January 4, 2020 / 4:08 PM / 13 days ago

Austria's Greens set to approve coalition with conservatives

SALZBURG, Austria (Reuters) - Austria’s Greens were set to approve a coalition deal on Saturday with the conservatives led by Sebastian Kurz, applauding their leader’s argument that it would keep the far right out of power and provide a chance for climate-related tax reform.

FILE PHOTO: Head of Austria's Green Party Werner Kogler and head of People's Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz talk after delivering a statement in Vienna, Austria January 2, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

The parties struck the deal on New Year’s Day, paving the way for Kurz to return to power three months after winning an election and for the left-wing environmentalists to enter government for the first time.

The awkward alliance is being closely watched in Germany, where the electoral balance is similar, at a time of growing calls for urgent action on climate change.

Many Greens have balked at elements of Kurz’s law-and-order agenda, despite their leader Werner Kogler saying the deal had to reflect their party’s smaller share of the vote. The Greens won 13.9% to 37.5% for Kurz’s OVP, whose last coalition was with the far right FPO.

Kogler told a Greens party congress - whose approval he needed to seal the coalition deal - that it “makes a difference” whether Kurz governed with the Greens or the FPO.

The standing ovation and repeated applause that Kogler received left little doubt that delegates would back the deal in a vote later on Saturday.

Kurz has made a hard line on immigration and “political Islam” his trademark, and the deal includes extending a ban on headscarves in schools until the age of 14 from around 10 currently.

The OVP-FPO coalition collapsed in May when FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache was caught in a video sting offering to fix state contracts. A provisional government of civil servants has been in place since June.

The new coalition deal resurrects some of the previous Kurz government’s ideas, however, such as preventive custody for people deemed a threat to public safety, even if they have yet to commit a crime. That was proposed after a fatal stabbing this year apparently committed by an asylum seeker.

Many Greens have expressed misgivings about such measures, and the fact that their wish to overhaul taxation to better price in carbon emissions - the main factor in man-made global warming - has been put off until 2022.

“Will it succeed? What will happen in 2022? I don’t know yet either,” said Kogler. “But we will work on it and fight for it to move forward.”

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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