Friday

30th Oct 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

Become an expert on Europe

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?

I'm an 'election observer' - but what do we actually do?

There is a persistent problem of 'fake observers.' Often the government of the country they are observing, or even the election management body itself, pays for these observers, holds fancy dinners, and puts them in five-star hotels.

News in Brief

  1. Polish government rows back on abortion ruling
  2. EU threatens legal action against Poland on rule of law
  3. 'Several dead' after earthquake hits Greece and Turkey
  4. Hungary faces EU court over asylum restrictions
  5. Polish PM urges end to abortion protests to 'protect elderly'
  6. EU to fund cross-border hospital transfers
  7. Some 140 migrants drown on way to Spanish islands
  8. EU central bank preparing new rescue measures

Backroom deal will make CAP reform a catastrophic failure

MEPs will vote this week on a supposedly historical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which accounts for over one-third of the EU's annual budget. But as it stands, it is set to become a historical failure of catastrophic proportions.

Amazon's spying on EU workers just tip of iceberg

Amazon is leading an assault on workers' rights in Europe, using big data and surveillance to crush efforts by workers to improve their conditions. It's symptomatic of a climate of impunity around breaches of privacy that benefit corporations over workers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. Nice attack: EU urges world leaders to stop hate speech
  2. Europe is back in (partial) lockdown
  3. Gender equality still 60 years away, warns study
  4. I'm an 'election observer' - but what do we actually do?
  5. Deal in reach on linking EU funds to rule of law
  6. EU Commission's Covid-19 expert offers bleak outlook
  7. Belgium's collaboration with Sudan's secret service: my story
  8. What do ordinary Belarusians want from the EU?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us