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Archive for the ‘Bavaria Land of Austria’ Category

Thousands protest Austria’s new right-wing government

January 13, 2018

VIENNA (AP) — Thousands of Austrians are protesting their country’s new right-wing government with a march in Vienna. Police in the capital said about 20,000 people were attending the march on Saturday.

Some protesters carried placards reading “Never Again.” Others chanted slogans such as “Refugees should stay, drive out the Nazis.” The new governing coalition made up of the conservative Austrian People’s Party and the nationalist Freedom Party has taken a hard line against migration.

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New Austrian leader rejects talk of eastern EU alliance

January 05, 2018

SEGGAUBERG, Austria (AP) — Austria’s new chancellor on Friday rejected suggestions that his government will align broadly with eastern nations that have clashed with the European Union over migrants and other issues.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz leads a coalition with the traditionally euroskeptic Freedom Party that took office just before Christmas. Both Kurz’ conservative People’s Party and the Freedom Party have taken a hard line against migration.

The position has generated speculation that Austria could move closer to the Visegrad group of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia than its western EU allies. Kurz, who at 31 is Europe’s youngest leader, warned Friday against “over-interpreting things.”

“There are measures and initiatives where we have goodwill in western European countries,” he told reporters after a meeting of the new Cabinet. “There are others where we will perhaps get applause from the Visegrad countries, and still others where we agree with all other 27 EU member states.”

Kurz plans to visit Paris and Berlin in coming weeks. He said he expects a “good exchange” with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, stressing that “Germany is our biggest neighbor, our most important economic partner.”

Of French President Emmanuel Macron, who has championed efforts to reform the EU, Kurz said: “It is clearly positive for all of us in the European Union that there is a French president who aspires to change something in the European Union.”

Kurz called for an EU that is strong on “big questions” such as border security but leaves many policy decisions to countries and regions. Austria will hold the EU’s rotating presidency in the second half of this year, when the bloc should be finalizing terms of Britain’s departure.

“I very much hope that we succeed in organizing an orderly departure by the British,” Kurz said, arguing that a failure to do so would hurt both sides.

Turkey slams Austria ‘discrimination’

2017-12-17

ANKARA – Turkey on Sunday slammed the incoming Austrian government, a coalition between conservatives and the far-right, for “discrimination” after its program contained a pledge that Vienna will not agree to Ankara joining the EU.

The landmark coalition deal, marking the return to power in Austria of the Freedom Party (FPOe), has sparked ripples of concern throughout Europe after a year of successes for far-right movements in Europe.

The chancellor-elect, Sebastian Kurz of the conservative People’s Party (OeVP), already has a deeply-fractious relationship with Ankara due to his staunch opposition to Turkey’s EU bid while serving as foreign minister.

“This baseless and short-sighted statement in the new Austrian government’s program unfortunately confirms concerns about a political trend based on discrimination and marginalization,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.

Accusing the incoming government of “dishonesty”, it warned that if realized, the program would bring Austria “to the brink of losing Turkey’s friendship” and be met with “the reaction that it deserves”.

Turkey’s decades-long ambition to join the EU has hit the buffers in recent months as the bloc sounded the alarm over the crackdown that followed the 2016 coup bid aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

While Austria has called for the accession process to be formally halted, this has met with opposition from key EU members, notably Germany.

Meeting Erdogan on his trip to Greece earlier this month — the first by a Turkish president in 65 years — Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also backed Turkey’s EU bid.

But last month, the EU cut funds destined to Turkey in the 2018 budget, citing doubts about Ankara’s commitment to democracy and human rights in a move supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86461.

New Austrian government pledges pro-EU approach, more police

December 16, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — The new Austrian government led by a conservative and a nationalist party is pledging to tighten the country’s asylum and immigration regulations while maintaining a firm commitment to the European Union, according to their coalition agreement released Saturday.

Under the deal reached late Friday night, Sebastian Kurz, head of the Austrian People’s Party, will become chancellor, which will make him Europe’s youngest leader when he is sworn in on Monday at age 31. Right-wing Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache will be vice chancellor and minister for sports and public servants.

“This can be the basis for real change in Austria,” Kurz told reporters, introducing the government program that runs more than 180 pages. The document begins with a statement reinforcing Austria’s commitment to the EU and other international organizations, saying that no Brexit-like referendums would be allowed.

