December 31, 2019 / 6:26 PM / 17 days ago

Austria's next cabinet takes shape as New Year's coalition deal nears

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s future cabinet took shape on Tuesday, with conservative Sebastian Kurz and his party set to control the lion’s share of ministries under a coalition deal with the Greens widely expected to be announced on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz speaks during a European Peoples Party congress in Zagreb, Croatia, November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

Both sides have said they expect a deal to be reached this week, in which case Austria would join fellow European Union members Finland and Sweden in having the Greens in government at a time of growing calls for urgent action on climate change.

It would also mark a swing to the left for Kurz, who will return as chancellor and whose last coalition was with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), which shared his hard line on immigration. Their alliance collapsed in May when FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache was ensnared in a video sting and quit.

The Greens would, however, be the clearly junior partner, heading four ministries out of 15, officials on both sides said. That reflects their scores in the Sept. 29 parliamentary election, which Kurz’s People’s Party (OVP) won with 37.5% while the Greens came fourth with 13.9% of the vote.

Few policy details have emerged from the coalition talks so far. The Greens have called for a package of investments in environmental measures and there have been media reports of plans to expand Austria’s rail network.

Kurz has made clear his priorities include balancing the budget and fighting illegal immigration.

His OVP will control the finance, interior, defense and foreign ministries, party officials said. For finance, Kurz has opted for his close ally Gernot Bluemel, who heads the OVP in Vienna.

Senior Greens lawmaker Leonore Gewessler - a former head of an environmental group that is part of Friends of the Earth - is due to become a minister, the Greens said. Party officials said she would head a sprawling ministry covering transport, the environment, energy, infrastructure, technology and innovation.

The Greens also confirmed they were nominating Alma Zadic, a 35-year-old lawyer and lawmaker born in Bosnia who has championed a more open immigration policy. She is likely to become justice minister.

Ministerial nominations, like the deal itself, must be approved by a Greens party meeting on Saturday.

Greens leader Werner Kogler is widely expected to become vice chancellor. Media reports also said the Greens would take over the social affairs ministry and that female ministers would be in the majority for the first time in Austria.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alex Richardson

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