Austria’s not-so-grand coalition

If we should stop calling a German coalition of the old dominant parties of left and right “grand“, we should certainly stop calling its Austrian counterpart such. In fact, even if we do not stop using the term, grand, for Germany, we should banish the term for Austria, where Sunday’s election saw the two old parties barely scrape over 50% of the votes combined. It does not even meet the more literal definition (in German) of a “large” coalition. Yet a renewed SPO-OVP coalition appears the most likely outcome of the election.

11 thoughts on “Austria’s not-so-grand coalition

  1. This probably is a new phenomenon that will require a new term. What seems to be happening is that in electoral systems where proportional representation is used and that are relatively favorable to new party formation, voters increasingly start to cast their votes for new parties once the older parties are viewed as inadequate (corrupt). Once this starts happening the old parties, which actually are responsible for the past policies of the government, start to combine against the new parties.

    In systems that use proportional representation this is hard to do without actually forming public alliances. In other systems under the table deals can still be used.

    However, you do have the various “National” (Tory) governments in the UK in the 20s and 30s so there is at least some precedents.

  2. I think it is almost equally important that parties that advocate austerity have to combine to impose their views on the population, which generally does not believe in austerity. Although I do not think the term ‘grand coaltion’ is used in the Netherlands, they also have an austerity coalition that encompasses parties that traditionally oppose each other. ‘Oligarchy’ may be a better expression than ‘grand coalition’.

  3. Of course most of the population opposes “austerity” when it’s mostly made up of tax increases, Alan.

  4. One of Margaret Thatcher’s more famous quotes is ‘There is no alternative!’, TINA. While the rhetorical claim was that there was no alternative to the Thatcher economic project, the underlying claim was that there was no alternative to Margaret Thatcher. Naturally the French later produced a slightly more elegant and much skeptical version in referring to La pensée unique. No doubt the US Republicans will give us ‘TINA rules OK!’ any day now.

    TINA is actually a dolt whose only argument is her bog-ignorant bloodymindedness. There is consistent polling from Australia that the electorate would happily trade higher taxes for better government services. In Australia, at least the numbers are 55% for higher taxes and better services and 39% for tax reductions.

    The claim that the people always oppose higher taxes is simply inaccurate.

  5. Depends on what services the government offers, if tax increases are worth it. Some citizens want lower taxes, and less, but more productive services. Other citizens want higher taxes, more, and more productive services. I can’t see how anyone would want less productive services.

  6. I do not know if the Dutch themselves use “grand coalition” (or its equivalent), but I have seen news reports, in English, using that term for the current government.

    We could use a better term, for sure.

    (Maybe JD will enlighten as to what the term used in the Netherlands is.)

  7. No, we never call it that. It was called ‘purple II’ sometimes in the beginning, after the first time the Liberal and Labour parties governed together 1994-2002 (together with another, social liberal party), but I haven’t heard that nickname for a while now.

    Alan: reporting from the Netherlands, few people here appreciate the recent tax increases, regardless of whether that’s generally the case.

  8. In Portugal, that kind of coalitions are usually called “bloco central” (“central bloc”), an alliance betwen the main centre-left and centre-right parties.

    Although there was only one “bloco central” government in Portugal, and many years ago (1983-1985), the name entered in the Portuguese colloquial expression.

    About austerity – I think that most people are against austerity, independently of the austerity being made by tax increases, salary reductions or cuts in public services. Yes, some people sometimes claims to be in favour of some kind of austerity made of only of cuts in public spending and not implying any real cuts in public services, social benefits, etc. – but that “austerity” does not exist in the real world (mathematics does not allow it).

  9. Every citizen wants tax cuts, more spending, and more services, but sometimes this is not always realistic to have all the three wants. This is perhaps what makes democracy so difficult. It’s how politicians have to manage to make the most out of limited resources.

  10. @9 The polling, from Australia and elsewhere, simply contradicts this claim. It’s frequent repetition is a measure of its necessity to a certain kind of economics, not to any psephological reality.

  11. Pingback: Austria’s presidency | Fruits and Votes

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