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Austria: Greens enter government for first time, join Kurz's conservatives

Austria: Greens enter government for first time, join Kurz's conservatives

The conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), led by Sebastian Kurz, and the Greens reached a deal to form a coalition government, the two parties announced late Wednesday.

The "experiment," as the daily Kurier put it, will mark the first time the left-wing Green party has been in government. The new coalition of widely disparate parties is likely to be significantly different from the previous government, which took a hardline on immigration.

A coalition between the 33-year-old Kurz's ÖVP and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) collapsed in May after 17 months amid a corruption scandal involving then-leader of the FPÖ and vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache.

The so-called "Ibiza-gate" scandal — involving a video showing Strache offering favors to a fake Russian investor — triggered elections in September that saw the ÖVP garner 37.5% of the vote by pulling support disgruntled FPÖ supporters.

The Greens captured 13.9%, a record high for the environmentalists, as the environment and climate change replaced immigration as a top issue for voters.

Government program

According to Austrian media, the Greens will get a super Environment Ministry that also composes infrastructure, traffic, energy and technology. They will also control the Justice Ministry and Social Affairs Ministry. Greens chief Werner Kogler will become vice-chancellor. A Green party congress must approve the deal, but they are expected to do so on Saturday.

The ÖVP will hold all the other ministries, including those of Defense, Interior and Finance. Kurz will remain chancellor, making him the world's youngest leader.

Alexander Schallenberg, an independent politician, will remain as foreign minister.

Both parties are expected to try to balance compromises with maintaining key principles and campaign promises when they present the joint government program on Thursday. Kurz takes a though line immigration and is pro-business, while the Greens advocate multiculturalism and climate protection.

Germany watching

In Europe, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and Luxemburg have Greens in government. The coalition in Austria will be closely watched in Germany, where the current coalition between the Social Democrats and Angela Merkel's conservatives is under strain.

In Germany, the Greens are polling at roughly 21% compared to the 8.9% the party scored in the last federal elections in 2017. A collapse of the current coalition government, early elections or the scheduled 2021 election could bring the Greens into government with Merkel's conservatives.

cw/sms (AFP, AP, dpa)

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Updated : 2021-06-14 07:13 GMT+08:00