’s Party, centre-right) – are currently governing as a ‘grand coalition’, but this situation is deeply unpopular in the country and both parties will be forced into reconsidering their options as the next legislative election approaches.
This could pave the way for a coalition government between the Social Democrats and the FPÖ. Both parties are polling strongly behind the ÖVP, with the Freedom Party regularly topping the polls, meaning that it is the latter who will most likely hold the balance of power. They have previously formed a coalition with the conservatives, between 2000 and 2005, although this was an uneasy alliance as the parties clashed on many economic issues.
Of course, the SPÖ will seek assurances on things such as gender equality and environmental protection, but many will be surprised to learn that there are not a great many differences between them and the nationalists. Both support the existence and enhancement of the current welfare system and both support state intervention in the economy, amongst other issues. Provided the Freedom Party can get the socialists to acquiesce on issues surrounding immigration and identity, it is possible that a coalition between the two could indeed blossom.
The fact that we are even having this discussion is a mark of humility on the side of the Social Democrats. All too often in the west, socialist parties attempt to bring public opinion closer to their preordained views, as opposed to listening to the people and changing their message accordingly. The SPÖ appear to have recognised this, and are taking steps to see where they can work with the party that so many of their core voter base have moved over to.
Such a deal between the two seemingly opposing political ideologies requires compromise from our side too. Nationalist parties must stop assuming that ‘socialism’ is a dirty word, because in actual fact, we may find that there is a lot of common ground in terms of economic theories. Being wedded to free-market capitalism does not best serve the native European lower-middle-classes or working class. Instead, a more conciliatory approach to parties of the left could prove to be the icing on the proverbial cake.
On the point in question, this is certainly an exciting time for nationalist politics in Austria. The FPÖ could be just months away from power in what proves to be yet another exciting election cycle.