Austrian far-right enters government

Freedom Party’s deal with conservatives caps a year of successes for Europe’s nationalist movements

December 16, 2017 07:28 pm | Updated 07:31 pm IST - Vienna

Austria's President Alexander Van der Bellen (L) shakes hands with the Chairman of the Freedom Party (FPOe), Heinz-Christian Strache (R) during a press conference together with the leader of Austria's conservative People's Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz at the Hofburg in Vienna, Austria, on Saturday.

Austria's President Alexander Van der Bellen (L) shakes hands with the Chairman of the Freedom Party (FPOe), Heinz-Christian Strache (R) during a press conference together with the leader of Austria's conservative People's Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz at the Hofburg in Vienna, Austria, on Saturday.

Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) was in triumphant mood on Saturday after agreeing a coalition deal with the conservatives, capping a year of successes for Europe’s nationalist movements.

As the parties met to rubber-stamp the accord struck the previous day, Herbert Kickl, the FPOe’s secretary general and Austria’s next Interior Minister, said he had a “very, very good feeling.”

“Nobody has anything to fear,” Mr. Kickl said, one of six FPOe Ministers in the new government, including defence and foreign affairs. Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, 48, will be vice-chancellor.

The agreement reached by Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party (OeVP) and the FPOe sets Mr. Kurz, 31, up to become chancellor and also the world’s youngest leader.

Mr. Kurz and Mr. Strache were to unveil their programme on Saturday afternoon, with the government likely to be sworn in on Monday.

The OeVP came first in October snap elections after Mr. Kurz — who is known as wunderwuzzi or ‘whizz-kid’ — rebranded the formerly staid party as his own personal “movement”, promising to get tough on immigration and to lower taxes.

Economy and security

“Our aims are quite clear. We want to ease the tax burden for people, we want to strengthen our economy, which will bolster our social system,” Mr. Kurz said late on Friday. “And, first and foremost, we want to increase security in our country, including by combating illegal immigration,” Mr. Kurz told reporters.

The anti-immigration FPOe came third in the election with 26% of the vote, which was double the stunning 13% notched up by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in elections the month before.

Both Mr. Kurz and Mr. Strache stoked concerns about immigration following a record influx in 2015, and also took advantage of voter fatigue with the OeVP’s previous ‘grand coalition’ with the Social Democrats (SPOe).

Their success was mirrored in elections elsewhere in Europe this year.

Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party became the second-largest in the Netherlands, France’s National Front was in a run-off for the presidency in May and the AfD entered the Bundestag, re-drawing Germany's political map.

Real power

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

The last time the FPOe entered government was in 2000 under Joerg Haider, its controversial leader at the time who has since died, in a move which saw Austria briefly ostracised within the European Union.

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.

Several different groups have said they planned to stage demonstrations on Monday in Vienna.

Top News Today

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.