The conservative People’s Party led by Sebastian Kurz reaches a deal with the anti-immigration Freedom Party, paving the way for Austria to become the only western European country with a far-right party in government.

Heinz-Christian Strache (L), the chairman of the right-wing Freedom Party or FPOE, at a press conference with Sebastian Kurz, incumbent foreign minister and leader of the Austrian People's Party or OEVP, after forming a new coalition government in Vienna, Austria, December 15, 2017.
Heinz-Christian Strache (L), the chairman of the right-wing Freedom Party or FPOE, at a press conference with Sebastian Kurz, incumbent foreign minister and leader of the Austrian People's Party or OEVP, after forming a new coalition government in Vienna, Austria, December 15, 2017. (Ronald Zak / AP)

Austria’s conservatives and the far-right agreed to a coalition on Friday, two months after elections that saw the Alpine country move to the right and capping a year of successes for Europe’s nationalists.

The accord between Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party (OeVP) and the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPOe) announced late Friday will see Kurz, 31, become chancellor and also the world’s youngest leader.

“We are happy that we have reached this agreement. Tomorrow (Saturday) we will inform the president about our programme and our team,” Kurz, foreign minister in the outgoing government, told reporters in Vienna.

“Voters gave us a clear mandate to take into account their concerns, particularly when it comes their security,” FPOe chief Heinz-Christian Strache told the same news conference.

The OeVP came first in the October 15 vote with 31.5 percent after Kurz, nicknamed “wunderwuzzi” (“whizz-kid”), rebranded the staid party as his own personal “movement,” promising to get tough on immigration and lower taxes.

The anti-immigration FPOe came third with 26 percent of the vote.

Both the OeVP and the FPOe ran on promises of cutting benefits for all foreigners, even from the rest of the European Union, and stopping the EU having too much say in national affairs.

They stoked concerns about newcomers following a record influx of migrants in 2015 and fatigue with the previous unhappy “grand coalition” of the OeVP with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPOe).

This was mirrored elsewhere, with Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party now the second-largest in the Netherlands, France’s National Front in a runoff for the presidency in May and Alternative for Germany entering the Bundestag and re-drawing Germany’s political map.

Real power 

But the FPOe is rare in western Europe in having translated its ballot box success into real power. Last year it came close to winning the largely ceremonial presidency.

Strache, 48, is set to become deputy chancellor. According to Der Standard’s online edition, the party has also secured the interior and the defence ministries.

A seasoned diplomat close to the FPOe, although not a member, is set to be foreign minister. The OeVP will obtain the finance, economy and justice ministries, amongst others, Der Standard said.

The paper said in an editorial that coupled with an expected “extremely restrictive refugees policy,” it was “sinister and worrying” that all intelligence services will be FPOe-controlled.

The last time the FPOe entered government, in 2000 under controversial then-leader Joerg Haider, now dead, Austria was briefly ostracised within the EU. This time though the reaction is likely to be much more muted with the FPOe seen as having mellowed and with Europe more inured to right-wing parties.

‘Dangerous’ Merkel

The FPOe, which has a partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ruling party, wants EU sanctions on Moscow lifted and says Islam is not part of Austria.

In 2016 Strache called German Chancellor Angela Merkel “the most dangerous woman in Europe” over her open-door migrant and refugee policy, and warned of “civil war in medium term” because of immigration.

Further details on the new coalition’s plans were expected Saturday once the two parties approve the agreement. The government will be sworn in next week.

Below are some of the policies that Kurz’s and the FPOe have already agreed on.

European Union

  • Oppose deeper political integration among EU members states, seek to have more powers returned to national governments. Oppose Turkey’s membership of the bloc.
  • Move some departments that deal with European affairs, including the task force preparing Austria’s EU presidency in the second half of next year, to the chancellery headed by Kurz.

Law and order

  • Introduce tougher minimum sentences for violent and sex crimes.
  • Make fighting political Islam a priority.
  • Secure Austria’s borders nationally to stop migrants and refugees until the EU secures external borders.

Business and public administration

  • Extend the maximum working day to 12 hours from 10.
  • Facilitate immigration only for qualified workers in sectors that are struggling to find suitable Austrian employees.

Education

  • Cut social benefits for parents who fail to comply with certain requirements, like ensuring attendance and that their child speaks German well enough.

Budget and taxes

  • Cut public spending to fund tax cuts.

Social affairs

  • Block newcomers from accessing many social services in Austria in their first five years in the country.
  • Cut benefits for refugees and turn cash payments into benefits in kind so as to minimise what they say is a “pull factor” attracting immigrants to the country.
  • Raise the retirement age to reflect Austria’s ageing population, although it is not clear yet how.

Environment

  • Produce 100 percent of Austria’s power from renewable sources by 2030, compared with roughly 33 percent at present, and keep the national ban on nuclear power plants.

Smoking

  • Overturn a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants that is due to come into effect in May 2018.
Source: TRTWorld and agencies