Far right back in power in Europe
For the first time since 1945, a far right political party is about to take control of the security and policing of a European state.
The frightening development comes with members of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPO) poised to take control of several key government ministries, including the police and army.
The scenario is a result of the FPO striking a deal with newly elected Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
The FPO – led by Heinz-Christian Strache – has agreed to enter into a coalition with Mr Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party and as part of the deal will demand much a tougher stance on immigration and asylum seekers.
Mr Kurz’s party came out on top in October’s elections, taking a 31.5 per cent share of the vote, following a campaign focusing on halting illegal immigration and tax cuts.
Despite the centre-left Social Democratic Party, with 26.9 per cent, actually beating the Freedom Party into third place, Mr Kurz, who, at the age of 31, is the EU’s youngest leader, has opted to work with Mr Strache, who will become the country’s vice-chancellor.
The agreement hands the FPO a powerful voice in the new government, with control of the interior, defence and foreign ministries, and there has been comment across Europe about its links with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party.
The development has triggered protests on the streets of Vienna.
Pierre Moscovici, the EU’s commissioner for economics, said: “The coalition now in power in Austria must prompt the vigilance of democrats attached to European values”.
“The presence of the far right in power is never trivial.”
Mr Strache himself has attempted to play down such concerns, saying he supports “the European peace project” – but his elevation was welcomed by Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, who described it as “excellent news for Europe”.
The FPO was founded in 1956 by Anton Reinthaller, a former Nazi Party member and SS officer.
In 2000, it won seats for the first time under the leadership of the controversial Jörg Haider, prompting widespread protests in Austria and Europe as a whole.
This time round, the protests have been more muted, although an estimated 5,000 people gathered in Vienna’s Heldenplatz Square recently holding placards which read: “Refugees welcome” and “No Nazi Pigs”.
Speaking on Austrian TV, Mr Kurz insisted: “This is a coalition of two parties who want to actively shape Europe.”
AMES Australia Senior Journalist