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Austria’s Kurz sees economy, not migration, as key coalition


VIENNA: Austria’s conservative election winner Sebastian Kurz said on Monday that international economic challenges should top the agenda in coalition talks, amid expectations he will explore a tie-up with the leftist Greens.

Kurz’s People’s Party (OeVP) and the Greens were the winners of Sunday’s parliamentary vote, achieving strong gains that brought them 37 and 14 per cent of the vote, respectively.

Kurz’s previous far-right coalition partner, the Freedom Party (FPOe), is planning to go into opposition as it reels from significant losses in the election and corruption scandals that preceded it.

His OeVP party won a clear victory with around 37 per cent in Sunday’s vote, a marked improvement on its performance in 2017. The result means Kurz will have the responsibility of sounding out other parties — which may be an uphill task.

“We will of course talk to all parties.... to see with which parties we could have a stable government,” Kurz told the national public radio on Monday, adding this could stretch for more than the two months it took him last time to form a pact with the far-right.

But that government collapsed in May after his junior coalition partner, the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPOe), was engulfed in the so-called “Ibiza-gate” corruption scandal which led to the resignation of its leader Heinz-Christian Strache.

In the week before the vote, the FPOe was hit by further allegations of expenses abuse by Strache and suffered a worse than expected loss, down almost 10 per cent from 2017 to around 16 per cent, according to projected results.

The OeVP-FPOe alliance — hailed as a model by nationalists across Europe, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban — now seems unlikely to be repeated as FPOe leaders say they would prefer to lick their wounds in opposition.

Dejected current FPOe leader Norbert Hofer says steps towards the “reconstruction” of the party will be announced in the coming days, while the influential Strache, who led the party for 14 years, could be expelled if the expenses allegations turn out to be true.

Kurz — who become the world’s youngest elected leader at 31 in 2017 — may instead turn to Sunday’s other big winners, the Green party.

Helped by the climate crisis shooting up the list of voters’ concerns over the summer, the Greens were able to notch up their best-ever result of around 14 per cent — a dramatic reversal from 2017 when they failed to enter parliament.

The Greens and the OeVP already sit together in government in the provinces of Tyrol and Salzburg. However, cooperation on a national level may be more tricky.

— Agencies

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