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Eyeing an election, Austria's far-right Freedom Party commits to EU
April 25, 2017 / 4:31 PM / 5 months ago

Eyeing an election, Austria's far-right Freedom Party commits to EU

Austria's far right Freedom Party (FPOe) former presidential candidate Norbert Hofer addresses the media in Vienna, Austria, December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader/Files

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s far-right Freedom Party made a clear commitment on Tuesday to the European Union and the euro currency, moving further away from past calls to quit the bloc as speculation about early parliamentary elections grows.

“We need a real, subsidiary union,” Norbert Hofer, the party’s defeated presidential candidate last year, told a news conference in Vienna.

Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache said at the same event that he wanted to keep the euro but did not favour deeper union, adding: “Europe and the European Union need to be rethought ... we do not want a centralised European federal state.”

Strache also congratulated French far-right leader Marine Le Pen Le Pen for an “excellent, historic success” in the first round of France’s presidential election on Sunday.

Le Pen’s calls for France to quit the euro and the EU helped her into the May 7 run-off although she is expected to be easily beaten by centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.

Increasing tensions between Austria’s ruling Social Democrats and their Peoples’ Party junior coalition partner have raised speculation that parliamentary elections scheduled for October 2018 could be held as soon as November.

If the anti-immigrant FPO, which has been topping opinion polls for more than a year, can translate that lead into seats, it is likely to be part of a new government, and party leader Strache even has hopes of becoming chancellor.

But the long-time EU-critic, who called for Austria to consider leaving the bloc in 2005, will need the votes of Europe-friendly centrists to take power.

Austria has historically been closely committed to the EU, which it joined in 1994 after two-thirds of voters backed membership in a referendum. A SORA survey after Britain’s Brexit vote last June found 70 percent of Austrians wanted to stay in the bloc.

The FPO’s Hofer called last summer for an Austrian exit referendum but backed off from the idea during his campaign for the presidential run-off.

Strache said that while he did not want to leave the euro, policies needed to be rethought to make the single currency work for all members.

“We do not want to abolish the euro today or tomorrow, but we want an honest, critical discussion at last,” Strache said.

Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Catherine Evans

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