New Austrian government pledges pro-EU approach, more police

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2017 11:56 AM
New Austrian government pledges pro-EU approach, more police

BERLIN (AP) — The new Austrian government led by a conservative and a nationalist party is pledging to tighten the country's asylum and immigration regulations while maintaining a firm commitment to the European Union, according to their coalition agreement released Saturday.

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 leader Heinz-Christian Strache will be vice chancellor and minister for sports and public servants.

"This can be the basis for real change in Austria," Kurz told reporters, introducing the government program that runs more than 180 pages.

The document begins with a statement reinforcing Austria's commitment to the EU and other international organizations, saying that no Brexit-like referendums would be allowed.

"Only in a strong Europe can there also be a strong Austria, in which we are able to take advantage of the opportunities of the 21st century," the document reads.

At the same time, the People's Party-Freedom Party partnership is expected to move the country to the right. Both campaigned on the need for tougher immigration controls, quick deportations of asylum-seekers whose requests are denied and a crackdown on radical Islam.

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"

Other points include ending illegal migration, cutting government bureaucracy, reducing taxes and creating a new national climate and energy strategy.

Kurz's party finished first in the country's Oct. 15 election and then embarked on coalition talks with the Freedom Party, which came in third after the center-left Social Democrats.

In the new government, the Freedom Party will have another five ministers in addition to Strache and a deputy minister, including leadership of the important Interior, Defense and Foreign Ministries, the Austria Press Agency reported.

Along with Kurz as chancellor, the People's Party will have seven ministers and one deputy, with responsibilities including the Finance, Economy and Justice Ministries.

Kurz is the foreign minister in the outgoing government under Chancellor Christian Kern, a Social Democrat. He has stressed the importance of a pro-European direction and is expected to continue to take the lead on European issues even though the Freedom Party, which has traditionally been strongly euroskeptic, will have the Foreign Ministry.

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said after he was presented with the coalition agreement and minister choices earlier Saturday that he saw no issues preventing the new government from being sworn in.

Following meetings with Kurz and Strache, Van der Bellen said he'd been assured a "pro-European" focus was central to that of the new government.

"In these talks, among other things, we agreed it is in the national interest of Austria to remain at the center of a strong European Union and to actively participate in the future development of the European Union," he said.