Austria is going through a transition, politically. On December 18, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) joined the coalition government led by young centre-right Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (of Austrian People’s Party or OVP), with the far-right Heinz-Christian Strache (of FPO) as his Vice Chancellor. The development in Vienna worries Europe a lot, although Kurz – the youngest European leader – has assured Brussels that his government would serve the interests of the continent.
At a time when rightists have come to power in the US and Britain, the political experts have been happy with the development in mainland Europe. The migrant issue recently triggered the rise of ultra-rightists in the Netherlands, France and Germany. However, they failed to come to power in those countries.
The recent development in Austria may trigger a fresh tension in Europe. However, OVP leader Kruz, who joined hands with FPO under different circumstances, made clear that he would never let Europe break up. According to the newly-elected Federal chancellor, Austria will strengthen the European Union (EU).
Soon after assuming office on December 18, Federal Chancellor Kruz received a letter from President of the European Council Donald Tusk. In his letter, Tusk clearly mentioned that the EU was worried about the political development in Austria. In reply, the Austrian leader said that Europe should judge the situation only after monitoring the activities of his government. Kruz also sent the same message to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Both Tusk and Juncker thanked Kruz for giving the assurance.
“This government has taken a position that is clearly in favour of Europe and that is what counts for me,” stressed Juncker.
The history of Kruz’s ally FPO is not at all ‘pleasant’. Reportedly, former Nazi leaders founded the party after the WWII. The last time the FPO entered the government was in 2000 under Joerg Haider. The history prompted Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen to hold a meeting with Federal Chancellor Kurz mainly to discuss different programmes to be implemented by the new government. The president met the federal chancellor before attending the swearing-in ceremony.
Kruz has already hinted that his government will amend Austria’s immigration policies. Speaking at an event after taking charge as federal chancellor, he said that the concerned authorities would seize mobile phones of immigrants soon after their arrival in the country. Asylum seekers can also be asked to hand over cash (if necessary) and the authorities will collect data in order to track their true identity and exact travel route.
“We want to protect our homeland Austria as a liveable place with all its cultural assets. This includes deciding for ourselves who can immigrate and live with us and ending illegal immigration,” Vienna said in a statement. Neighbouring Hungary, Poland, Italy and France, too, have changed immigration policies in an attempt to address the migrant crisis.
Dealing with migrants is a sensitive issue and Kruz is well aware of that. He knows that it’s not an issue of Islam and Christianity only, but the country should also consider that having a migrant workforce may not be qualitatively contributing to the Austrian economy as this force may not have the required skilled people. Again, having an excess migrant population without much skill may have a negative impact on the economy and the society. As a result, the federal chancellor may take some ‘bold’ steps to address the issue properly.
Meanwhile, India and other Asian nations have expressed hope that the 31-year-old Kurz will try to strive for an optimal solution based on the issues, especially concerning the younger generation. They believe the OVP-led government should try to stabilise and better the economy, ensure opportunities for the young generation to be in the country, contribute to the positive development and also ensure suitable opportunities to the able youths who left the country seeking better prospect.
Keeping in mind the problems in India’s ties with Germany and Italy, the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi expects that the newly-elected Austrian federal chancellor will play a bigger role in the coming days and help the South Asian nation bolster ties with the EU.
It may be said that the relation between India and the previous Austrian government was slightly strain because of Vienna’s decision to resist India’s inclusion in the UN Security Council. And Vienna did so due to the influence of Pakistan and Turkey in its foreign policies. New Delhi also hopes that the new government in Austria can judge and justify its actions and move towards a sustainable development.
It can be said that India and Austria had maintained a cordial relationship in the past. It can be seen in the case of construction of roadways in the Himalayas to the launching of Austrian satellites in 2013 and again in 2017 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Point to be noted that Austria gave preference to ISRO rather than the European Space Agency (ESA).
Many Indian political analysts believe that Austria, especially after the exit of Britain from the EU, will shoulder a greater responsibility (along with Germany and France). Germany, with its present position in the 28-member bloc, may tilt the scales according to its wish. In that case, the Asian nations will have to depend on France and Austria to shape their ties with the EU.