Friday

10th Jul 2020

Opinion

Austrian coalition tests Europe's human rights values

  • Migrants arriving at an Austrian train station (Photo: Josh Zakary)

Over the weekend, Austria's radical populist right Freedom Party (FPO) became part of the governing coalition, gaining control of the interior, foreign, and defence ministries.

The last time the party joined a coalition, Austria's government was shunned by its European partners and threatened with EU sanctions. This time the reaction has been muted, perhaps because radical right populism in European politics is increasingly accepted as the norm.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

What will the FPO's impact on law and policy be?

It is already clear that the coalition's five-year government program will likely pose serious challenges for the human rights values at Europe's heart.

Sebastian Kurz, Austria's new Chancellor and leader of the centre right Austrian People's Party (OVP), the senior partner in the coalition, travelled to Brussels yesterday to meet with the EU leadership.

The choice of destination for his first trip is supposed to symbolise the new Austrian government's commitment to the EU.

But the EU needs clear leadership that respects rights in asylum, migration, integration, and security policy. It is far from clear whether Austria, which will assume the rotating presidency of the European Council in mid-2018, will contribute in that way.

On migration, Austria's new government proposes that, instead of being admitted to Europe, migrants and refugees rescued at sea should be sent to processing centers outside Europe.

In other words, they will not be brought first to a place of safety, as the law of the sea requires.

Kurz has previously pushed an agenda to replicate Australia's odious refugee-processing model – by outsourcing responsibility for asylum seekers to Libya. Clearly, Austria's mainstream OVP is part of the problem; this isn't just about the FPO's influence.

Political Islam

Under what the new government terms, "the fight against political Islam," it proposes measures to close kindergartens, schools, and cultural institutions associated with types of Islam the government considers alien to Austrian values.

It also proposes "sanctions" against immigrants who fail to integrate with Austrian culture.

This anti-immigrant sentiment is closer to the positions taken by the Visegrad Group – a bloc made up of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia – than the founding values of the European Union.

Europe's leaders and institutions should be vigilant about the potential threat to the Union posed by new Austrian government policies.

Europe should stand up for rights of minorities and migrants, including through legal enforcement action if necessary. After all, it's the values of equality, dignity, and respect that are the glue holding the Union together.

Kartik Raj is Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU silent on Austria's 'pro-Europe' far-right in cabinet

Thousands of anti-fascist demonstrators protested against the new government in Vienna on Monday, as the EU remained muted on the new far-right party in an EU government, which – unlike similar hard-right parties – wants to portray itself as pro-European.

Sebastian Kurz - Austria's young master of reinvention?

Has the long decline of Austria's mainstream parties finally come to an end? The centre-right People's Party seems to have successfully reinvented itself...or has it simply stolen the far-right Freedom Party's clothes?

News in Brief

  1. Rushdie, Fukuyama, Rowling warn against 'intolerance'
  2. Clashes in Belgrade after new lockdown measures
  3. US passes milestone of 3m coronavirus infections
  4. France wary of any future lockdowns
  5. Lithuania bans Kremlin-linked Russia Today programmes
  6. UK nominates Liam Fox for WTO top job
  7. Italy supports Spain's Calviño for Eurogroup job
  8. France and Germany warn Israel on annexation 'consequences'

Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

As with the German government – which presented its own hydrogen strategy last month – the European Commission and other EU institutions appear to be similarly intoxicated by the false promises of the gas industry.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Five ideas to reshape 'Conference on Future of Europe'
  2. EU boosts pledges to relocate minors from Greece
  3. Hydrogen strategy criticised for relying on fossil fuel gas
  4. Merkel urges EU unity to hold off economic fallout and populism
  5. The opportunistic peace
  6. EU mulls new system to check illegal pushbacks of migrants
  7. EU forecasts deeper recession, amid recovery funds row
  8. Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us