Austrian far-right to be sworn into new government

Vienna (AFP) –


Austria's far-right Freedom Party was set to be sworn in Monday as part of the Alpine country's new government, rounding off a triumphant year for Europe's nationalists.

The new coalition was agreed on Friday by the conservative People's Party (OeVP) and the FPOe, pledging to stop illegal immigration, cut taxes and resist EU centralisation.

It will be led by Sebastian Kurz, who took over the OeVP in May and yanked it to the right, securing his party first place in October elections. At 31, Kurz will be the world's youngest leader.

At his side for the 1000 GMT investiture in the Hapsburg dynasty's imperial palace in Vienna will be FPOe chief Heinz-Christian Strache, 48.

Strache says Islam "has no place in Europe" and last year called German Chancellor Angela Merkel "the most dangerous woman in Europe" for her open-door refugee policy.

On Sunday Strache trumpeted to his 750,000 followers on Facebook that the new government will slash benefits for asylum-seekers.

"It will no longer happen for migrants who have never worked here a single day or paid anything into the social system to get thousands of euros in welfare!" he said, gaining 4,000 "likes".

Interior minister will be Herbert Kickl, a former speechwriter for Strache's predecessor Joerg Haider, whose 2000 entry into government prompted an outcry and soul-seacrching in Europe that appears largely absent this time.

Several different demonstrations have been called for Monday in Vienna, although it was unclear how many people would show. Police have cordoned off the area around the presidency.

The FPOe also secured the defence and foreign ministries, while the OeVP got finance, economy, justice, amongst other portfolios, and will continue to handle EU affairs.

- Bumper year -

Both Kurz and Strache won over voters two months ago by stoking concerns about immigration following a record influx in 2015, mirroring elections elsewhere in Europe this year.

Geert Wilders' Freedom Party became the second-largest in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen of France's National Front was in a runoff for the presidency and Alternative for Germany entered the Bundestag.

But the FPOe is rare in western Europe in having translated ballot box success into real power.

Speaking at a far-right congress in Prague on Saturday, Wilders said the FPOe's entry into government was "an excellent result". Le Pen called it "very good news for Europe".

"Every election demonstrates a form of rejection of the European Union," Le Pen said, echoing the euroscepticism has also been shown by the FPOe in the past.

- Pro-EU -

Kurz and Strache both stressed on Saturday however that the new government was staunchly pro-EU and that their plans for more Swiss-style "direct democracy" excluded a referendum on EU membership.

But Kurz said that during Austria's presidency of the EU in the second half of 2018, Vienna would press for Brussels to have less say in areas that should be up to member states.

Kurz said that the EU should be "stronger in big questions and which should step back on smaller issues".

Kurz also said that Austria would continue to support EU sanctions on Russia imposed over Ukraine, even though the FPOe, like other far-right groups, wants them lifted.

However according to their joint programme, Austria will "actively work" towards easing the sanctions "in unison" with the rest of the EU.

In addition the new government's programme says that Austria will seek support to end "definitively" Turkey's bid to join the EU, sparking anger on Sunday from Ankara.