Austria has become the only western European country with a far-right party in government after the Freedom Party took key posts in a coalition deal.
They will be responsible for foreign, interior and defence posts, governing with the Conservative People’s Party.
The deal was approved today, two months after elections did not provide a clear winner.
People’s Party leader Sebastian Kurz, 31, will become Chancellor – and the world’s youngest head of government.
The Freedom Party ran on an anti-immigrant platform and various members have been accused of antisemitic and racist incidents.
Both parties in government have agreed on a ‘clear pro-European outlook’ and ruled out any referendum on Austrian membership of the European Union.
They will, however, look to provide more opportunities for direct democracy, which was a condition from the Freedom Party.
‘Our model does not provide for any referendum … that contradicts European law or fundamental rights or our constitution,’ Kurz said.
‘It is also clear that there will be no votes on our memberships in international organisations including the European Union.’
The introduction of more ways for voters to participate in the legislative process was one of the FPO’s main conditions and also one of the most difficult issues in the coalition negotiations.
In Austria around 8,000 signatures are needed currently to initiate a popular petition.
If the petition then gets more than 100,000 signatures it must discussed in parliament. Such petitions are not legally binding and often do not result in legislation but they can fuel the public debate.
In future, if a petition has the support of 900,000 voters and parliament does not support the issue, it can be turned into a legally binding referendum, Kurz said at a news conference in Vienna, where he and Strache presented the coalition programme.
Austrians will have to vote on this proposal as it will require a comprehensive change to the constitution, for which a vote is already mandatory, Kurz said.
There were only two binding referendums in post-1945 Austria: The nuclear power referendum in 1978 and the European Union membership referendum in 1994.
‘History will be written (with this initiative),’ said Strache.
In Europe, the Swiss vote the most, whereas Germany has not as yet held a nationwide referendum. Ireland and Italy are the European Union countries with the most referendums.
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