Monday , 21 January 2019

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One hundred days of Chancellor Kurz in Austria: Anti-immigration stance strengthened by spate of knife attacks

It has been a little over four months that the new Austrian government has been in place. Led by the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) under Chancellor Kurz, a youthful enfant terrible who has given the ÖVP conservatism renewed appeal with a sharp shift to the right, the government also includes the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) as a junior partner.

Support for the new government
Like other elections in Europe, Kurz’s elevation to power in Austria partly represented voters’ turn against what they perceived as a self-serving political establishment. After his first 100 days in office, Kurz still has the backing of many Austrians who trust that he can deliver a departure from previous decades of Austrian politics that were marked by wheeling and dealing between the ÖVP and the Social Democrats (SPÖ).

The FPÖ has fared somewhat less well, although polls still put the party at 22 per cent of the popular vote (down by 4 per cent from its election result). The FPÖ has been caught up in scandals surrounding its Nazi heritage and continued sympathies among its leading cadres for racial ideologies; and its pro-Russian overtures have led to raised eyebrows in many European capitals.1)
Focus on immigration
Yet Kurz and his coalition partners still stand united on what has been their most important campaign promise: the pledge to curb immigration. After the election, massive cutbacks to social services and financial aid available to asylum-seekers and refugees were among the first measures put in place.2) (Vice-Chancellor Strache from the FPÖ lauded this as “social fairness for Austrians”, accusing previous governments of having turned the country into a “social aid paradise for migrants”.3))

Speaking to German press, Kurz lauded the hard-line stance on migration announced by Germany’s new Interior Minister Seehofer. Europe should take countries like Australia as a role model, Kurz asserted: “They have managed to provide protection and security to people who hit the road illegally without giving them a better life in their desired country of destination. They have reduced illegal migration to almost zero. And the most important thing: They have stopped the dying.” 4)
Knife attack by an Afghan drug addict
When on March 8 a 23-year-old Afghan stabbed and injured four people in Vienna, the Austrian public debate quickly returned to the question of migration and security. Chancellor Kurz tweeted: “It is clear that many mistakes have been made in migration and asylum policies over the previous years. Unlimited migration is the cause of many problems were are currently facing. The new federal government thus wants to correct these mistakes from previous years.”

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