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Austria’s leader of the People’s Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz talks to the media after meeting with President Alexander Van der Bellen in Vienna, Austria, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
December 15, 2017
By Shadia Nasralla and Francois Murphy
VIENNA (Reuters) – 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, two months after a parliamentary election dominated by Europe’s migration crisis, ends more than a decade in opposition for the Freedom Party (FPO), which last entered government in 2000 with the People’s Party (OVP) that Kurz now leads.
Kurz’s party won the Oct. 15 election with a hard line on immigration that often overlapped with the Freedom Party’s. The FPO came third with 26 percent of the vote.
“We can inform you that there is a turquoise-blue agreement,” Kurz said in a joint statement to reporters with FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache, referring to their two parties by their colors.
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 FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache would take place at 6 p.m. (1700 GMT), but as the talks in a Vienna palace dragged on, the timing slipped. The two men 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 parties have made large electoral gains in Europe in recent years, capitalizing on voter dissatisfaction with mainstream parties’ handling of the economy, security and immigration.
Most — including French National Front leader Marine Le Pen, an ally of the FPO’s who made it to her country’s presidential runoff this year — have fallen short of entering government, but the FPO 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.
(Additional reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Writing by Francois Murphy; Editing by Michael Shields and Richard Balmforth)