The Populism Card

Green Party chief Eva Glawischnig competes with the far-right over Europe

Saturday, Jan. 17, was a historic moment for Austria’s Green Party. On the party congress, held in Klagenfurt, Eva Glawischnig, the nominated new party leader succeeding Alexander van der Bellen, received 97.4% of delegates’ votes (228 of 234), a truly remarkable result and the highest approval rate for any Green Party leader in its history.

Party officials hail this convincing result as a sign of unity of the party, severely shaken after its disappointing election result of Sept. 2008, where the Green Party dropped to the fifth place in parliament with 10.4%, unable to defend the third place (11 %) of 2006.

Glawischnig, in an attempt to differentiate herself from her more conservative-leaning predecessor van der Bellen, played the populism card on the European Union in an attempt to regain national attention.

“The Treaty of Lisbon is dead,” she declared in an interview with Der Standard on Dec. 11, 2008, in rhetoric reminiscent of the far-right.

But this does not solve the institutional problems of the European Union.

“This is still a huge construction site,” she said. “Since the (European) Union failed at the Treaty of Lisbon, it has to ensure that its institutions work effectively with the new number of members. Under the current conditions, the EU is not receptive (to new members).”

This dramatic shift in European policy inevitably provoked an open conflict with Johnannes Voggenhuber, longstanding MEP, a member of the European Convention and one of the leading advocates of the Lisbon Treaty.

Glawischnig’s shift on Europe was aimed at removing Voggenhuber as candidate for the European Parliament in the June elections. Following a 44% result among young voters for the FPÖ at the last general elections,– a majority of voters aged 30 and younger, Glawischnig seems determined to win back this traditionally Green block at all costs.

Despite Glawischnig’s clumsy attempt of publicly undermining Voggenhuber, she did in the end succeed at the party congress on Saturday, Jan. 17: Ulrike Lunacek received the support of the majority of party delegates (54.7%) sending him into early retirement. Still, Voggenhuber has refused to play dead and has hit back, declaring his intention to alunch a solidarity candidacy in 16th place. If he receives a minimum of seven or more percent of the Green party electorate, he will be guaranteed a parliamentary seat.

Eva Glawischnig, the newly elected party leader, has impressively demonstrated her assertiveness in personnel matters, yet the party has paid a high political price: Like the two far-right parties, sacrificing long-term political aims for short-term electoral gains. Soon we will know whether this was a wise strategy.

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