Austrian People’s Party Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives struck a coalition deal on Saturday with the anti-immigration Freedom Party, which would make Austria the only western European country with a far-right party in government.
The two sides agreed to share power almost equally. Under the deal reached late Friday night, Sebastian Kurz, head of the Austrian People's Party, will become chancellor, which will make him Europe's youngest leader when he is sworn in on Monday at age 31.
Right-wing Freedom Party (FPO) leader Heinz-Christian Strache will be vice chancellor and minister for sports and public servants.
Kurz said the new government would not hold a referendum on European Union membership.
Strache announced their deal on Friday night, handing the far right a share of power for the third time in the Alpine republic, after more than a decade in opposition.
The FPO will take control of much of Austria’s security apparatus, in charge of the foreign, interior and defense ministries. The People’s Party (OVP) led by Kurz will control the powerful finance ministry as well the justice and agriculture portfolios.
“No one need be afraid,” Austrian news agency APA quoted the incoming interior minister and chairman of the FPO, Herbert Kickl, as saying. Kickl began his career as a speechwriter for the late Joerg Haider, who praised Adolf Hitler’s employment policies and led the party to its first mainstream electoral success.
Kurz has repeatedly said his government will be pro-European despite including the FPO, which was founded by former Nazis and campaigned against Austria joining the bloc when it was put to a referendum in 1994.
The coalition plans to make referendums more widely available. Unlike France’s National Front, the FPO has backed away from calling for a referendum on leaving the European Union but Kurz obtained a guarantee that a Brexit-style vote will not be held.
“There will be no votes on our membership of international organizations, including the European Union,” Kurz told a joint news conference with Strache.
Kurz’s office will also take over some European departments from the FPO-run foreign ministry to give him greater control over EU matters.
The 180-page coalition agreement listed plans such as sinking taxes and cutting public spending through streamlined administration though it often did not say how such goals would be achieved.
Austria’s parliamentary election two months ago was dominated by Europe’s migration crisis, in which the affluent country took in a large number of asylum seekers.
Kurz’s party won with a hard line on immigration that often overlapped with the FPO‘s, pledging to cut benefits for refugees and never to allow a repeat of 2015’s wave of arrivals. The FPO came third in the election with 26 percent of the vote.
Kurz and Strache held their news conference outlining the agreement on the Kahlenberg, a hill on the outskirts of the capital famed as the site of the 1683 Battle of Vienna, which ended a siege of the city by Ottoman Turks.
While there was no specific mention of repelling that Muslim invasion, the symbolism is clear for two parties that have warned Muslim “parallel societies” are emerging in Austria.
Kurz, however, told reporters: “I did not take the decision on where the press conference should be held.... I would not read too much symbolism into it.”
The coalition agreement calls for bolstering the country's police forces with another 2,100 officers, as well as immigration policies that "can be sustained by the population." It also says asylum should only be offered to people "for the duration of their persecution, who really need Austria's help."
Strache and Kurz oppose Turkish membership of the EU, a position that polls regularly show most Austrians support.
“We both recognize about 75 percent of ourselves in the program,” said Strache, who accused Kurz during the campaign of stealing his party’s ideas. “That might have something to do with the fact that one or the other maybe took on the other’s policy points before the election.”
Anti-establishment parties have been winning over more voters in Europe, capitalizing on dissatisfaction with mainstream politicians’ handling of the economy, security and immigration.
While other far-right parties have gained ground this year, entering parliament in Germany and making France’s presidential run-off, the FPO is going further by entering government and securing key ministries.
“It is excellent news for Europe,” Marine Le Pen said of the coalition deal at a Prague meeting of her National Front party’s European grouping, which includes the FPO. “These successes show that the nation states are the future, that the Europe of tomorrow is a Europe of the people.”
Both the OVP and FPO believe the EU should focus on fewer tasks, like securing its external borders, and hand more power back to member states.
When the FPO last entered government in 2000 other EU countries imposed sanctions on Vienna in protest. There is unlikely to be a similar outcry this time, given the rise of anti-establishment parties across the continent.