Austria's unlikely coalition to unveil govt programme

Julia ZAPPEI
Kurz, shown here arriving for the last round of coalition talks on Wednesday, said the two parties would 'protect the climate and borders'

Austria's conservatives and their Green partners were set to present the government programme of their unprecedented coalition, a plan with right-wing leader Sebastian Kurz's clear imprimatur that could set a European precedent.

The two parties announced late Wednesday that they had agreed to govern together after key election gains in September following a corruption scandal that broke apart 33-year-old Kurz's ruling coalition with the far right.

Kurz -- who has styled himself as a tough anti-immigration fighter -- said his People's Party (OeVP) and the Greens had "succeeded in uniting the best of both worlds" in protracted negotiations aimed at "protecting the climate and borders".

- 'Daring experiment' -

"Historic accord fixed" ran the Kurier daily's main headline Thursday, while a column in the left-leaning Standard described the coalition as a "daring experiment" and a "political adventure".

Papers said the pact bore the conservatives' stamp, with tabloid Oesterreich billing the OeVP as "powerful as never before".

It is the Greens' first entry into the Austrian government at a national level -- and that in the unlikely marriage of conservatives and ecologists.

Observers say Germany and others may follow suit as parties seek to cater to voters' increasingly populist sentiments as well as worries about climate change amid massive demonstrations by students and others following calls by young activist Greta Thunberg.

In Austria's September polls, the environment replaced immigration as voters' top concern, giving the Greens their best-ever result with 13.9 percent.

The OeVP got 37.5 percent as disappointed voters of the scandal-tainted far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) flocked to Kurz's party.

Greens chief Werner Kogler, 58, said the parties had managed to "build bridges" to form a government for "the future of Austria", which would seek to become a frontrunner in terms of fighting climate change in Europe.

Though about a fourth of Austria's agricultural land is used for organic produce and renewable energies account for about a third of its consumption -- almost double the EU average -- the small Alpine nation of 8.8 million people has been among a handful of EU members that have seen their greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase between 1990 and 2017.

- Anti-immigration policies -

It will be up to the Greens' almost 280 delegates to give the final go-ahead to the agreement at a party congress on Saturday.

The deal is expected to pass, though several clauses may be hard for the Greens to swallow, such as introducing preventive detention and extending a headscarf ban in schools currently for girls until the age of 10 to the age of 14.

Kurz has created an integration ministry led by a legal expert who has already worked on the ban on face-covering burqa or niqab veils that was introduced in 2017.

Standard daily columnist Eric Frey wrote Kurz and Kogler would need a "skillfulness as few politicians before them" should tricky issues arise, such as a surge in the number of asylum seekers, worsening climate change or an economic downturn.

Opposition leaders have already criticised the new coalition, with the Social Democrats (SPOe) questioning its commitment to workers, while the FPOe warned of a loosening of anti-immigration policies.

But both the SPOe and the FPOe are weakened, with the Social Democrats suffering their worst-ever results and the far right tumbling after the "Ibiza-gate" graft scandal brought down their then-leader and vice-chancellor in May, causing the government to collapse.