January 2, 2020 / 11:00 AM / a month ago

Power imbalance in new Austrian coalition shows as deal is unveiled

VIENNA (Reuters) - The dominant position of Austrian conservatives led by Sebastian Kurz in their new governing alliance with the Greens was clear on Thursday as they presented a coalition deal heavy on law-and order measures that will displease the Greens’ base.

Head of People's Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz delivers a statement in Vienna, Austria January 2, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Kurz struck a coalition deal on Wednesday with the Greens to ensure his return to power and bring the left-wing party into government for the first time, three months after he won a parliamentary election.

Their alliance means Austria will most likely join Sweden and Finland in having the Greens in government at a time of growing calls for urgent action on climate change. Unlike in those countries, however, Austria’s Greens are joining a conservative-led government. They are also the junior partner.

“We have very intentionally united the best of both worlds,” Kurz told an event outlining details of the agreement.

The new alliance is being watched closely in neighbouring Germany as a potential model for Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

“It is possible for the Greens to keep their main campaign pledges and for us,” he said, meaning a hard line on immigration and on “political Islam” for him, twinned with tax cuts and a balanced budget, and environmental measures plus greater transparency in government for the Greens.

The deal published on Thursday includes measures championed by his previous government in coalition with the far right as Kurz seeks to appeal to his base but also to disgruntled far-right voters after a video sting scandal in May brought down that party’s leader and ended their coalition.

Kurz emerged relatively unscathed from the scandal, even gaining voters in the Sept. 29 parliamentary election.

The deal includes raising the age until which girls are banned from wearing a headscarf in school to 14 from around 10, an extension of a policy introduced under Kurz’s last coalition.

It also includes reviving a disputed plan for preventive custody of potentially dangerous individuals, even if they have not committed a crime, which was put forward under the previous coalition after a fatal stabbing apparently committed by an asylum seeker in February.

Such measures will be harder for many Greens supporters to swallow than measures such as cutting the corporate tax rate to 21% from 25%. The coalition deal must still be approved by the Greens’ decision-making body, the Federal Council, on Saturday.

While few expect the Federal Council to block the deal, immigration and security are likely to be constant sources of friction within the coalition.

ONLY OPTION

Greens leader Werner Kogler, however, touted successes of his own, such as increasing the tax on flights out of Austria and investments in expanding public transport. The plan includes making Austria climate neutral by 2040.

“I will let you decide if the proportion - we calculated it - is exactly 1:2.7,” he said, referring to each party’s measures in the deal and their respective vote shares of 37.5% and 13.9%.

That is also roughly reflected in their share of ministries - the Greens will control four out of 15.

“Flying will, slightly but still ... become more expensive,” Kogler said. “In the medium term also taking the train will become cheaper.”

The current tax on flights out of Austria, ranging from 3.50 euros ($3.90) to 17.50 euros per passenger depending on distance, will be replaced by a flat rate of 12 euros. The existing road toll for trucks will also increase for the most polluting vehicles.

Slideshow (6 Images)

A more thorough review on establishing “price truth” in carbon emissions will be carried out, to be implemented from 2022, the plan said.

For Kogler, this was the best deal possible since his party did not have several potential coalition partners as Kurz did.

“The Greens have only this possibility to put into effect what they ... were elected for,” he said.

Additional reporting by Kirsti Knolle in Vienna and Michael Shields in Zurich; Editing by Frances Kerry and Giles Elgood

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