March 4. 2024. 7:52

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Austria’s conservatives out of options


As support for Austria’s conservative ÖVP continues to thaw away like ice in the sun, the party that governed Austria through the COVID-19 and energy crises appears to be out of options.

The party is tired following the litany of party scandals surrounding the posse of former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, once their beacon of hope.

Nowadays, about 20% of Austrians would tick the conservative’s box at the polls. That puts the party in third place. Voters are no longer content with the government despite the fact that, all things considered, Austria is in a pretty good place. Debt is low, growth has been steady.

When COVID-19 began its run through Europe, Austria and its tourism-intensive economy at the heart of the continent were faced with despair.

Today, things no longer seem as gloomy; economic growth has returned, and the woes of the energy crisis relented. Gazprom is supplying the alpine country with gas, again. Bad news for Ukraine, but great for Austrian industry.

Yet, instead of extolling their success in the economy, Austria’s conservatives are busy with asylum seekers. This risks alienating one of their core competencies to attract voters.

Chancellor Karl Nehammer, whose political career has been shaped by migration, has a single-minded focus: (to be seen to be) getting migration flows into Europe under control.

That has effectively normalised the anti-migration policy. Unsurprisingly, the far-right FPÖ is polling at about 30% of the vote.

But it may be too late to take charge of economic issues, too. Due to Russia inflicting a fossil fuel supply squeeze on Europe, energy has become the number one economic concern.

Guess who’s visibly in charge of energy policy? The Green’s Leonore Gewessler. While Austria’s conservatives were never known to favour domestic renewables, which are far less at risk of a cut-off by the Kremlin, industry bosses increasingly favour cheap and green energy.

Finance Minister Magnus Brunner, who recently crashed an e-scooter and had to miss two weeks of work, cannot single-handedly boost the ÖVP’s economic image.

Austria’s conservatives are seemingly content to bet it all on migration. If Nehammer can “fix” migration before the 2024 elections, economic normalisation and the voters forgetting about COVID-19 could see them clinch a close first place.

However, betting on 26 other EU countries to agree to “fix” migration by then is sheer insanity.

(Nikolaus J. Kurmayer | EURACTIV.de)