Austria clinches government with nationalists in rightward drift: Key policies of the coalition

Mr Sebastian Kurz, Austria's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chairperson of the OSCE exchange, at the 24th OSCE Ministerial Council, on Dec 8.
Mr Sebastian Kurz, Austria's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chairperson of the OSCE exchange, at the 24th OSCE Ministerial Council, on Dec 8.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

VIENNA (REUTERS) - The leader of Austria's main conservative party, Sebastian Kurz, 31, said on Friday (Dec 15) he had reached a deal to form a coalition government with Heinz-Christian Strache's far-right Freedom Party (FPO).

The two declined to provide details on their coalition agreement, reached after less than two months of talks, which will make Austria the only western European country with a far-right party in government.

Below are some of the policies that Kurz's People's Party (OVP) and the FPO have already agreed on.

1. EUROPEAN UNION

- Oppose deeper political integration among EU members states, seek to have more powers returned to national governments. Oppose Turkey's membership of the bloc.

- Rule out a referendum on the country's membership of the EU.

- Move some departments that deal with European affairs, including the task force preparing Austria's EU presidency in the second half of next year, to the chancellery headed by Kurz (the FPO is poised to take control of the Foreign Ministry).

2. LAW AND ORDER

- Introduce tougher minimum sentences for violent and sex crimes.

- Make fighting political Islam a priority.

- Secure Austria's borders nationally to stop illegal immigration until the EU has secured external borders.

- Put more police on the streets (no number announced yet).

3. BUSINESS AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION

- Extend the maximum working day to 12 hours from 10.

- Facilitate immigration only for qualified workers in sectors that are struggling to find suitable Austrian employees.

4. EDUCATION

- Focus on improving test results in basic skills such as reading, writing and numeracy, allow children to start school only if their German is good enough.

- Cut social benefits for parents who fail to comply with certain requirements, like ensuring attendance and that their child speaks German well enough.

5. BUDGET AND TAXES

- Cut public spending to fund tax cuts (Kurz and Strache repeatedly said during their campaigns that they planned to cut public spending by around 12 billion euros (S$19 billion), but few details have been provided since).

- Not introduce wealth or inheritance taxes.

6. SOCIAL AFFAIRS

- Block newcomers from accessing many social services in Austria in their first five years in the country.

- Cap the main basic benefit payment at 1,500 euros a month for families and provide refugees with a "light" version of regular benefits.

- Cut benefits for refugees and turn cash payments into benefits in kind so as to minimise what they say is a "pull factor" attracting immigrants to the country.

- Raise the retirement age to reflect Austria's aging population, although it is not clear yet how.

- Give families a tax cut worth 1,500 euros per child per year.

- Merge Austria's 22 public health and other social security funds to cut administrative costs (no details on how that will be achieved have been published).

7. ENVIRONMENT

- Produce 100 per cent of Austria's power from renewable sources by 2030, compared with roughly 33 per cent at present, and keep the national ban on nuclear power plants.

 

8. DIRECT DEMOCRACY

- Make it possible to call referendums by petition (they have disagreed on the threshold to trigger one - the FPO has pushed for it to be 4 per cent of registered voters, while the OVP has pressed for it to be 10 per cent).

- Rule out referendums on Austria's membership of the EU and support for the European-Canadian trade deal CETA.

9. SMOKING

- Overturn a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants that is due to come into effect in May 2018.