Thu Dec 21st, 2006 at 05:18:58 AM EST
Shortly after the recent Austrian general elections on 1. October 2006 I posted this diary entry, giving an overview of the results (the Social Democrats, SPÖ, won by a tiny margin over the governing Conservatives, ÖVP) and arguing that new elections seemed likely because neither Social Democrats nor the Conservatives could find enough small partners to form a governing coalition, and the hostility between the two big parties made a "Great Coalition" look rather unlikely. Now, however, a Great Coalition seems likely to emerge after all.
For lack of other options, the SPÖ and ÖVP had started to negotiate, but the climate between the two cooled further and further, in particular after the SPÖ cooperated with the Greens and the right-wing FPÖ to launch a parliamentary inquiry into the controversial acquisition of expensive Eurofighter jets which had been decided upon by the (still) ruling ÖVP-BZÖ coalition. Moreover, the ÖVP showed itself very inflexible with regard to major campaign promises of the Social Democrats (such as abolishing university fees, instituting a 1000 Euro minimum income and cancelling the Eurofighter contract) and eventually the Conservatives stopped talking to the SPÖ altogether.
However, significant losses in the polls made it clear that the Conservatives could ill afford new elections and the persistent refusal of the FPÖ to cooperate with ÖVP and BZÖ left the ÖVP no other option but to return to talks with the SPÖ. These have continued for a while now and a few days ago an informal deadline has been announced so that by 11. January a new Great Coalition government is expected to be ready to take up work. As the head of the strongest party, the Social Democrat Alfred Gusenbauer will probably be the new Bundeskanzler (Federal Chancellor). Die Presse, Austria's biggest conservative "quality newspaper" reported today that current chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel will probably leave the government, as will the Minister of Finance Karl-Heinz Grasser.