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Far-right party to enter Austrian government

Heinz-Christian Strache
Image: The FPO’s Heinz-Christian Strache is tipped to be deputy chancellor

Austria is set to become the only western European country with a far-right party in government.

The head of the conservative People’s Party (OVP), Sebastian Kurz, has struck a coalition deal with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO).

The FPO will take charge of the foreign, interior and defence ministries, among others, while its leader, 48-year-old Heinz-Christian Strache, will be deputy chancellor.

Mr Kurz, 31, will be the youngest leader in Europe. His OVP will run ministries including finance and justice.

When the OVP won Austria’s election on 15 October it did so with a hard line on immigration – a policy which often overlapped with that of the FPO.

The FPO was third, taking 26% of the vote.

“Nobody has anything to fear,” said the FPO’s secretary general and Austria’s next interior minister, Herbert Kickl.

Sebastian Kurz
Image: Sebastian Kurz says he wants to increase security and combat illegal immigraton

Mr Kurz held a joint news conference with Mr Strache and told reporters: “Our aims are quite clear.

“We want to ease the tax burden for people, we want to strengthen our economy, which will bolster our social system.”

Mr Kurz, known as ‘wunderwuzzi’ or ‘whizz-kid’, added: “And first and foremost we want to increase security in our country, including by combating illegal immigration.”

While Mr Kurz has said his administration will be pro-European, both he and Mr Strache have expressed doubts about further social integration.

Sebastian Kurz
Image: Mr Kurz, 31, is Europe’s youngest leader

The two men presented their agreement to Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Greens leader who narrowly beat the FPO in a presidential vote in 2015.

Mr Van der Bellen, who has the right to reject ministers, has said a new government could be sworn in early next week if everything went to plan.

Following their meeting, Mr Van der Bellen said they had agreed it was in Austria’s “national interest” to remain at the “centre of a strong European Union”.

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The FPO’s success mirrors that of similar parties across Europe. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party is now the second-largest in the Netherlands, the Front National in France was involved in a run-off for the presidency in May and representatives from Germany’s AfD have entered the Bundestag.

When the FPO was last in government, under the late Joerg Haider, other EU countries imposed sanctions on Vienna in protest.

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