Sunday

18th Nov 2018

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

  • The EU commission said it will establish its line on the new Austrian government after its president Jean-Claude Juncker meets the new chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Tuesday (Photo: Council of the EU)

The European Commission was muted on Monday (18 December) after the swearing in of the new Austrian coalition government which includes a far-right party - and whose programme collides with existing EU policies on migration.

The 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, the youngest chancellor in the country's history, will meet with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Tuesday evening on his first official visit to Brussels as premier.

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

Kurz, leader of the centre-right Austrian People's Party (OVP), will also meet European Council chief Donald Tusk.

"The president will establish the commission line tomorrow after the meeting with prime minister Kurz," a spokesman for the commission told reporters on Monday, when quizzed on concerns over the far-right shift in Vienna.

"We have an interlocutor, which is the Austrian government," he added.

Kurz's OVP struck a coalition deal with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), whose leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, became deputy PM.

The coalition have taken a hard line on asylum seekers, want friendlier relations with Russia, and aim to cut wages and welfare to scare off migrants. Yet the government agreement also states the country's commitment to the European Union.

Kurz, along with his ministers, was sworn in on Monday as thousands of people protested on the streets of Vienna with placards saying 'Nazis Out', and 'Refugees Welcome'.

The pro-EU far-right

The commission's response to concerns over the presence of a far-right party in the ruling coalition – currently the only EU government in which a far-right party secured such a powerful position – is in stark contrast to the EU's reaction 17 years ago, when the FPO first entered a coalition government.

Back in 2000 European governments imposed diplomatic sanctions on Austria for FPO's presence in the government, even though the EU executive's reaction was lukewarm.

A key difference is that Kurz's government emphasises that it is pro-EU, with Austria taking over the rotating presidency of the Union in the second half of next year. Hence the quick visit of the young premier to Brussels on Tuesday.

Unlike the resurgent far-right in the Netherlands, Germany, and France, the Austrian coalition program is not attacking "Brussels", is not calling for rolling back EU integration, or for stopping, let alone dismantling, the eurozone.

However, the FPO's European political family is cheering its ascent into government and interprets it as a win for their populist ideas - despite the pro-EU rhetoric by the FPO.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen said on Sunday at a conference of far-right forces in Prague that it was "very good news for Europe" for a right-wing populist party like the Freedom Party to enter government in the EU.

While 17 years ago, a far-right party's political win and government role was unprecedented in post-war Europe, now far-right parties enjoy support from a large part of the electorate and even when they are not part of the government they often influence its policies.

Dutch politician Geert Wilders' Freedom Party became the second-largest in the Netherlands, Le Pen was in a runoff for the presidency and the Alternative for Germany entered the Bundestag for the first time. In the UK, the UK Independence Party helped force a referendum on leaving the EU, which was then won, despite at the time having no directly-elected MPs.

And there is continuity from the early 2000s: the FPO general secretary Herbert Kickl, who used to be a speechwriter for Jorg Haider, the former FPO leader in 2000, has become the new interior minister. Haider himself died in a car crash in 2008.

Pierre Moscovici, a Socialist EU commissioner, warned that the developments in Austria called for vigilance of "democrats committed to European values".

"The situation is no doubt different from the precedent of 2000. But the far-right presence in power is never trivial," he said on Twitter.

Russian view

In light of the new Austrian government's stance on Russia, Kurz's meeting with Tusk could be an interesting one, as the former Polish prime minister said explicitly last week: "For sure I am not a fan of Russia".

Kurz's coalition wants to see friendlier relations with Russia, and says that EU sanctions are a source of unwelcome tension.

Tusk wrote a letter to Kurz on Monday, saying he trusts the Austrian government will continue to play a constructive and pro-European role in the European Union.

Austria is the latest country to add to the sceptical chorus within the EU about the effectiveness of Russian sanctions.

Kurz said that Austria would continue supporting EU sanctions on Russia imposed over Ukraine, but FPO, like other far-right groups in Europe, want them lifted.

Opinion

Austria and Czech elections will change Visegrad dynamics

With new leaders Sebastian Kurz and Andrej Babis in the region, the 'Visegrad Group' of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland will have to adapt its policies towards the EU or lose influence.

Austrian voters reject liberal status quo

Counting continues, but conservative leader Sebastian Kurz is likely to form a coalition with the far-right and could become one of the EU's most vocal critics.

Opinion

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. 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

Opinion

On Armistice Day, EU is still best gift we can give our children

While young people fought each other in 1918, young people in 2018 travel to study together under the Erasmus programme. But there is a risk of limiting our commemoration to representing the past through just speeches, museum exhibits and visits.

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

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us