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Austria's Greens open door to coalition talks with Kurz's conservatives

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By Reuters
Austria's Greens open door to coalition talks with Kurz's conservatives
Head of Austria’s Green Party Werner Kogler addresses a news conference in Vienna, Austria, November 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner   -   Copyright  LISI NIESNER(Reuters)

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s Greens said on Sunday they are willing to enter formal coalition talks with former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservative party, opening the door to negotiations that could bring them into national government for the first time.

Kurz’s conservatives won the Sept. 29 parliamentary election – held in the aftermath of a video sting scandal that ended his coalition government with the far right – by a clear margin. But he needs a coalition partner to control parliament.

Despite their starkly different political programmes, Kurz’s party and the Greens, who finished fourth in the September ballot, held several weeks of preliminary talks that finished on Friday.

Failure to move on to formal talks would mean Kurz would need to turn to either the Social Democrats, with whom he has had difficult relations, or again to a far right still reeling from the sting, in which its leader was filmed offering to fix government contracts at a dinner party, and renewing that alliance could hurt Kurz’s image.

As a last resort, Kurz could also attempt to set up a minority government.

“The Austrian Greens want to enter concrete government talks with the Austrian People’s Party (OVP),” Greens leader Werner Kogler told a news conference, adding his party’s leadership had reached the decision unanimously.

The left-wing Greens and Kurz’s OVP have declined to comment on the details of their talks, but they will have to bridge a yawning political divide against a backdrop of growing calls worldwide for urgent action on limiting climate change.

The Greens have called for an overhaul of Austria’s tax system to reflect the environmental impact of goods. Kurz, whose typical supporters include big business and farmers, has said he does not believe environmental measures should create extra costs for the Austrian public at large, and notably car owners.

The parties also have starkly different views on immigration, on which Kurz has overseen a hard line including cutting benefits for new arrivals and warning of Muslim “parallel societies” that would undermine mainstream Austrian culture.

Kurz will likely want any deal to reflect the parties’ respective levels of support. The OVP won 37.5% of the vote in September and the Greens 13.9%.

Kurz is expected to make a statement formal talks with the Greens on Monday after consulting party allies.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; editing by John Stonestreet)