Austria’s conservative People’s Party (OVP) has agreed to form a coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), in a deal that will see Austria become the only western European country to be governed an anti-immigration, Eurosceptic party. The agreement between the two parties comes two months after parliamentary elections in which the People’s Party came first with 31.5 percent of the vote, but failed to win an overall majority. The elections were held a year earlier than expected, following the breakdown of the country’s grand coalition government in May. In a close run race, the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPO) received 26.9 percent of the votes, while the FPO took 26.0 percent.
OVP leader Sebastian Kurz is set to become Austria’s chancellor, and at only 31, the world’s youngest leader. Kurz campaigned on a ticket that promised stricter immigration policies and lower taxes. As the party lurched further to the right under Kurz’s leadership, its policies began to overlap with those of the FPO, who have called for an end to Muslim immigration into Europe because they believe Islam is incompatible with European values. Its leader Heinz-Christian Strache is set to become deputy chancellor. According to Austrian media the FPO will also take the ministries of the interior and defence.
In his announcement that a coalition agreement had been reached Kurz outlined the new government’s priorities. “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,” he said.
The last time the Freedom Party entered a coalition with the OVP in 2000, other EU member states froze bilateral diplomatic relations with Vienna in response. The sanctions were dropped a few months later when it became clear that they were only serving to harden support for the party. Given the populist, rightward swing in European politics since then it is unlikely that Austria will face any adverse reaction from Brussels this time around. President Alexander Van der Bellen, who gave his approval to the deal on Saturday morning, said the party leaders had assured him that new government would be pro-EU and uphold Austria’s commitment to the European convention on human rights.
Demonstrations are expected in Vienna on Saturday by various anti-fascist organisations in response to the far-right policies proposed by the incoming government.