“Only in a strong Europe can there also be a strong Austria, in which we are able to take advantage of the opportunities of the 21st century,” the document reads. At the same time, the People’s Party-Freedom Party partnership is expected to move the country to the right. Both campaigned on the need for tougher immigration controls, quick deportations of asylum-seekers whose requests are denied and a crackdown on radical Islam.

The coalition agreement calls for bolstering the country’s police forces with another 2,100 officers, as well as immigration policies that “can be sustained by the population.” It also says asylum should only be offered to people “for the duration of their persecution, who really need Austria’s help”

Other points include ending illegal migration, cutting government bureaucracy, reducing taxes and creating a new national climate and energy strategy. Kurz’s party finished first in the country’s Oct. 15 election and then embarked on coalition talks with the Freedom Party, which came in third after the center-left Social Democrats.

In the new government, the Freedom Party will have another five ministers in addition to Strache and a deputy minister, including leadership of the important Interior, Defense and Foreign Ministries, the Austria Press Agency reported.

Along with Kurz as chancellor, the People’s Party will have seven ministers and one deputy, with responsibilities including the Finance, Economy and Justice Ministries. Kurz is the foreign minister in the outgoing government under Chancellor Christian Kern, a Social Democrat. He has stressed the importance of a pro-European direction and is expected to continue to take the lead on European issues even though the Freedom Party, which has traditionally been strongly euroskeptic, will have the Foreign Ministry.

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said after he was presented with the coalition agreement and minister choices earlier Saturday that he saw no issues preventing the new government from being sworn in.

Following meetings with Kurz and Strache, Van der Bellen said he’d been assured a “pro-European” focus was central to that of the new government. “In these talks, among other things, we agreed it is in the national interest of Austria to remain at the center of a strong European Union and to actively participate in the future development of the European Union,” he said.

Austria: 1 dead, 21 hurt in explosion at natural gas plant

December 12, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — An explosion Tuesday at a major natural gas facility near Austria’s border with Slovakia left one person dead and 21 injured, and caused some gas flow disruptions to other countries, authorities said.

One person was seriously injured and 20 others slightly hurt in the morning blast at the plant in Baumgarten an der March, east of Vienna, police said. No one was in a life-threatening condition. The facility’s operator said all the victims were Austrian.

The explosion set off a fire, which operator Gas Connect said was quickly contained and completely extinguished by mid-afternoon. The facility was “shut down in a controlled state and is offline,” the company said.

Police wrote on Twitter that the explosion was triggered by a “technical cause,” but didn’t elaborate and said that local authorities are investigating. Gas Connect said it also suspects an unspecified technical fault.

Gas Connect describes the Baumgarten plant, where pipelines bringing gas from Russia, Norway and other countries connect and gas is compressed and cooled, as one of Europe’s most important gas supply hubs.

“Austria’s natural gas supply can be covered for the foreseeable future,” the company said on its website. However, “transit through Austria to the south and southeast regions is currently negatively impacted,” it added.

Neighboring Italy’s Economic Development Ministry declared an emergency after the explosion interrupted the flow of natural gas to the country, but said Italy’s supply of gas would be ensured by existing stockpiles.

Italy’s SNAM natural gas transport network said flows could resume in the course of the day if it is confirmed that no transport infrastructure was damaged.

Austrian poised to become Europe’s 1st millennial leader

October 16, 2017

VIENNA (AP) — At age 31, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz is poised to become the first millennial to lead a European country following his party’s victory in a national election Sunday. While no party won a majority, the telegenic Kurz is most likely to be sworn in as Austria’s next chancellor — and Europe’s youngest leader — after the tough coalition government negotiations that lie ahead.

Near-final results from Sunday’s balloting put his People’s Party comfortably in first place, with 31.4 percent of the vote. The right-wing Freedom Party came in second with 27.4 percent. The center-left Social Democratic Party of Austria, which now governs in coalition with People’s Party, got 26.7 percent.

Becoming head of government would be the next leap in a political career that started eight years ago when Kurz, then studying law, was elected chairman of his party’s youth branch. Smart and articulate, he eventually caught the eye of People’s Party elders. He was appointed state secretary for integration, overseeing government efforts to make immigrants into Austrians, in 2011.

After a Social Democratic-People’s Party coalition was formed four years ago, Kurz, then 27, became Austria’s foreign minister — the youngest top diplomat in Europe. He hosted several rounds of talks between Iran and six other countries on Tehran’s nuclear program, meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other powerbrokers. Other international events further boosted his visibility and party influence.

When a new wave of migrants and refugees seeking to relocate to Europe became a continent-wide concern in 2015, Kurz recognized Austrian voters’ anxiety over unchecked immigration involving large numbers of Muslim newcomers.

