Austria’s conservatives, Greens focus on tax cuts

VIENNA: Austria’s Greens and conservatives led by SebastianKurz are putting climate protection and tax cuts at the top of their coalition agenda.
Kurz’s People’s Party and the Greens are targeting carbon neutrality in the country by 2040, according to an abbreviated coalition agreement seen by dpa on Thursday.
The agreement foresees electricity being produced entirely by renewable energy sources by 2030. Income taxes for those making low-wages are set to fall to 20 per cent from 25 per cent, while the coalition also plans no new net debt.
The coalition would be Austria’s first-ever conservative-Green government at the national level. Such a combination has worked elsewhere in Europe and observers are keen to see how it will playout in Austria.
While Kurz advocates a tough anti-immigration stance and business-friendly policies, the Greens emphasise multiculturalism and protecting the climate.
The two parties have been hammering out the agreement for weeks, with migration considered to be one of the main sticking points.
The coalition agreement foresees a “new immigration strategy”. The goal is to clearly separate work-based immigration from those seeking asylum, while making access to the labour market easier for migrant labourers.
The Greens require a party congress to approve the deal. It isscheduled for Saturday, and an agreement is considered likely.
The measures are part of what conservative leader Sebastian Kurz describes as his tough stance on illegal immigration and “political Islam”, aimed at appealing to his base but also to disillusioned former supporters of the far right, whose coalition with his party collapsed in May.
Kurz and Greens leader Werner Kogler said on Wednesday they have reached a deal that should make Kurz chancellor again and bring the Greens to power for the first time. They have said it includes strong measures on Kurz’s core issues and will “ecologize the tax system”.
The two parties were due to publish details of their agreement at 4 pm on Thursday. The parties have declined to provide details of their plan before then.
The deal includes raising the age until which girls are banned from wearing a headscarf in school to 14 from around 10, media including newspaper Die Presse and broadcaster ORF said.
It also includes reviving a disputed plan for preventive custody of potentially dangerous individuals, even if they have not committed a crime, which was put forward by Kurz’s coalition government with the far right after a fatal stabbing apparently committed by an asylum seeker in February.
“A lot of turquoise and a bit of green,” tabloid Kronen Zeitung headlined its story, referring to the parties by their colours, saying the preventive custody plan is aimed at refugees.
If confirmed, such measures will be hard for many Greens supporters to swallow. The coalition deal must still be approved by the Greens’ top decision-making body, the Federal Council, on Saturday.
While few expect the Federal Council, which comprises various within the party such as its local and national lawmakers, to block the deal, immigration and security are likely to be constant sources of friction within the coalition.
While Kurz has insisted on keeping his trademark hard line on immigration, the Greens have called for a fiscal overhaul to make products and services with a large carbon footprint more expensive.
Fewer specifics on environmental measures leaked on Thursday. Die Presse said carbon emissions would be made more expensive but there would be no carbon tax. Tabloid Oesterreich said that move would be gradual, quoting one coalition deal negotiator as saying: “But that is only phrased very vaguely.”
The current tax on flights out of Austria, ranging from 3.50 euros to 17.50 euros per passenger depending on the flight distance, will be overhauled, news agency APA reported. The existing road toll for trucks will also increase for the most polluting vehicles, it added.
The two parties had announced late Wednesday that they had agreed to govern together after key election gains in September following a corruption scandal that broke apart 33-year-old Kurz’s ruling coalition with the far right. — AFP