Austria's provinces: where sharing power with the far right works * somalia, World News and Opinion.
Mareeg Media

Austria’s provinces: where sharing power with the far right works

By Kirsti Knolle and Shadia Nasralla LINZ/EISENSTADT, Austria, Oct 13 (Reuters) – For Verena Dunst, veteran Social Democrat in the government of Austria’s Burgenland province, working with the far right for the past two years has not just been business as usual – it has been better. “I have to honestly tell you, now it fits,” she said, praising the Freedom Party (FPO) for breaking through the entrenched interests of traditional parties. “I have achieved much more in two years than my predecessors … in many years.” The Burgenland coalition government of the Social Democrats (SPO) and the FPO has cut the number of tourism associations to around 20 from more than 100, axed an expensive administrative level in its education system and streamlined the management of public hospitals and utilities. There is a similar story from the other side of the centrist spectrum. In Upper Austria, the conservatives rule in coalition with the FPO, suggesting a national coalition with the far right after Sunday’s election would be nowhere near unworkable. Working with the Freedom Party has sped up the decision making processes, said People’s Party (OVP) Governor Thomas Stelzer, referring to their two years of coalition partnership and dismissing concerns over its Nazi past. “On the one hand that’s because we have a well thought through government programme. On the other hand, it works very well on a human level,” said Stelzer. And while of course not all view the prospect so favourably, the FPO has its best chance in a decade of entering national government, either with the OVP or with the Social Democrats after Sunday’s parliamentary vote. It has been in power at the national level before, with the Social Democrats from 1983 to 1986 and triggering European Union sanctions against Austria when it went into government with the conservatives in 2000. Both combinations currently exist at the next level down in two of the highly federalised country’s nine provinces – partnerships which would be unthinkable in any other western European country. COLLEGIATE SPIRIT If those coalition deals are anything to go by, a fresh power-sharing agreement on a national level could be reached in a matter of weeks and without ideological trench warfare, lawmakers in Upper Austria and Burgenland provinces suggest. Upper Austria is one of country’s three provinces that introduced a cut in basic social services for newcomers to reduce migration, a move that OVP leader and frontrunner in Sunday’s election Sebastian Kurz wants to introduce nationwide. Burgenland’s Dunst said the FPO’s independence from certain interest groups has helped to push through reforms, whereas the OVP’s strong ties to associations such as the Farmers’ Alliance, has stalled projects for fear of alienating core supporters. “If a wild deer for example feeds on something it shouldn’t on nearby farmland, the ranger, in whose area this happens, has to pay up. I wanted to protect the local ranger,” Dunst said about changing the law. “With the OVP, the (new) hunting law would not have been decided,” she said. “(The FPO) did break open encrusted clientele politics.” Dunst’s previous experience of 15 years working with the conservatives has been the pattern in the country: The two parties have dominated Austria’s politics for more than half a century, establishing deep-rooted loyalties with business and workers’ associations. But the collegiate spirit of working with FPO officials comes up a lot in the Upper Austrian capital Linz and in Eisenstadt – in contrast to unprecedented mudslinging between the two traditional parties ahead of Sunday’s vote. “If we have something to moan about, we do it internally, not in public. Otherwise, you can see on the national level where you end up,” Governor Stelzer said. The fact that the FPO, which was founded by former Nazis but said it has left its past behind, has had to throw out party officials on a regular basis in Nazi-related scandals, is nothing to worry for the Upper Austria governor. “The FPO has always reacted very quickly (in such cases). It is also our responsibility to keep an eye on this because otherwise it would taint us as well,” Stelzer said. But not everyone is happy with the FPO in power. Rudolf Anschober, who sits alongside the conservatives, the far right and one Social Democrat in Upper Austria’s parliament, has little good to say about the party. Watered down targets on the use of renewable energy are nothing good for the region, he said. His Social Democrat colleague Birgit Gerstorfer complained about an increasing lack of social solidarity and security policies that fuelled fears among the population. “The basic atmosphere has changed, the province has moved to the right,” said Anschober. “If this is to become the norm nationwide, well … Then it could be that we awake in a different country.” (Editing by Alison Williams)

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

Comments are closed.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More somalia, World News and Opinion.