AUSTRIA: Far right Freedom Party ministers now control police and army

The Freedom Party – led by Heinz-Christian Strache – has agreed to enter into a coalition with Mr Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party which is likely to toughen the country’s stance on immigration and asylum seekers considerably, with the new government inaugarated at a ceremony in the capital, Vienna, today.

Mr Kurz’s party came out on top in October’s elections, taking a 31.5 per cent share of the vote, following a campaign focusing on halting illegal immigration and tax cuts.

Despite the fact that the centre-left Social Democratic Party, with 26.9 per cent, actually beat the Freedom Party into third place, Mr Kurz, who, at the age of 31, is the EU’s youngest leader, nevertheless opted to work with Mr Strache, who will become the country’s vice-chancellor.

The agreement hands the FPO a powerful voice in the new government, with control of the interior, defence and foreign ministries, and there has been some disquiet through Europe about its links with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party.

The development triggered protests on the streets of Vienna today.

Pierre Moscovici, the EU’s commissioner for economics, said: “The coalition now in power in Austria must prompt the vigilance of democrats attached to European values.

“The presence of the far right in power is never trivial.”

Mr Strache himself has attempted to play down such concerns, saying he supports “the European peace project” – but his elevation was welcomed by Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, who described it as “excellent news for Europe”.

The FPO was founded in 1956 by Anton Reinthaller, a former Nazi Party member and SS officer.

In 2000, it entered government for the first time under the leadership of the controversial Jörg Haider, prompting widespread protests in Austria and Europe as a whole.

 This time round, the protests have been more muted, although an estimated 5,000 people gathered in Vienna’s Heldenplatz Square yesterday brandishing placards which read: “Refugees welcome” and “No Nazi Pigs”.

Speaking on Austrian TV, Mr Kurz insisted: “This is a coalition of two parties who want to actively shape Europe.”

Meanwhile Mr Strache told the Kleine Zeitung newspaper: “We will certainly not be going underground to the Hofburg, but rather with our heads held high in the street.”