VIENNA – Thousands of people gathered on Monday in central Vienna to protest against an Austrian far-right party’s accession to government through a coalition with the country’s conservatives.
The anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPÖ) and the Popular Party (ÖVP) of future chancellor Sebastian Kurz were sworn in at the presidential Hofburg palace.
“It’s pretty bad the amount tolerance the FPÖ has achieved by presenting itself as a centrist party when it isn’t. It presents itself as suitable for government, but is from the extreme right,” said a journalism student who joined the crowd of roughly 3,500 demonstrators and identified himself only as Benjamin.
Around 1,500 police officers were deployed to manage the rally, which made its way down a Vienna thoroughfare towards the presidential palace.
At the age of 31, Kurz was the youngest head of government in Europe, while his deal with the FPÖ also means Austria became the only western European nation to have a far-right party in a government position.
Both parties, but especially the FPÖ, have historically been critical of the European Union’s migration quotas system, and the new government formation could shift Austrian policies closer to those seen in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, who form the often EU-critical Visegrad Group of central European nations.
“I think it’s already going in this direction because Sebastian Kurz adheres to some of the more extreme migration policies in Europe,” Benjamin added.
The FPÖ will manage Austria’s ministries of defense, interior and foreign affairs, while its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache took over the vice-chancellery.
Monday’s protests were more subdued than those that took place in 2000, which was the last time the ÖVP and the FPÖ entered a coalition executive.
Those demonstrations were so massive that prospective government ministers had to access the presidential palace via subterranean tunnels.
The Hofburg has been the seat of power in Austria since it was built in the 13th century and today is the official residence and workplace of the president.
The ÖVP-FPÖ government is to occupy 113 of the 183 seats in parliament.