Austrian ÖVP Against EPP Election Program: Nuclear Energy, Schengen Enlargement and Unanimity Principle as Points of Contention

PeoplePoliticians ♦ Published: March 6, 2024; 14:14 ♦ (Vindobona)

In the run-up to the upcoming EU elections, a conflict is emerging within the European People's Party (EPP), as the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) has announced that it will not support the EPP's election program.

Ursula von der Leyen, the EPP lead candidate for EU Commission presidency, is set to be elected in Bucharest, and the EPP's election program will be adopted. / Picture: © EU European Union

This decision was announced by Christian Stocker, Secretary General of the ÖVP, as reported by ORF. The main reason for the rejection are several "red lines", including issues such as nuclear energy, the expansion of the Schengen area and the abolition of the unanimity principle in the common foreign and security policy, which cannot be supported by the ÖVP.

The controversy is particularly sparked by the demand for approval of nuclear energy, the inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria in the Schengen area and the abolition of the unanimity principle in the EU's foreign and security policy, which the ÖVP rejects. Stocker emphasized that the Schengen system must first be repaired before new members are admitted. Naturally, the ÖVP is interested in domestic votes and the opinion of the Austrian population on these issues, as Austria will elect its government in the fall, just a few months after the EU elections.

EPP divided?

The EPP, which also includes Angela Merkel's CDU and the French party "Les Républicains", is the strongest party in the European Parliament, with Manfred Weber as its lead candidate. Although the European People's Party's (EPP) election program for the upcoming EU elections has already been determined, other points of contention have come to light in addition to the Austrian diversion.

Amidst these tensions, Ursula von der Leyen is to be chosen as the EPP's lead candidate for the EU Commission presidency, a choice supported by the ÖVP, although no alternatives are being considered. This support contrasts with the critical stance towards other parts of the EPP election program.

The positioning of the ÖVP raises questions about the unity of the EPP and its strategy for the upcoming EU elections. While parts of the EPP want to position themselves further to the right in the face of an expected shift to the right in the EU electorate, the ÖVP is keen to maintain its position on certain issues. The debate also highlights the tensions within the EPP over climate policy, in particular the Green Deal and the EU renaturation law, which are viewed critically by some members, including the French party Les Republicains.