Traffic light coalition – two neighbors separated by politics?

Debates, moods and legislative initiatives have already spilled over to Austria in abundance from Germany. This could continue through the new coalition of SPD-Greens-FDP – both in terms of content and strategy.

“Germany has always set the pace for Austria,” said political advisor Thomas Hofer to the “Wiener Zeitung”. For a current example, “you don’t need to go far back”. In the course of the eco-social tax reform, the turquoise-green federal government is also running a CO2-Pricing from July 1, 2022. In Germany, this came into force in 2021. “Austria copied that and agreed on the model that the CDU / CSU and SPD have decided.”

Greater role for the state

The planned reforms of the German traffic light coalition could provide new impetus. The political scientist Peter Filzmaier identifies a “pattern” in the German coalition program, as he says, according to which the state will again play a stronger role in the core areas of economy, social affairs and work. That could also spill over to Austria, especially since the state in the Corona crisis also played a more important role again. “Some stakes have already been hammered in,” says Filzmaier.

One such peg is the extension of the rental price brake for new rentals. In areas with a tight housing market, rents in existing tenancies should only be allowed to rise by up to 11 percent within three years instead of the previous 15 percent.

“This is of course an upcoming topic in Austria – even if everything is currently being covered by Corona,” says Hofer. He refers to Graz and the surprising electoral success of the communists there in the municipal council elections at the end of September: The KPÖ had successfully “campaigned as a party and built up credibility over many years” on the subject of affordable housing.

The introduction of a rental price brake “1: 1 according to the German model” under turquoise-green “is rather unlikely,” says Hofer. “But you shouldn’t underestimate that either.” Ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) has repeatedly fished in the SPÖ’s electoral reservoir and taken away their opportunities to attack – for example with the family bonus, the increase in minimum pensions and the rejection of pension reforms. After short ?? The ÖVP is now resigning in “a state of shock”. But once this is over, “it is already conceivable that they will consider how to approach this rental price story”.

Drug tourism on the border

The size and thus dominance of the German economy means that domestic politics also have to deal with developments that do not in themselves have a political majority.

The traffic light coalition plans, for example, to release cannabis for adults for consumption in licensed shops in the future. Austrian politicians will have to deal with this, regardless of whether they want to or not. Because if the intoxicant can be obtained legally in Freilassing, the German-Austrian border threatens to become a hotspot for drug tourism.

Germany has already been more aggressive than Austria in its self-image as a country of immigration. The new coalition program contains further steps. Multiple citizenships should be made possible, naturalizations should take place more quickly. This is of particular relevance for EU immigrants, who have long represented the main group of immigrants, in Austria as well as in Germany. The settlement of family members should also be made easier.

The political scientist Gerd Valchars, who conducts research on citizenship and migration, sees it as “a certain climate” that will be created and that could make Germany more attractive as a country of immigration. This could also have an impact on Austria’s economy, especially since both countries draw some of their workforce from the same pool. The planned increase in the minimum wage from 9.60 to 12 euros could also make Germany more attractive as a location.

Burgenland Governor Hans Peter Doskozil (SPÖ) is demanding a minimum wage. So far, however, he has not even had a majority within the SPÖ. Because while practically every employee in Austria is covered by a collective agreement, in Germany it is less than 60 percent.

Influence from Austria

But it is not always Germany that sets the pace. Sometimes the neighbor takes a look at Austria. The new coalition wants to lower the minimum age for participation in the federal election from 18 to 16 years. In Austria, the right to vote was reduced to 16 years in 2007. Filzmaier also sees interactions in the training guarantee for young people, which is anchored in the German government program. Austria has already introduced it. The domestic model has been evaluated by the Bertelsmann Foundation as a possible model for Germany.

In addition to content, the traffic light coalition could also trigger strategic debates among Austrian parties. The German government “is fueling internal notions that a three-party coalition between the SPÖ, Greens and Neos could come about,” says Hofer. With the crash of the ÖVP since the advertising affair, such a majority is “more realistic than it was a year ago,” said the political advisor. If the German coalition now “cuts a fine figure” under Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), it could also have an impact on Austria.

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