Austria’s Kurz given task of putting together new government

International

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, left, welcomes Sebastian Kurz, right, head of the Austrian People’s Party, OEVP, prior to their talks at the Hofburg palace in Vienna, Austria, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Kurz will get the order to form a new government after the federal elections. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

VIENNA (AP) — Austrian center-right leader Sebastian Kurz embarked Monday on what could be the lengthy task of forming a new government, citing a looming economic downturn, unregulated migration and climate change among the challenges the next administration will face.

President Alexander Van der Bellen formally tasked Kurz, 33, with putting together a government after his People’s Party emerged from an election a week ago as the strongest by far.

The resounding win left him poised to return to government after a scandal surrounding his junior partner in the last administration, the Freedom Party, led to the government’s collapse in May.

Kurz can choose between reviving his previous coalition with the Freedom Party, forming a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats, or allying with the resurgent Greens.

Although Kurz is in a comfortable position, all three options carry risks. It is questionable how stable a new coalition with the Freedom Party would be, particularly after it suffered significant losses in the Sept. 29 election.

An alliance with the Social Democrats, a familiar and unloved combination that has frequently run post-World War II Austrian governments, could undermine Kurz’s image as a fresh face bringing change to the country.

And Kurz might struggle to bridge policy differences with the Greens, who are confident after seeing their support soar and returning to parliament following a two-year absence.

Kurz said he will open formal discussions with other party leaders this week.

“The biggest challenge that faces us immediately is the question of how best to deal with the looming economic downswing,” he said, pointing to U.S.-Europe trade tensions, uncertainty over Brexit and weak economic data in bigger neighbor Germany.

He insisted that the new government must also continue to reduce Austrians’ tax burden.

Kurz also said that “it will be important to continue along our determined path of combating illegal migration in Austria and in Europe,” which was a prominent feature of his previous government with the Freedom Party, and to take national and international action against climate change.

The non-partisan interim government of Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein, installed following a parliamentary no-confidence vote that brought down Kurz after he pulled the plug on his last coalition, will remain in place until a new administration is ready.

Van der Bellen said he would be in regular contact with Kurz “over the coming days and weeks — I don’t want to talk about months” on his progress.

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