Far right minster’s bid to reassure Austria

Far right minster’s bid to reassure Austria

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VIENNA: Austria’s next interior minister has said “nobody has anything to fear” from the new coalition government.

Far-right politician Herbert Kickl, a senior figure in the Freedom Party, said he had “a very, very good feeling” about the new coalition with the conservative People’s Party.

Austria’s president approved the new coalition on Saturday, two months after inconclusive elections.

People’s Party leader Sebastian Kurz, 31, will be Austria’s new chancellor.

He will become the world’s youngest head of government.

Introducing the new government, and the 180-page document setting out its agenda, Mr Kurz said the two parties had agreed “on a clear pro-European outlook”.

As well as the interior ministry, the anti-immigrant Freedom Party has secured several other key posts in the new cabinet.

Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache will be vice-chancellor. His party colleagues will run the defence and health and social security ministries.

The new foreign minister will be Middle East expert and writer Karin Kneissl, who is not a Freedom Party member but was nominated by the party.

Mr Kurz’s People Party won 32% of the vote in October’s elections, securing the largest number of seats (62) in the 183-seat national council.

The Freedom Party came third, securing 26% of the vote and 51 seats.

At the request of Austria’s president, the posts of justice minister and interior minister would not be held by the same party, Mr Kurz said.

The chancellor-designate was quick to retweet congratulations from his fellow youthful conservative prime minister, Ireland’s Leo Varadkar.

During the election campaign, the Freedom Party accused Mr Kurz of stealing their policies. Heinz-Christian Strach, his new vice-chancellor, branded him an “imposter”.

When the far-right Freedom Party last entered a coalition in Austria in 2000, its fellow EU member states froze bilateral diplomatic relations in response.

Those diplomatic sanctions were lifted months later, after the move failed to force the Freedom Party out of government and amid fears that continued sanctions could further increase nationalist tensions.

That is unlikely to happen again, as resurgent right-wing populist groups have been promoting anti-immigration and Eurosceptic agendas across much of the EU.

But unlike the Freedom Party, those other parties have struggled to convert electoral success into real power.

Earlier this year, Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party lost the French presidential election comprehensively. Ms Le Pen was defeated by Emmanuel Macron, a liberal centrist and strong supporter of the European Union.

Elsewhere, the Dutch anti-immigration Freedom Party of Geert Wilders was defeated by liberal leader Mark Rutte.

In Germany, the nationalist and populist right of Alternative for Germany (AfD) gained seats in the national parliament, where it is now the third biggest party, but it is not in the frame for coalition talks.__BBC

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