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Austria elections: Could Sebastian Kurz be a friend of Ukraine?

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

09:20, 18 October 2017
Austria elections: Could Sebastian Kurz be a friend of Ukraine?

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Modern Austria is a typical small and distinctive European state, whose political elite adheres to economic and national selfishness and is interested in upholding the interests of its citizens primarily, and not carrying peace to Ukraine

09:20, 18 October 2017

Read the original text at 112.ua.

Reuters

October 15, early parliamentary elections were held in Austria. According to preliminary results, the Austrian People's Party (APP), current Austrian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman Sebastian Kurtz, won the majority (31.4%). The Social Democratic Party of Austria (SDPA), Chancellor Christian Kern, gained 26.7%. 27.4% of Austrian voters voted for the far right Austrian Freedom Party of Heinz-Christian Strache, founded in 1956 by the former Nazi and SS functionary Anton Reinthaller. President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko has already congratulated Sebastian Kurtz on his victory. He expressed Kurtz as a person who knows the Ukrainian issue well. As a convinced European, he also understands the importance of a consolidated position of EU concerning peace on the continent.

Related: Sebastian Kurz’s party wins in parliamentary election in Austria

Ukrainian Ambassador to Austria Olexander Scherba believes that Kurtz's coming to the post of Chancellor is good news for Ukraine, since the Austrian politician knows and repeatedly visited Ukraine and the line of demarcation in Donbas. Ukrainian ambassador does not expect radical changes in Austria's foreign policy, but recommends making definitive conclusions after the formation of the government and its first steps. But, as it usually happenes in Ukraine, the essence of what is happening is lost behind loud statements, because Austria's policy towards Ukraine does not depend on Kurtz alone. It depends on the future coalition in the parliament.

The far-right triumph

In the recent parliamentary elections in Austria, none of the political forces has won enough votes to form a parliamentary majority and a one-party government. It is difficult enough to predict the nature of the future coalition in the Austrian parliament. British Independent does not exclude that Sebastian Kurtz can go to an alliance with SDPA and revive the so-called "great coalition" that ruled Austria in 2013-17. The Social Democrats were the senior partner in the coalition and occupied the majority of seats in the parliament. Sebastian Kurtz from the APP has leaded the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was fully accountable to Chancellor Christian Kern from the SDPA. "The Great Coalition" has repeatedly been in power in Austria since the end of World War II.

Related: UNGA sidelines: Poroshenko spoke to President of Austria

At the same time, it is doubtful that Sebastian Kurtz is interested in a new alliance with the Social Democrats. In May 2017, there was a split in the "big coalition". APP and SDPA could not agree on the government's program of activities for 2017-2018. The Austrian government has disagreements over the migration policy. APP demanded that the SDPA agreed to ban on wearing a burqa in public places, implement compulsory German language courses for refugees, and establish centers for the deportation of undesirable immigrants. After the leadership of APP passed to Sebastian Kurtz, the young politician announced that his party needs to be reformed, and it would not cooperate with SDPA. He suggested holding early parliamentary elections.

It seems that Sebastian Kurtz deliberately tried to break up with the Social Democrats in terms of growing popularity of the far right on the background of the migration crisis. In 2015, the Austrian government, where the social democrats had the upper hand, accepted 90,000 refugees. Then it agreed to host 24,000 more foreigners on its territory, according to the plan of the European Commission for resettlement, 160,000 Muslim refugees from Greece and Italy. Austria has become a gateway to the crowds of Muslims who enter the EU through the Balkan countries. In 2015, about 1 million descendants from the countries of Asia and Africa crossed the territory of the republic on their way to Germany and other Western European countries.

Related: Australia says MH17 perpetrators may be tried in absentia

Under the leadership of Kurtz APP has adapted certain program points of the Austrian Freedom Party, which has the chances of becoming its junior partner in the new coalition. The Austrian far right even accused Kurtz of plagiarism. The leader of APP promises to put an end to illegal migration, to ensure greater security in Austrian society. As part of the "big coalition", APP, together with SDPA, worked out the possibility to additionally send 750 Austrian soldiers with armored vehicles to patrol the borders in order to prevent the entry of new refugees into the country. APP was able to defend the decision to impose a fine of 15 thousand euros and send to prison those persons who refuse to voluntarily leave Austria.

Heinz-Christian Strache

Together with the Austrian Freedom Party, Sebastian Kurtz can afford to take more stringent measures against refugees, including deportations and the closure of their borders. The leader of the Austrian Freedom Party Heinz-Christian Strache is convinced that Austria is subjected to Islamization, he stands for the ban of Muslim attributes. He also opposes the coalition between APP and the SDPA. In his opinion, Islam is alien to Austria.

