Monday

19th Nov 2018

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 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join 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

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?

US steps in to clean up Cyprus

Cyprus has overlooked undertakings on bank probity made to the EU in the context of the 2013 bailout - but it might prove harder to get the US off its back.

News in Brief

  1. US warns EU banks and firms against trading with Iran
  2. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem
  3. Protesters call for Czech leader to step down
  4. Former German chancellor labelled 'enemy' of Ukraine
  5. French lead opposition to Brexit deal on fisheries
  6. Private accounts of Danske Bank employees investigated
  7. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  8. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May

Why 'Spitzenkandidat' is probably here to stay

The power of the parliament to 'appoint' the president of the EU Commission is new, highly-contested - and not universally understood. In fact, even some of the lead candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker are against it.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Brexit dominates EU affairs This WEEK
  2. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars
  3. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  4. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  5. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  6. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  7. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  8. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us