Austria’s Sebastian Kurz to hold coalition talks with far-right

Austrian leader invites the Freedom Party to government formation negotiations

Austrian Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache speaks during a press conference on coalition talks, at his party’s headquarters in Vienna. Photograph: Christian Bruna/EPA

Austrian Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache speaks during a press conference on coalition talks, at his party’s headquarters in Vienna. Photograph: Christian Bruna/EPA

 

Austria’s conservative next leader has invited the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) for talks on forming a coalition government, opening the door for the controversial party to return to power after more than a decade in opposition.

Sebastian Kurz, whose Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) came out on top in elections on October 15th, said both his party and the populist FPÖ were in favour of lowering taxes and shared “similar approaches” on immigration.

The 31-year-old, who is poised to become Europe’s youngest leader, warned that a coalition with the far-right was only an option as long as Austria’s “pro-European direction” was retrained.

The coalition talks are expected to start on Wednesday.

Founded by former members of the Nazi party after the second World War, the FPÖ has previously formed governments with both the centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the centre-right ÖVP.

The Freedom Party came third in Austria’s national elections, despite having led in the polls for much of the year.

‘Strong will’

Speaking to journalists in Vienna on Tuesday morning, Kurz praised FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache for his “strong creative will and desire to change Austria”.

Strache later accepted the invitation to the coalition talks, but warned that his delegation would “not make things easy for the ÖVP”.

The FPÖ general secretary, Harald Vilimsky, emphasised that the FPÖ was not prepared to make a return to power conditional on giving up its membership of the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group in the European Parliament.

Kurz had repeatedly criticised the FPÖ in the run-up to the elections for its links to eurosceptic parties such as France’s Front National and Italy’s Northern League.

Austria’s previous coalition government collapsed in May after months of deadlock amid policy disputes between the SPÖ and ÖVP, who had jointly governed in a “grand coalition” for the last decade.

“The goal is clear, to form a stable government with a solid majority in parliament,” Kurz said on Tuesday.

“If that’s not possible, a minority government is definitely an alternative.”

Guardian service