He called for tougher external border controls, better integration and stringent control of “political Islam” funded from abroad. He also organized the shutdown of the popular overland route through the West Balkans many newcomers were using to reach the EU’s prosperous heartland.

By now, Kurz and his traditionally centrist party had drifted considerably to the right of their Social Democratic government partners, making governing difficult. Kurz’s moment came when both agreed this spring to an early national election.

The People’s Party, then lagging in third place and long seen as a stodgy old boys network, made him leader. Kurz set out to reinvent the party’s image after securing guarantees for unprecedented authority.

The youthful, Vienna-born politician turned out to be the tonic the party needed, helping it shrug off criticism that it’s been part of the political establishment for decades. He mostly goes without a tie, works standing behind a desk and flies economy class. He has a girlfriend, but is private about his life outside politics.

Noting that his center-right party had triumphed over the rival Social Democrats only twice since the end of World War II, Kurz called Sunday’s election a “historic victory.”

Election produces likely right turn, young leader in Austria

October 15, 2017

VIENNA (AP) — Austria’s 31-year-old foreign minister declared victory for his party Sunday in a national election that set him up to become Europe’s youngest leader and puts the country on course for a rightward turn.

Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz claimed the win as final results announced by the Interior Ministry showed his People’s Party had a comfortable lead with almost all the ballots counted. Noting that his center-right party had triumphed over the rival Social Democrats only twice since the end of World War II, Kurz called it a “historic victory.”

“Today is not the day of triumph over others, but today is our chance for real change in this country,” he told cheering supporters. Still to be counted are more than 800,000 absentee ballots and ones cast by voters outside of their home districts. The outstanding votes are due to be tallied by mid-week.

However, the votes counted so far show that Austria, where moderate policies have been the norm for decades, will have a government with a harder line on migration and Muslims than one running the country now.

Both Kurz’s party and the right-wing Freedom Party — Kurz’s most likely government coalition partner — campaigned on the need for tougher immigration controls, quickly deporting asylum-seekers whose requests are denied and cracking down on radical Islam.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said the People’s Party received 31.4 percent of the vote, a gain of more than 7 percentage points from the 2013 election. Kurz described that as the biggest jump in support in the party’s history.

The Social Democratic Party of Austria, which now governs in coalition with People’s Party, had 26.7 percent, while the Freedom Party had 27.4 percent. The election returns suggest a harder line on immigration resonated with voters more strongly than Social Democratic calls for social equality. Social Democratic Chancellor Christian Kern acknowledged as much, saying Sunday’s results reflected “a push to the right.”

The Social Democrats were also hurt by charges of dirty campaigning after Israeli political adviser Tal Silberstein, while under contract to the party, launched Facebook platforms crudely mocking Kurz and suggesting the young foreign minister was anti-Semitic.

Much of the People’s Party’s appeal has been credited to Kurz. Since taking the helm in the spring amid growing strains within the governing Social Democratic-People’s Party coalition, he moved his center-right party further to the right.

Even though he is part of the present government, Kurz also presented himself as an engine of change for voters disenchanted with the political status quo. But he avoids the inflammatory rhetoric of the Freedom Party and its head, Heinz-Christian Strache. That made Kurz’s party appealing to voters who were uncomfortable with the Freedom Party, but increasingly concerned about immigration since 2015, when hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim migrants flowed into and through Austria in search of better lives in prosperous European Union nations

Strache has modified the tone of his message when speaking to the broader public. The party is keen on shedding its past links to anti-Semitism, but continues to attract a small neo-Nazi fringe. The last time the Freedom Party was in government was 17 years ago. While no expects a repeat of the EU sanctions slapped on Austria because of the party’s participation, critics of the Freedom Party in and outside Austria have expressed alarm at any government role for the euroskeptic party.

President Alexander Van der Bellen, who must swear in the new government, said he “puts great value on pro-European government.” He narrowly defeated a Freedom Party candidate in last year’s election for head of state.

With the pro-EU Kurz at the helm, “EU membership is not likely to be questioned,” analyst Pepijn Bergsen, of the Economist Intelligence Unit said. Among the greatest losers were Austria’s Greens, with projections showing the party short of the 4 percent support needed to make it into parliament.

The environmentalist party, which had 12.42 percent in elections four years ago, was showing now at 3.9 percent. Two other small parties, the liberal NEOS and the Liste Pilz led by a renegade former Greens politician, just cleared the threshold for parliament seats.

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