December 28, 2019 / 11:17 PM / a month ago

Austrian conservatives and Greens see coalition deal within days

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz is on the brink of returning to power as a coalition deal with the left-wing Greens is likely to be struck this week, three months after his party won a parliamentary election, both sides indicated on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: Head of Green Party Werner Kogler talks to journalists as he arrives for a meeting with head of People's Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz for first coalition talks to form a new government in Vienna, Austria November 15, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Late Saturday the Greens called a meeting of their party’s top decision-making body next weekend to sign off on a deal, indicating they expect the accord to be finalized before then. On Sunday morning Kurz and Greens leader Werner Kogler said the deal could happen “by the middle of the coming week”.

A deal would make Kurz chancellor again after his coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) collapsed in May over a video sting that felled FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache. A provisional government of civil servants is in place for the time being until a coalition is formed.

“The finish line has not yet been crossed, but the main obstacles on the path to a joint government have been removed,” Kurz said in the joint statement to Austrian news agency APA.

“It is now two days before the new year. We want to use this time and the change of year for a final polishing (of the agreement),” Kurz said.

The Greens’ Federal Congress, comprising various groups within the party including its national, local and European lawmakers, must sign off on any coalition deal, and it requires a week’s notice to meet.

The meeting has been called for next Saturday and invitations were sent late on Saturday shortly before midnight, a Greens spokeswoman said.

In contrast to the Greens, Kurz can sign off on the deal himself on behalf of his party.

“Important individual issues are still open and should be resolved in the coming days,” Kogler said in the statement to APA.

Given the difficulty in keeping the deal confidential once it is put to the more than 250 members of the Federal Congress, the details are likely to be announced before it meets. Media reports overnight said that presentation was likely to happen on Jan. 2 or Jan. 3.

Few of those details have emerged so far, but Kogler has said he wants a package of investment on environmental areas, and Kurz has said his priorities include continuing his hard line on illegal immigration and keeping a balanced budget.

There have also been reports the deal includes large investments in expanding Austria’s rail network.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Chris Reese

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