Austria’s Sebastian Kurz agrees coalition with far-right party

Austrian leader reaches government deal with the anti-immigration Freedom Party

Austrian party leaders Sebastian Kurz and Heinz-Christian Strache give a joint press conference in Vienna. Photograph: Roland Schlager/AFP/Getty Images

Austrian party leaders Sebastian Kurz and Heinz-Christian Strache give a joint press conference in Vienna. Photograph: Roland Schlager/AFP/Getty Images

 

Austrian conservative party leader Sebastian Kurz reached a coalition deal with the anti-immigration Freedom Party on Friday, paving the way for Austria to become the only western European country with a far-right party in government.

The agreement, which comes two months after a parliamentary election dominated by Europe’s migration crisis, ends more than a decade in opposition for the Freedom Party (FPÖ), which last entered government in 2000 with the People’s Party (ÖVP) that Kurz now leads.

Kurz’s party won the October 15th election with a hard line on immigration which often overlapped with that of the Freedom Party. The FPÖ came third, with 26 per cent of the vote.

“We can inform you that there is a turquoise-blue agreement,” Kurz said in a joint statement to reporters with FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache, referring to their two parties by their colours.

Strache and Kurz said the details of their agreement would be presented to the public on Saturday, after a meeting with president Alexander Van der Bellen and discussions with their parties’ leadership structures.

Party officials had said a news conference with Kurz and Strache would take place at 6pm local time, but as the coalition talks in a Vienna palace dragged on, the timing slipped. The two men finally emerged more than three hours later.

“We want to reduce the burden on taxpayers . . . and above all we want to ensure greater security in our country, including through the fight against illegal immigration,” Kurz said.

Anti-establishment gains

Anti-establishment parties have made large electoral gains in Europe in recent years, capitalising on voter dissatisfaction with mainstream parties’ handling of the economy, security and immigration.

Most – including French Front National leader Marine Le Pen, an FPÖ ally who made it to her country’s presidential runoff this year – have fallen short of entering government, but the FPÖ is expected to hold key posts.

A person familiar with the talks said the far-right party was poised to secure the interior, foreign and defence ministries.

When the Freedom Party last entered government in 2000, other EU countries imposed short-lived sanctions on Austria in protest.

Given the changed political landscape in Europe since then, the reaction is likely to be more muted.

Kurz has, however, sought to head off potential criticism by offering assurances that his government will be pro-European.

He plans to shift some EU departments from the foreign ministry to his office, and has secured a guarantee that there will be no Brexit-style referendum on leaving the bloc, a source said.

– Reuters