Brussels/Vienna, December 29, 2017.
On December 18th, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen swore in the new Austrian government, a coalition between the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). The new Chancellor, 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, head of the ÖVP, is now Europe's youngest leader. His coalition partner is the far right party FPÖ, headed by Heinz-Christian Strache, who will be Vice-Chancellor in the new Government. As part of the coalition agreement, FPÖ obtained the Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Interior Affairs portfolios. Kurz’s Chancellery will however still oversee EU affairs.
JEF Europe is not in the business of expressing itself on the basis of prejudice, yet it is with great concern that we take note of the participation of FPÖ in the Austrian governing coalition. Both the Presidential elections of 2016, and the last general elections have witnessed a rise in nationalist and anti-Islam rhetoric at odds with the EU’s guiding principles. President Van der Bellen made it a firm condition for swearing in the Government that it would maintain Austria’s pro-European stance in this regard. JEF Europe and JEF Austria fully support the Austrian President’s stance and call on both parties of the governing coalition to commit to Europe not only in writing, but in their actions.
The coalition Government has expressed its support for a “do less, more efficiently” scenario for the Future of Europe, basing itself on a misconception of subsidiarity. By reason of the scale of the challenges posed by the so-called “migration crisis”, the only effective and humane response can be for a welcoming EU-level asylum and migration policy, as previously argued by JEF Europe. Reinstating strict border checks, restricting the rights of asylum-seekers, and enacting ‘extreme vetting’ procedures will not address the challenges of contemporary migration dynamics, neither in Europe, nor in Africa or the Middle East. Furthermore, these measures cast a shadow over the stated pro-Europeanism of the government. “Our treatment of the weakest in society reveals what our values are really worth”, as was recalled by the Austrian President.
There is little pro-Europeanism also in the stated intention of granting Austrian citizenship to Italian citizens of German and Ladin language living in Alto Adige/Südtirol for those who desire to obtain Austrian citizenship. Aside from unsettling the delicate balance of border regions and risking inspiring similar neo-nationalist tendencies in other parts of Europe, it greatly diminishes the concept of European citizenship and the common values of all the European people.
In all fairness, not all news is alarming when it comes to the agreements struck by the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition Government. Formally ruling out a referendum on Austria’s EU membership is a welcome step, yet not without irony for the FPÖ. Indeed, the party can count on allies at European level, within the political grouping “Europe of Nations and Freedom”, such as the French Front National and the Italian Lega, which have made an exit from the Euro and the EU their signature proposal. On the contrary, the FPÖ is finally in tune with its own electorate: as stated by the latest Eurobarometer survey, Austrians are proud members of the Economic and Monetary Union.
Christopher Glück, President of JEF Europe, stated: “Sebastian Kurz is now Europe’s youngest leader, and heads a party with a firm pro-European tradition. This doesn’t, however, give him a blank cheque. He will now have to prove his pro-European commitments by continued support for the pillars of the EU, among which stand solidarity and the freedom of movement. He must be wary of normalising the radical, Eurosceptic right, using instead the opportunity of a coalition Government to steer all Austrian citizens and political parties towards a more pro-European stance”.
Abdul Aydemir, President of JEF Austria, commented: “We believe Kurz’s government must put Europe and youth at the centre of its discussions, ensuring in particular continued support for youth NGOs. The youth should play a big role in the debate along with political education, especially in the view of Austria being the first and so far the only country in the EU with voting age of 16 years. Moreover, the fundamental rights should be respected at all times.”
More information on JEF Europe
The Young European Federalists (JEF) Europe is a non-partisan youth NGO active with 13.000 members active in more than 35 countries. The organisation strives towards a federal Europe based on the principles of democracy and subsidiarity as well as respect for human rights. JEF promotes true European Citizenship, and works towards more active participation of young people in democratic life. While the umbrella organisation JEF Europe was founded in 1972, its sections have been operating continuously since the end of the Second World War, making it the oldest pro-European and only federalist youth organisation.
More information on JEF Austria
BEJ/JEF Österreich is the Austrian national section of JEF Europe. JEF Austria is a non-partisan and non-denominational youth NGO that works for a more democratic, secure, social and united Europe. JEF Austria with its associated organizations focuses on advocating for European integration, bringing more awareness of the EU, especially among the youth in Austria, and giving opportunities for youths to be active citizens. JEF Austria, being an umbrella organization for other pro-European NGOs in Austria, is reaching out to the youth on all levels starting from kindergarden.
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