Austria’s Kurz seeks coalition with far-right Freedom Party

VIENNA, Austria — Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz said Tuesday he will try to form a coalition government with the right-wing Freedom Party after winning this month’s election.

Both Kurz’s center-right People’s Party and the Freedom Party campaigned on the need for tougher immigration controls, quick deportations of asylum-seekers whose requests are denied and a crackdown on radical Islam.

Austria’s president tasked Kurz on Friday with forming a government. Kurz said that after meetings with all the other parties in parliament he decided to invite the Freedom Party to enter talks on a coalition — a decision that was widely expected.

Kurz told reporters that his prospective partner, Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, had shown “a will to bring about change in Austria together.”

The 31-year-old Kurz is foreign minister in the outgoing government under Chancellor Christian Kern, a center-left Social Democrat. He is on track to become Europe’s youngest leader.

Kurz said he will try to form a government by Christmas. His party finished first in the Oct. 15 election, but no party was close to a parliamentary majority on its own.

He said a “basic condition” for the new administration is “a clear pro-European direction.”

“Austria can only be strong if we are not just members of the European Union, but also actively help to strengthen the European Union,” Kurz said. Austria will hold the 28-nation EU’s rotating presidency in the second half of next year.

But Strache’s party is strongly euroskeptic, and the Freedom Party leader warned against expectations that a coalition with the People’s Party was a done deal. He noted “essential intersections …. but also differences” between the two parties.

“Nobody should believe that we are going to make it easy for the OVP,” he said, using the People’s Party’s German acronym. “Especially the OVP itself.”

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