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Austria

Austrian coalition averts risk of collapse with deal on policy goals

Leaders of Austria's ruling coalition have narrowly averted the risk of a government collapse after reaching an agreement on a number of policy objectives. The reforms include the introduction of minimum wage packages.

An agreement between the coalition partners in the Austrian government has brought a political crisis in the country to an end, averting snap parliamentary elections that might likely have played into the hands of Austria's strengthening far right.

Talks between senior cabinet members from Chancellor Christian Kern's Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the conservative People's Party (ÖVP) have lasted for the majority of last week, with Kern having initially indicated that failing to reach a deal could have ended the centrist coalition.

Zukunft von Österreichs Regierung ungewiss Christian Kern und Reinhold Mitterlehner (Picture-Alliance/dpa/EPA/C. Bruna)

Chancellor Christian Kern (left) and Vice-Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner (right) narrowly avoided snap elections

The coalition government has been facing falling support over the past years, as Austria has become less attractive for entrepreneurs and investors because of its high tax rates and red tape, contributing to the country's rising unemployment.

With roughly a year and a half to go until the next parliamentary elections are due, opinion polls show that the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) would likely have won if the government had collapsed and early elections were called. The anti-immigration movement has led in voter surveys for more than a year, with roughly a third of voters expressing support of the eurosceptic party.

Two rounds of elections for the largely ceremonial office of Austrian President in 2016 had almost resulted in an FPÖ candidate winning the vote.

A difficult partnership

The new set of policy objectives between the SPÖ and the ÖVP focuses on issues ranging from immigration to employment and education. The coalition hopes to attract back voters who have turned their backs on the two parties, following infighting and disagreement. The new agreement will formally be submitted to both parties' leaderships at the beginning of the week.

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Chancellor Kern had presented his outline for reforms earlier in the month, in a bid to respond to the public impression that the two government parties were deliberately trying to block each other, rather than cooperating to improve the country. His reforms include removing bureaucratic rules to attract investment and setting a minimum wage of 1,500 euros (1,600 dollars).

The SPÖ and ÖVP have not only formed coalition governments continuously since 2007, they have also formed joint cabinets for a total of more than 40 years since 1945.

ss/jr (Reuters, dpa)

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