Related: Austria to allocate 1 million of euros for mine clearing of Donbas

APP attempted to form a coalition with the Austrian Freedom Party following the 1999 parliamentary elections, when it failed to agree on an alliance with the SDPA. Then a quarter of a million Austrians staged protests, and EU member states imposed sanctions against Austria, forcing the APP to reconsider its position.

However, at the end of the 20th century, there was no refugee problem or migration crisis in Austria. Now this is a completely different situation. The approaches of the far right are perceived as an alternative to the policy of "open doors" and multiculturalism, which crashed in the EU. Austrians are tired of the policy of "open doors" for refugees and a potential threat from Islamic extremists. They want the authorities to take a more rigid approach to solving the EU migration crisis. Nearly 60% of the Austrians voted for Kurtz’s and Strache’s parties, which support tightening of the migration regime and reduction of the influence of Islam in Austrian society. Sebastian Kurtz can take advantage of anti-immigrant sentiments in Austrian society and leave SDPA overboard the coalition.

Related: Phenomenon of Sebastian Kurz: Why Austria goes on early elections?

The optimism of the Ukrainian authorities on the results of the parliamentary elections in Austria is premature. If APP agrees on a coalition with the Austrian Freedom Party, then Austria's position on Russia's aggression in Ukraine and anti-Russian sanctions may not change in our favor. In December 2016, Heinz-Christian Strache and Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Petr Tolstoy signed a pact on cooperation between the Austrian Freedom Party and the Kremlin party "United Russia". Austrian Freedom Party supports lifting of sanctions that were imposed against Russia after the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Donbas. Shtrache believes that the pseudo-referendum in Crimea was democratic. The politician is convinced that the peninsula has always been Russian.

Sebastian Kurtz himself takes a dual position on Ukraine. As chairman of the OSCE, he participates in the settlement of Donbas conflict. He believes that the condition for the lifting of anti-Russian sanctions should be the implementation of Minsk agreements. At the same time, Kurtz admits the possibility of step-by-step lifting of anti-Russian sanctions, which are not tied to the annexation of Crimea, if Russia fulfills at least part of the Minsk accords. The APP leader does not support new US sanctions against the Russian Federation, which hamper the implementation of the Russian gas pipeline project Nord Stream -2. After visiting Donbas in January 2017, Kurtz rejected the possibility of deploying an OSCE mission in the conflict zone, contrary to the interests of the Ukrainian authorities.

twitter/MFA Ukraine

Kurtz and Klimkin in Ukraine's Mariupol

Related: Melissa O'Rourke is appointed ambassador of Australia to Ukraine

Austrian Social Democrats have similar views. SDPA leader Christian Kern believes that anti-Russian sanctions have not justified themselves, and we need to find another way to influence the position of Russian President Vladimir Putin without damaging the Austrian economy. He believes that restrictive measures against Russia cost Austria too much, almost 0.3% of GDP. In June, Christian Kern and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel did not approve new US sanctions against Russia and stressed that restrictive measures would negatively affect the interests of European companies that are involved in the implementation of the Russian project of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline. Apparently, the Chancellor of Austria forgot about the times when his country was illegitimately attached to the Third Reich, and European countries adhered to the policy of non-interference.

Related: Denmark might veto construction of Nord Stream II

Modern Austria is a typical small and distinctive European state, whose political elite adheres to economic and national selfishness and is interested in upholding the interests of its citizens primarily, and not carrying peace to Ukraine. Toughening or prolonging anti-Russian sanctions is not profitable for Austrian business. Austrian company OMV AG participates in the implementation of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline project. Austria was one of the participants in the failed project of the South Stream gas pipeline. Under the influence of anti-Russian sanctions, 7,000 jobs were lost in Austria, economic losses amounted to 550 million euros in 2015. Russia is Austria’s 10th trade and economic partner (Ukraine is 21st). The export of goods from Austria to Russia from 2010 to 2016 declined from 2.547 billion to 1.883 billion euros. About 45% of Austrian exports come from machinery and equipment, 10% from food. Gas distribution center "Central European Gas Hub", 50% of which belong to Gazprom, is located in the Austrian city of Baumgarten.

Reuters

Kurtz and Lavrov

Related: “Nord Stream-2” a political project against Ukraine

The new Austrian authorities might require the EU to step-by-step abolish anti-Russian sanctions, or rather, selectively urge it to lift sanctions from the most beneficial sectors of cooperation with Russia. Austrian elections are another lesson for the European political elite, which says that it is high time to stop the policy of "open doors" and return the refugees and illegal immigrants to their countries. Otherwise, the influence of loyal far right political forces in small European countries will only grow.

Related: Poland is pressuring European Commission over Nord Stream 2

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