Austria to stop offering driving tests in Turkish

Starting next year, new drivers in Austria will no longer be able to take their exam in Turkish, according to Transport Minister Norbert Hofer. The far-right politician claims the move is motivated by financial reasons.

As Austria prepares a new version of its driving exam, Transport Minister Norbert Hofer announced on Saturday the test would be available in German, English, Slovenian and Croatian – but not Turkish.

Under current regulations, driving students in Austria can sign up for a Turkish-language driving school and eventually take their test in the same language. Out of nearly 300,000 tests taken last year, only 3,631, or around 1.2 percent, were taken in Turkish.

On Thursday, Hofer, who belongs to the far-right FPÖ party, said it was not "sensible" to pay for translating the upcoming tests into more languages than necessary.

"Each additional language for training costs the state a five-figure sum that isn't justifiable," Hofer said.

Speaking to Austria's public radio Ö1, Hofer also said that the measure would serve as "an incentive to learn German."

Austrian driving associations, however, appeared less than thrilled by the move. According to the daily Kurier, the ÖAMTC club commented that a "driving exam is not a tool for language integration," while its rivals from ARBÖ said the decision was "very political." 

Slovenian and Croatian protected by a treaty

Out of 8.8 million people living in Austria, some 360,000 are of Turkish origin, including around 117,000 Turkish citizens. While the overwhelming majority of Austrian residents take the test in German, Turkish is still the second-most popular language among the applicants, ahead of English (2,301 in 2017), Croatian (2,112) and Slovenian (139).

Read more: Austria shifts further to the right with hard-line asylum policy

Now live
26:00 mins.
Quadriga | 20.10.2017

Right-wing rise in Austria: Threat for Europe?

The Austrian government is obligated to keep Croatian and Slovenian on offer due to a post-WWII treaty, the Austrian State Treaty, which, among other things, defines the rights of the two minorities and the official use of their language in certain regions of the country.

The use of Turkish for the driving exams, however, "was merely a concession" by the government in 1998, the Transport Ministry said on Thursday.

Related Subjects

The new driving textbooks and questions are set to be completed by fall 2018 and go into use in 2019, according to the Kleine Zeitung daily.

Hofer says move would cut discrimination

Austria's FPÖ is the third-largest party in the country and a junior partner in the government led by conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. The far-right party ran on an anti-immigration platform in 2017 to win 26 percent of the vote, less than 1 percent behind the second-largest party, the left-leaning SPÖ.

Read more: Austria to dissolve neo-Nazi fraternity after songbook scandal

Speaking to the mass-circulation Kronen Zeitung daily on Thursday, Hofer said that ditching Turkish would in fact reduce the level of discrimination.

"The current offering of exams in Turkish also discriminates against other ethnic minorities, who would like to have the tests translated into Chinese, Arabic or Albanian," he said.

'ProBorders': Austria stages border protection exercises

Austria's answer to migration

During the 2015 migration crisis, Austria took in more than 1 percent of its population in asylum seekers. Since then, a right-wing government has come to power, vowing to never allow a repeat of such irregular migration. Vienna's "ProBorders" military and police exercises at the border aimed to increase authorities' preparedness for a similar wave of migration.

'ProBorders': Austria stages border protection exercises

'Provocative' action

For the exercises, Austrian authorities deployed armored vehicles and two Black Hawk combat helicopters, although the training did not include violence on the part of migrants or arrests. Despite the show of force at the Austrian-Slovenian border, Slovenia's prime minister said the exercises weren't needed, and even called them "a little provocative."

'ProBorders': Austria stages border protection exercises

From elite troops to cadets

Hundreds of soldiers and police officers were involved in the exercises, including Austria's new elite border protection force called the "Puma" police unit. Police cadets played the part of the migrants attempting to cross the border. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the Austrian government "will do everything necessary to protect our borders."

'ProBorders': Austria stages border protection exercises

Sending a message

Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl and Defense Minister Mario Kunasek, both of the far-right Freedom Party, attended the exercises. "A state that in the worst case cannot protect its borders loses its credibility," Kickl told reporters. "I am determined that events like those of 2015 must not occur again. And that is exactly the message we want to send from here."

'ProBorders': Austria stages border protection exercises

Hard borders on the horizon?

The exercises came days after German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer threatened to take drastic measures if Chancellor Angela Merkel didn't find a EU-wide solution to irregular migration. Seehofer has proposed intercepting asylum seekers at the German border, a move that would likely prompt major restrictions on freedom of movement in the visa-free Schengen zone.

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.