Concerns over new far-right coalition government spark protests
In December 2017, protests were organised to oppose the formation of a coalition between the Austrian People’s Party (OPV) and the nationalist-leaning Freedom Party (FPÖ). The deal granted FPÖ some crucial responsibilities within the government, including in the Defence, Interior, and Foreign Affairs Ministries.
European news outlets reported the presence of 5,000 to 6,000 demonstrators, but not as many as in 2000 when the parties first formed a coalition. The march was peaceful and showcased banners reading “Refugees Welcome” and “Nazis Out”. There was a heavy police presence with approximately 1,500 officers deployed, along with helicopters and water cannons. A smoke grenade was reportedly fired, and three arrests were made.
Protester Wolfgang Pechlaner expressed his concerns over the new coalition, stating that:
“I fear a total shift to the right, a hardening of the domestic political climate and incitement against outsiders".
The government has presented a programme to "pre-empt concerns the new administration could stray from the EU or dismantle Austria’s institutional setup or welfare state". Political analyst Thomas Hofer suggests that:
“The program shows a clear effort to avoid making too big waves both at home and abroad. Overall, they are playing it defensively for the time being to preempt huge protests”.
#Merkel on Austria's new coalition government with the far-right #FPOE: "I want to make clear: We will judge the new government in Austria by its actions. Our discussions on Europe make me hopeful, but of course we will monitor its actions very closely."— DW | Politics (@dw_politics) January 17, 2018
With FPÖ now a major player in the new coalition government, concerns over freedom of expression have arisen. The 182-page programme of the government includes plans to carry out structural reforms of media institutions.The government has thus far expressed its willingness to conduct public consultations over its media-related programmes.