New Austrian Government Rules Out EU Referendum

Channels Television  
Updated December 16, 2017
Future Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (L) of the conservative People’s Party (OeVP) and incoming vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) give a joint press conference to unveil their joint programme on December 16, 2017 in Vienna, Austria. PHOTO: ALEX HALADA / AFP

Austria’s new coalition government will not hold a referendum on membership of the European Union, incoming vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) said Saturday.

The new government wants more Swiss-style “direct democracy” making it easier for referendums to take place, but Austria’s membership of the EU is “excluded,” Strache said.

“We stand by the European Union, we stand by the peace project of Europe. But we see various developments critically, and we will of course articulate this and seek partners,” Strache told reporters.

Strache has in the past been ambivalent about EU membership, calling Brussels a “bureaucratic monster” and saying that Britain will “probably be better off” after it leaves the bloc.

Sebastian Kurz of the conservative People’s Party (OeVP), who will be chancellor in the new coalition, said that the new government is “of course” pro-European.

However Kurz said that during Austria’s presidency of the EU in the second half of 2018, Vienna will press for more “subsidiarity”, meaning that member states and not Brussels have control in certain areas.

“We have agreed a clear pro-EU stance with the aim of boosting subsidiarity in the EU,” Kurz said, favouring an EU that is “stronger in big questions and which should step back on smaller issues”.

According to the joint programme released on Saturday, the government wants more cooperation with Austria’s central and eastern European neighbours, whose relations with Brussels have at times been fraught.

It also wants to contribute to an improvement of relations between the West and Russia.

The FPOe, which has a partnership with Russia’s ruling party, has called for EU sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine to be lifted.

The programme also says the government will not agree to Turkey joining the bloc. It will “seek allies in achieving a definitive break in (Turkey’s) membership talks, in favour of an EU-Turkey neighbourhood concept,” the programme says.

Austria’s new government, two months after snap elections saw voters in the Alpine country move to the right, is due to be sworn in next week. Kurz, 31, will then be the world’s youngest leader.

Strache’s FPOe secured the interior, defence and foreign ministries, amongst others, while OeVP-controlled ministries will include finance, economy and justice.