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Austria: government agreement sealed between the right of Sebastian Kurz and the Greens

The conservative Sebastian Kurz and the Greens sealed a coalition agreement on Wednesday signing the return to the chancellery of the young Christian Democrat leader who ruled until May with the far right.

“The ÖVP party and the Greens have agreed on a government program,” an environmental education official who is going to participate in a government coalition for the first time told AFP. A conservative party official confirmed the deal while an official announcement was expected after an ongoing meeting in Vienna to finalize the alliance.

A unique alliance

Three months after the September 29 legislative elections won by ex-chancellor Kurz, Austria will experience an unprecedented alliance between ÖVP, the heavyweight of national politics, and the Die Grünen party, which has recorded a breakthrough in the last elections.

The tandem is not at all obvious between the liberal Sebastian Kurz, supporter of a hard line on immigration, and Greens politically anchored on the left who were among the most virulent opponents to the leader of 33 years when joined forces with the extreme right in December 2017 for its first term.

This union of the conservative right and the nationalists had been followed with attention by a Europe struggling with the rise of populism. But Sebastian Kurz's government with the FPÖ shattered after 18 months when far-right leader and vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache was implicated in a corruption case.

“A risky bet”

The resounding Ibizagate scandal arose from the broadcast last May of a video filmed in a hidden camera in a villa in Ibiza (Spain), showing in particular Christian Strache ready to negotiate public contracts with a woman being pass for the niece of a Russian oligarch.

Forced to scuttle his coalition, Sebastian Kurz had called early elections which his party had largely won (37.5%). Faced with losing Social Democrats and an extreme right that has become infrequent and showing a decline of 10 points in the ballot box, the leader of the right has chosen to turn to environmentalists (fourth with 13.9% of the vote) ).

The two parties take “a risky bet” given their “fundamentally different political approaches”, stresses the regional daily Tiroler Zeitung.

Greens will be “more demanding coalition partners than the jokes of Ibiza”, predicts the powerful tabloid Kronen Zeitung, saying that “the loss of a certain comfort is the price that Sebastian Kurz must pay to maintain power”.

For the leader of the Conservatives, it is “a real political acrobatics” and he “will have to walk a thread” so as not to lose the fringe of his electorate conquered at the expense of the far right, observes political scientist Thomas Hofer.

“Super Ministry” of the Environment

Sebastian Kurz has already insisted on his desire to “continue the tax cuts” and the “fight against illegal immigration”. The details of the compromises found by the two parties will be known at the presentation of their joint program, scheduled for Thursday.

The right will largely dominate the new ministerial team within which the Greens should win four portfolios, including a “super ministry” of the Environment also including Transport, Energy and Technology.

Green MP Leonore Gewessler, former leader of one of Austria's leading environmental organizations, has already been announced for the job. Party leader Werner Kogler, 58, will be vice-chancellor.

Other powers of the Greens should include Justice, Social Affairs and Culture, according to the press. Sebastian Kurz's party will keep control of the Ministries of the Interior, Finance and Foreign Affairs.

The Greens will still have to agree to the pact of government at an extraordinary congress convened on Saturday. The inauguration of the new team could take place on Monday.

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