Will Kurz’s Coalition With the Green Party Further Divide Austria, or Unite It?

Will Kurz’s Coalition With the Green Party Further Divide Austria, or Unite It?
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, left, and Green Party leader Werner Kogler at a press conference in Vienna, Austria, Jan. 2, 2020 (AP photo by Ronald Zak).

VIENNA—When Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s conservative political boy wonder, and Green Party leader Werner Kogler stepped in front of the nation’s TV cameras to announce an unlikely new coalition government in early January, after months of talks, neither seemed very excited. The gaps between their parties were still wide, and the compromises many. Nevertheless, in the end, they had agreed on a governing program that emphasizes restrictions on migration and more border security, including a much-criticized ban on headscarves for girls under the age of 14 and preemptive detention for migrants who have not committed any crimes. There is also an ambitious if discordant goal to make Austria climate neutral by 2040.

“It was clearly the wish of the electorate to have this coalition,” Kurz said of the pairing, which brings together the leftist Greens and his conservative Austrian People’s Party, or OVP, which in recent years has moved further to the right to appeal to nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiments.

Kurz, who first became Austria’s chancellor in 2017 when he was just 31, didn’t have much of a choice, after the previous government that he led in a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, or FPO, disintegrated last year over a salacious scandal known as “Ibizagate.” A video was leaked to the press that showed the Freedom Party’s then-leader in a rented villa on the island of Ibiza promising state contracts to the purported niece of a Russian oligarch, in return for off-the-books donations and other favors to his party.

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