2020 already brought two new governments, and both have created some discussion because of the coalitions they involve. In Madrid a new coalition of the center-left PES and the radical left Unidas Podemos (itself a coalition of several leftist and Green parties) with the support of other left, Green and liberal-regionalist parties became the first coalition government in Spain since 1939. Meanwhile in Vienna a new coalition of the center-right ÖVP and the Greens continued Austria’s tradition of coalition governments with the novelty of the first Green ministers.
Austria‘s politics is rooted in compromise. Since the beginning of the post-war Second Republic, most governments have been coalitions – 76% of the timespan of democratic governments were of coalitions – and at the regional level, until 1999, it was a rule in almost all regions that regional ministries were distributed among all parties according to their election results – the Proporz system which has since mostly disappeared. Unlike in most EU states, consensual governance is an active principle in Austrian politics.
Moreover, Austria has nearly no tradition of minority governments, which makes it no surprise that after the recent national elections, the biggest party, the center-right ÖVP, looked into all mathematically possible combinations – with the center-left SPÖ, with the radical right FPÖ or with the Greens. As the SPÖ quickly declined and the previous ÖVP-FPÖ ended with a major corruption scandal, it is not shocking that the ÖVP-Greens coalition became the only viable alternative.
While in terms of policy the coalition agreement has been criticized and analyzed (like here, here, here, here or here), the reality of a coalition that is not ideologically the most logical is not weird for Austrian standards. Not only this is a coalition type that was already tested at the regional level (currently ÖVP and Greens share government in 4 out of 9 regions) but in the past it had already been tried at the federal level when in 2002 the ÖVP and Greens discussed a possible coalition with talks breaking down leading to the continued presence of the radical right FPÖ in the government. The lack of alternatives and the wish of the Greens to keep the radical right out of government led to an blue-green coalition.
Around Europe neither of these coalition types is unprecedented and at the moment many different kinds of coalitions coexist. And, as fragmentation grows, so will the difficulties in building cohesive coalitions – Spain had two consecutive elections to form a government and Belgium still has no prospects of having one after more than 8 months.
While a Conservative-Greens alliance can look difficult to understand, there are other coalitions around our continent that might have bigger stakes to the weirdest alliance. In Latvia the government reaches from centrist liberals to the radical right, in an effort to keep the Russian-minority SDPS and the conservative agrarian ZZS from power. Nearby, in Estonia, one of the country’s two liberal parties leads a government with the presence of the radical right – yes, there is one liberal party that finds more in common with fascists than with another liberal party. In Italy the center-left PD, a party that deserves the label of “establishment”, shares government with the M5S, a party whose raison-d’être is fighting the establishment. But it might be Slovakia that leads the championship of weird coalitions, with the nominally center-left Smer leading a government with the radical right SNS and the conservative Hungarian-minority Most-Hid.