Green President Van der Bellen: Will his victory change green (left) politics in Europe?

There were many discussions that if populist right candidate Norbert Hofer would win presidential election in Austria what kind of impact it may have on far-right in Europe. But the winner is Alexander Van der Bellen who was supported by Greens. Do you think that his victory may somehow affect Green parties in Europe, respectively less traditional left parties or not, and why? Read few comments.

Sebastian BukowWissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Institut für Forschungsinformation und Qualitätsicherung, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf

I do not expect a large impact on the Greens, for a few reasons:

– Van der Bellen did not run as a party candidate, but much more as the non-populist candidate.
– Consequently, he already said that he will suspend his party membership during his incumbency. Furthermore he announced to act more integrative and not as a party politician.
– Referring to the electoral outcome, a relevant number of his voters in the final election were motivated by voting against Hofer and not for van der Bellen (the same might be true vice versa, addressing the motivation of Hofer’s voters).

Due to that, van der Bellen’s success is not mainly a Green success, which is at least partly comparable e.g. with Baden-Württemberg and the success of Winfried Kretschmann: Both were electoral successful due to their personality and – even more important – due to the weakness of their non-populist competitors. So if there will be an impact of the Austrian election, there might be an impact on the traditional large parties, i.e. Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and Conservatives in Europe. They might have realized that they have serious electoral problems and that the need to re-think their strategies. However, this is not a new problem, and up to now their reactions are not really convincing in terms of electoral success, was we can see in many European countries – so I am not that sure that there will be an large impact at all, but this very depends on the established parties and their strategic decisions.

John Barry, Professor of Green Political Economy, Queen’s University Belfast

Many Green parties across Europe have celebrated and welcomed the victory of the Green party candidate in the Austrian Presidential elections, not least since it prevented a far right, populist and anti-immigrant candidate, which would have been a backward step for Europe. Alexander Van der Bellen’s win demonstrates that Green Parties can win even against populist xenophobic politics and his win is proof of the electoral support for Green policies and progressive over reactionary and quasi-fascistic politics. His election is a sign of hope for Europe in the face of the rise of right-wing populism in many parts of Europe

Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development, Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP), University of Surrey

My reaction, broadly is delight that Mr Van der Bellen has won the presidential election. The Greens have always offered a less conventional, more inclusive politics with a strong focus on social and environmental justice. It’s really important to have this vision in Europe at the moment, with so many other nationalistic and divisive forces at work. It’s clear that a far right victory in Austria would have hammered even more nails into the coffin of social democracy and (in my mind) eroded European politics even further. Mr Van der Bellen’s election allows those of us who care for decency, democracy, social justice and a secure future to breathe a collective sigh of relief. But not a very big sigh of relief. This victory by no means signals a huge wave of green political support or indeed the end of the threat of divisive nationalistic politics. It’s a moment to take stock of a threat averted. And to create policies that will re-orient the politics of the middle ground and build support for those who have been marginalised by economic inequality. It’s also a moment to begin to negotiate more viable multi-lateral solutions to the demographic challenges that Europe is facing.

Richard Luther, Professor of Comparative Politics at Keele University

1. The parties behind both candidates received the largest national vote they have ever had. That will probably legitimate both of the domestically.

2. Combined, their highest previous national votes were under 50%, so b definition, more than have the voters will probably have voted for one of them for the first time. That will also probably have a longer term effect, namely consolidating the trend to greater volatility.

3. To come to your question regarding the external impact of the election, I would first say there is little doubt (se for example the interview with the AfD leader), that Hofer’s success is having the effect of encouraging like-minded parties elsewhere.

4. Similarly, Greens elsewhere (e,g, the Minister President of Baden-Württenberg) are seeing van der Bellen’s election as an encouragement for their cause The substantive impact is likely to not be that major, however, but it does help consolidate the long-standing move of the Greens (and in particular of the moderate type of green politics embodied in the Austrian Green Party) from the periphery to the mainstream.

You might be interested in an article I have just published on the election in ‘The Conversation’, where I make some of these points and others.

Thomas Poguntke, Professor, Chair of Comparative Politics & Vice-Director of the Düsseldorf Party Research Institute (PRuF), Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf

I do not anticipate positive effects on other European Green or non-traditional left-wing parties in Europe, because the victory of van der Bellen is mainly based on an ‘anti-coalition’ of those who wanted to prevent The victory of the right-wing populist candidate Hofer. It is not really an expression of the strength of the Greens or other left-wing parties.

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