Austria coalition with far-right Freedom Party sworn in

Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen (L) at swearing-in with Mr Kurz (C) and Mr Strache (R)Image copyright

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Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen (L) conducted the inauguration at the Hofburg Palace

Austria’s new coalition government between conservatives and the far right has been sworn in in Vienna.

The Freedom Party (FPÖ) – the junior partner – is the only far-right party to get into power in the EU.

The FPÖ and People’s Party (ÖVP) plan to implement stricter rules for asylum seekers, after immigration proved a major concern for Austrian voters.

The coalition says Austria will stay in the EU. The new chancellor is Sebastian Kurz, 31 – Europe’s youngest leader.

The FPÖ has received some key posts in the coalition, taking charge of interior and defence, and being allowed to choose the new foreign minister.

The FPÖ has a co-operation agreement with the ruling United Russia party of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the FPÖ says it wants to get the EU sanctions on Russia eased.

Tough on asylum

The coalition plans to make asylum seekers hand over any cash they have when they submit an asylum claim, so that it funds their welfare.

They will also have to hand over their mobile phones so that the authorities can see from their data how they reached Austria and whom they contacted. Phones will not be confiscated but there will be systematic checks.

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Leftists demonstrated in central Vienna against the new coalition

There was heavy police security outside the Hofburg Palace during the swearing-in.

About 6,000 people demonstrated against the new coalition, the BBC’s Bethany Bell reports.

The FPÖ, founded by former Nazis in the 1950s, was in a coalition government before, in 2000.

Back then there was a huge outcry and the government was left diplomatically isolated in the EU. But this time the reaction has been far more muted.

Migrant pressure

In 2015 Austria was at the heart of the EU’s migrant crisis, when more than a million asylum seekers arrived, hoping to reach Germany. Most did move on to Germany, but Austrian resources were severely stretched and the crisis fuelled anti-immigration sentiment.

Many were refugees from the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the third quarter of this year, asylum applications in Austria were about 25% lower than in the same period of 2016, Eurostat reports. In Germany the numbers were more than 75% lower.

According to the new Austrian government’s plans:

  • Basic care will be provided for migrants in kind – no longer in cash benefits
  • Spouses will be barred from Austria in cases of polygamy, forced marriage or child marriage

In a Facebook post, FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache said (in German): “No longer will it possible for migrants who haven’t worked here a single day and have paid nothing into the system to get thousands of euros in social security!” He added: “On this point we in the Freedom Party have stuck to a central electoral promise!”

Who’s who in the new government?

Chancellor: Sebastian Kurz, People’s Party. The 31-year-old was foreign minister in the outgoing Austrian government.

Interior minister: Herbert Kickl, Freedom Party. The party’s general secretary and campaign director, 49, was a speechwriter for the late party leader Jörg Haider and is a close confidant of Mr Strache.

Foreign minister: Karin Kneissl, nominated by the Freedom Party but not a member. The former foreign ministry employee and Middle East expert, 52, speaks eight languages and is not afraid of controversy, according to Austrian media.

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.


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