New government takes over in Austria

After two months of negotiations Austria has a new government consisting of a coalition between the conservative ÖVP and the right-wing populist FPÖ. Its goal: a tougher approach on migration, tax relief and more direct democracy. The first time an ÖVP-FPÖ coalition took the reins in Austria in 2000 there were attempts in the rest of Europe to isolate it. How should Europe react this time round?

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Libération (FR) /

Reject and ostracise

The right-wing coalition in Austria must be ostracised, Benjamin Abtan, president of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement EGAM, urges in Libération:

“Civil movements [in Austria] must be accompanied by supportive actions on the part of civil society in the rest of Europe. Furthermore European ministers must neither host nor participate in meetings attended by their far-right Austrian colleagues. ... When Chancellor Kurz or ministers from his party are on official visits, civil society must express its firm rejection of his alliance with the FPÖ. That also implies that the heads of state and government must boycott the Austrian presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2018 to make clear the primordial role played by Europe's humanist values.”

Delo (SI) /

New sanctions would be hypocritical

There is no reason to restrict diplomatic contact as was done when the ÖVP and the FPÖ formed a coalition government in 2000, Delo concludes:

“It would be hypocritical to introduce sanctions against the country because of the FPÖ, which is in government again but has smoothed its public image. It would be difficult to find proof that Austria is more right wing than the majority of its eastern neighbours who became EU members in 2004. And compared to those governing our powerful transatlantic partner country, the new Austrian government is almost far left. Both in its announced foreign policy and even more so regarding its planned domestic policies.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Give the alliance a chance

The daily Die Welt recommends a cool-headed response to the new government in Vienna:

“Putting Austria's new government in the pillory won't do any good. It should be given a chance first. And it must be judged by two criteria: whether it manages to weaken the widespread xenophobia in Austria's cities and rural areas and whether it - unlike Viktor Orbán - doesn't play the role of troublemaker but works as a partner with the EU. ... It's good that a country and a politician are getting the chance not only to demand a restrictive immigration policy, but to implement it - in harmony with the country's constitution and European regulations. It will be interesting to see how far Austria's government gets with this. And whether it will really contribute to resolving the refugee problem.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Green light thanks to Van der Bellen

It is thanks to Austria's green president that the new right-wing government in Vienna hasn't triggered an outcry in Europe, writes Die Presse approvingly:

“That's precisely what Van der Bellen has done: built a viable climate for talks and eliminated factors that pose a risk to a functioning constitutional state with [Chancellor] Sebastian Kurz and [FPÖ leader] Heinz-Christian Strache. He excluded a number of FPÖ hooligans right from the outset. He pushed for an undersecretary of state in the interior ministry who had trained in law and he slowed down the transformation of this representative democracy into a Switzerland with Krone [newspaper] and FPÖ-TV. Van der Bellen isn't getting any applause for this. Centre-left Politicians and journalists say he should have stopped the FPÖ and the distribution of ministers and portfolios - and bitterly taken the path of confrontation.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

No one wants to evoke a shift to the right

The reality of the new balance of power in Austria will be glossed over at the European level, Jutarnji list believes:

“Because Kurz's ÖVP is a member of the European People's Party [EPP] and the leaders of the three most important EU institutions come from the EPP's ranks, they will play down the fact that an EPP member has brought a far-right party to power that until yesterday fought against the EU, and which is xenophobic and pro-Russian to boot. They will pitch this development as the Europeanisation of the far right rather than Austria and the EU drifting towards the far right.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

Visegrád Group strengthened

The countries of Europe are drifting further apart, Il Sole 24 Ore fears:

“The new turquoise-blue Austrian government will be very Eurosceptical and move closer to the east, to the Visegrád Group with which the EU clashed over EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Junker's refugee policy at the last summit in Brussels. ... Vienna thus threatens to become an obstacle on the path to reviving European integration outlined by French President Emmanuel Macron. Particularly since the fear of the refugee crisis and the distribution quotas led to the populist revolution in Vienna in the first place.”

La Croix (FR) /

Time for an objective debate on immigration

Austria's far right owes its election victory in particular to the widespread fear of being swamped by foreign immigrants, La Croix observes, and calls for a pan-European debate on the subject:

“The 'fear machine' is running at full power. Neither technocratic speeches about migration flows nor blustering about security policy will stop it. After what has happened in Austria we must once again ask when immigration will finally be discussed at the European level. When will we have a clear picture of the advantages and costs. In view of the widespread feelings of 'cultural insecurity' this debate must not be avoided.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Coalition partners working as a team

Neue Zürcher Zeitung can already discern one strength of the new government:

“A promising innovation is the harmony that clearly exists between the coalition parties. Unlike in the grand coalition with the SPÖ, in which preventing the governing partner's projects was often seen as the major achievement, for the first time in a long time one gets the impression that the government is jointly pulling in the same direction. This is significant for Austria, tired as it is of all the political wrangling. That Kurz succeeded in making the FPÖ profess commitment to the EU with such clarity was a necessary step.”