The government under Sebastian Kurz and Heinz-Christian Strache was sworn in. With the subjects immigrants and border patrols, the government programme delivers what voters were expecting. In other areas such as the EU or direct democracy, many FPÖ voters, in particular, are disappointed. An overview and analysis.
On the subject of immigration, the coalition largely promises in the government programme what the ÖVP and FPÖ voters were expecting: that “illegal migration into our country must be stopped and qualified immigration must be geared to Austria’s needs”. Those who are really entitled to asylum should receive “protection for the duration of their persecution”, hence asylum for a limited time, as stipulated in the Geneva Refugee Convention. In addition, 2,100 police officers more are promised, as well as “exploring and seizing all possibilities of national border protection measures, so long as the European Border Guard is not secured”.
For the first time, a government denominates the currents which are really dangerous for Austria: “As in recent years, the greatest danger to Austria’s internal security is primarily the Islamist extremism.” Where in the SPÖ-ÖVP government programme of 2013, right-wing extremism was considered the greatest danger, this time around it reads: “Political Islam, potentially leading to radicalisation, anti-Semitism, violence and terrorism has no place in our society.”
An entire catalog shows how asylum abuse can be prevented and conditions for rapid asylum procedures can be created. Two points had a great deal of attention:
Denmark is pursuing a similar model and has thus greatly reduced its attractiveness for asylum seekers – in 2017 only around 3,000 came, about 10 times more came to Austria.
In the government programme, the list of planned measures for a reasonable immigration and asylum policy is long as far as the majority of Austrians is concerned. A few important points are
Furthermore, Türkis-Blau (Turquoise-colour of ÖVP and blue-colour of FPÖ) announces better control of public money flows to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the field of immigration, to improve integration, to rewrite the entire asylum and aliens laws and to strictly reject Turkey’s accession to the EU. Many Austrians hope that the rethinking of uncontrolled immigration comes just in time to save the country even more crime and to prevent no-go zones and civil war-like conditions altogether. The interior minister, Herbert Kickl, is to guarantee this.
However, there is a well-hidden point where thousands of asylum seekers could come to Austria via the official path – and to which the magazine alles roger? (roger, all?) pointed out already several times: “For particularly vulnerable groups,” i.e. “vulnerables”, the government should “provide for an Austrian resettlement contingent,” it says. Resettlement means settlement of asylum seekers, mostly by plane directly from their home country. In an interview with ORF in 2016, Sebastian Kurz named the figure 10,000 to 15,000 per year – which would mean, with family reunification and their own children that hundreds of thousands of foreigners from other cultures would be living in Austria within ten years.
On the other hand, there was a lot of criticism, especially from supporters of the FPÖ, about the break of the central election pledge: the introduction of direct democracy based on the model of Switzerland. The government’s programme stipulates that petitions for a referendum will not lead to referendums until 2022, in other words the earliest at the end of the legislative period. 900,000 votes would be necessary. Of all 39 referendums only 3 reached this enormously high hurdle. It is interesting to see that the number of 900,000 not only far exceeds the approximately 260,000 signatures that the FPÖ had planned as a limit in the election programme, but also clearly exceeds the approximately 650,000 signatures of the ÖVP pledge. Issues that contradict EU law may not be voted on by the people once it comes to the new government. The Austrian EU membership is even more taboo.
The former editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper “Die Presse” and alles roger? columnist Andreas Unterberger said in his blog: “The greatest frustration is undoubtedly the first-class funeral for the direct democracy promised by both (!) parties.” The announcement of the coalition to have the citizens vote in 2022 at the earliest was “the barely disguised death of the big project”. It was formulated similarly sharp by the nonpartisan Initiative Heimat und Umwelt, IHU (Initiative Home and Environment), which had supported the FPÖ in the National Council election because of the direct democracy. The new government wants Austria “downgrade to a lawless EU colony,” it said here. According to IHU-Chairlady Inge Rauscher “from the outset the new government has been held hostage by the plutocratically controlled EU” and “therefore could not serve the Austrian people”. The one-and-a-half-year support for the FPÖ is herewith terminated.
For its approval of the EU-Canadian Free Trade Agreement (CETA), the FPÖ had to take harsh criticism from within its own ranks. So far Heinz-Christian Strache and Nobert Hofer had demanded a referendum over this question because CETA is putting the economy and agriculture – dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises – at risk. In addition, while the Federal Government is committing itself to perpetual neutrality it reduces it to a hollow shell by announcing more Bundesheer missions abroad and confirming the already decided participation of Austria in the EU military union (PESCO).
But in EU issues like CETA and in the question of direct democracy it was not only the ÖVP which applied the brakes but also Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen.
During the new government’s swearing-in ceremony on 18 December he spoke of a “consensus that a careful preparation and implementation of direct democracy is as crucial as a clear prioritisation regarding important future topics like digital transformation and climate protection.” In other words: The people is too dumb to decide its own fate in referendums. And according to Van der Bellen they all agreed to this. It is likely that the FPÖ had to choose between renouncing its participation in the government or direct democracy. But in order to remain somewhat credible the new government will have to risk conflicts with Van der Bellen and Brussels particularly in the question of border controls. According to EU law, border controls are permitted only as extraordinary measures.
Aside from criticism in central issues like direct democracy or neutrality the ÖVP-FPÖ programme has earned praise from various sides, particularly from economy representatives.
Indeed many aspects seem new and positive:
Obviously many critical issues have not been mentioned in the government programme:
So the government programme is giving a mixed impression. It seems like the success or failure of the new government will mainly depend on the success if its policy regarding foreigners. •
(Translation Current Concerns)
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