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Austria’s new green-conservative coalition still refuses to sign up to UN migrant rights treaty

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Austria is still refusing to sign up to a key United Nations treaty recognising the rights of migrants, despite a change in government that saw the far-right replaced by the country’s green party. 

The new government took office on 7 January this year with conservative ÖVP leader Sebastian Kurz in for his second stint as chancellor.

Mr Kurz was previously in coalition with the far-right FPÖ, but has now gone into government with the Austrian Green Party following elections.

The previous Austrian government rejected the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration – which recognises the rights of migrants to access basic services and be treated humanely.

But it appears that the switch of the far-right for the greens has had no effect on the new government’s position with regards to the compact.

Austria‘s line on this issue will remain completely unchanged,” ÖVP foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg told the APA news agency.

Mr Schallenberg said joining the treaty was not compatible with the new coalition agreement, while a government spokesperson said Austria believed the agreement was “not a suitable instrument for solving the migration challenges”.

Green vice Chancellor Werner Kogler also confirmed his party would not be pushing for membership of the treaty, stating: “The government program is an overall compromise.”

The Austrian government says the agreement does not properly distinguish between legal and illegal migration, or between economic migrants and refugees. 

While most countries have signed up to the pact, some states with governments particularly hostile to immigration have dropped out, including the US, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Israel, Australia and Slovakia.

Austria’s government is being watched around the world because it is the first national coalition government between a conservative party and a green party.

It is unlikely to be the last: polls in neighbouring Germany currently suggest a pact between Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the German green party could be on the horizon after elections scheduled for 2021. The parties already have a history of cooperation at state level.  

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Neo-Nazis on course to win second place in Slovakia election next month

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Slovakia is set to become the latest European country to come under the influence of the far right, with polls predicting major gains for neo-Nazis in next month’s election.

Kotlebovci-ĽSNS has been polling a solid second place since the start of December, up from fifth place in 2016 – with a general election scheduled for 29 February this year.    

The party’s policies include establishing militias to fight against an imagined “gypsy terror”, the reintroduction of conscription, and the celebration of the Slovak Nazi client state established during the Second World War.

Party leader Marian Kotleba has said Jews living in Slovakia are “intrinsically bothered by everything that is Slovak” and that they “live on our territory solely by the mercy of the Slovak nation”.

The party’s programme pledges to close Slovakia’s borders to stop “hordes of Muslim immigrants”, says the country is committing “national suicide” with open frontiers, and that it is “no longer an independent and sovereign state” because of its membership of the EU.

In April last year the country’s Supreme Court rejected a bid by the country’s public prosecutor to have party dissolved on the basis that it was “an extremist party with fascist tendencies”, which would make it incompatible with Slovakia’s constitution. 

The court said that there was no grounds for dissolving the party because democracy was not imminently endangered by its existence.

“A party can be dissolved only if it actually fights against democracy and rule of law, which has not been proven in this case,” chief judge Jana Zemkova said at the time. “The court had no other option but to deny the motion.”

But Justice Minister Gabor Gal said: “L’SNS is a fascist party. Fascism has no place in Slovakia.”

The failed court case appears to have done no harm to L’SNS, whose leader Mr Kotleba said after the ruling: “After today, there is no reason to be afraid to vote for our party.”

The party has also attempted to modernise its image in recent years, with its politicians ditching their paramilitary-style uniforms for suits. Its leaders have also broadened the rhetorical focus of their hatred beyond Jews and onto travellers and Muslims. 

The party’s relative outsider status, its supposed anti-corruption stance, and its pledges to spend money on welfare and health services have also helped win it support.  

Slovakia has a highly fragmented political landscape. The latest survey by pollster AKO conducted 7-9 January has the left-wing populist Smer party on 18 per cent, the neo-Nazi L’SNS on 12 per cent, and a liberal alliance on 9 per cent.

Pro-EU conservatives Ordinary People are in fourth place on 8 per cent with another right-wing populist party Sme Rodina also on 8 per cent. Libertarian party SaS is polling 7 per cent, while right-wing nationalist party SNS are polling 6 per cent. A centre-right Christian Democratic party is also polling 6 per cent. 

Parties must win a least five per cent of the vote to win seats in parliament under the threshold system. The current government is expected to lose its majority in parliament, but it is unclear who will be able to form a new one.

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Iran offered Trump an exit ramp and he took it – at least for now

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Iranians had promised “severe revenge” for the assassination of their top general Qassem Soleimani, and on Tuesday night they delivered. Missiles were launched from Iranian soil into a large airbase in Iraq where hundreds of American forces are stationed alongside others.

But the high profile attack seemed to have been planned in a way to leave no casualties and rather serve as a warning that although Iran is not able to attack US soil, they have the will and capability to attack US bases in other countries across the region.

The retaliation seemed to be calculated in a way to avoid further escalation and offer an exit ramp for Donald Trump out of this episode. And the American president took it.

“Iranians are used to IRGC commanders being killed in battle every year,” said Hamzeh Ghalebi, an Iranian political analyst living in France. “But Soleimani’s assassination outraged Iranians because of the way it was done, so publicly and with such humiliation, followed by Trump’s reaction that basically meant we can do whatever we want and if you respond we will attack you.”

Mr Ghalebi told The Independent Iran “had to take this step for its survival”. “Iranians needed to retaliate militarily because if they didn’t, the balance of power in Washington would shift towards those who argue that attacking Iran has no cost. So they had to raise the cost to avoid a war.” 

In a public address to the American people on Wednesday morning, Mr Trump explained that there have been no casualties from the attack and he is going to respond to Iran with more sanctions and not further military action.

After a long night of fearing an imminent war breaking out between the two countries, many in Iran, Iraq, and across the region will breathe a sigh of relief. But the proxy war between the world’s superpower and the region’s power has not ended. And conflict may ensue again soon unless a major shift happens in the long-term policy. 

“The fundamentals of the trajectory of the conflict between the US and Iran have not changed,” said Joel Rubin, former deputy assistant Secretary of State in the Obama administration, adding that: “We are still on a tinderbox and the Trump administration’s goals are neither clear nor is there a plan for how to achieve them beyond the current maximum pressure campaign.

“We need a different path to avoid having this repetitive conversation about whether or not we are going to war. Because right now that’s the path we continue to be on. One has to question the real objectives of President Trump’s policy because if it’s about reining in Iran’s regional behaviour and nuclear ambition, it is not achieving those results,” Mr Rubin told The Independent.

Donald Trump says US continues to look at its options and will impose ‘powerful’ economic sanctions on Iran

In his statement, Donald Trump called on other parties of the Iran nuclear deal – UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China – to break away and get on board with him trying to negotiate a new deal with Iran. But right now there doesn’t seem to be any chance for serious diplomacy between Tehran and Washington, unless a breakthrough happens after the dust settles. 

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