Illegal immigrants are as much a threat to Austria as climate change, according to Sebastian Kurz, the country’s recently re-elected chancellor.
Mr Kurz’s remarks show little change in his politics as he enters government at the head of a groundbreaking coalition between his conservative Peoples’ party and the country’s left-of-centre Greens. The pact has been touted as a possible template for moderate conservatives struggling to hold power elsewhere in Europe.
In his first interview with international media since taking office last week, Mr Kurz reiterated many of the core tenets of his last government, a coalition with the far-right Freedom party.
“It is important to protect our environment but it is also important to decide who will live in our country . . . if we do not fight against illegal migration, Europe will not be the same in five, 10 or 20 years,” he told the Financial Times. “If we do not control who is allowed to come we will not be able to live in security . . . and we will not be able to keep our identity.”
Mr Kurz said he was pleased to have forged a coalition with the Greens in which neither side had sought to “negotiate down . . . their central election promises”, and denied that his partners had been steamrollered in negotiations.
Mr Kurz’s Peoples’ party has control of all of the government’s major ministries, including the treasury, interior and foreign portfolios. Green leader Werner Kogler will be vice-chancellor, and Leonore Gewessler will head a new environmental “super ministry” with oversight of energy policy, transport, innovation and technology.
Mr Kurz put controls of immigration and laws to combat climate change on a par as the top of his coalition’s list of priorities, alongside an intention to cut taxes and spur competitiveness as a third hallmark of his agenda for the next five years.
A proposed regime of across-the-board tax cuts with a commitment to reduce government borrowing would be funded through further reforms to the social welfare system and labour market, Mr Kurz said.
His government’s programme also accommodates a commitment to make Austria carbon neutral by 2040, alongside a ban on headscarves for girls under the age of 14 in schools and preventive detention for immigrants suspected of religious extremism.
It was the government’s duty to “protect young girls” he said, decrying “influence . . . from immigrants from different parts of the world which I think dangerous in many areas.” He said he was proud that Austria was a “Christian-dominated country” marked by its shared Judeo-Christian heritage.
Mr Kurz promised to push in Europe for tougher policing of illegal immigration in the Mediterranean, criticising the current system as a “ticket to the European Union” that incentivised crossings and smugglers.
As with his last political pact — which disintegrated amid a corruption scandal in May — Mr Kurz’s new alliance is already being read by many across Europe as a clever move of political triangulation that other politicians, particular in Germany, might learn from.
Mr Kurz declined to give direct lessons to peers abroad, but said his deal with the Greens was “the right coalition for this moment”.
Asked of his record in government with the Freedom party, Mr Kurz said: “We did a lot of reforms in those 18 months. We were successful in reducing our debt, we were successful in reducing the tax burden, we stopped illegal migration.
“But of course there was also scandals . . . which made it necessary for me to end this coalition and build a new coalition with the Greens.”