Far right wants Austria to join group of anti-immigrant states

Head of the Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache, presenter Claudia Reiterer and head of the Social Democrats (SPOe) Chancellor Christian Kern (L-R) prepare for a TV discussion in Vienna, Austria, October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

VIENNA: The far-right Freedom Party (FPO) — set to become kingmaker after elections on October 15 — wants Austria to join the Visegrad Group of central and east European states opposed to immigration.

Eurosceptic leaders in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia have refused migrant quotas approved by a western-dominated majority of European Union (EU) member states. They also reject proposed EU reforms that would transfer more power from national governments to Brussels institutions.

The FPO — likely to be a part of Austria’s next ruling coalition — also wants a more decentralized EU.

“We will… strengthen contact with the Visegrad states and it would be nice and good if we could maybe even become a member of the Visegrad Group,” FPO chief Heinz-Christian Strache said in an election debate with Social Democrat Chancellor Christian Kern focusing on curbing migrant flows and Brussels’ powers.

The Freedom Party and centre-left Social Democrats are fighting for second place in Sunday’s election with both commanding about 25 percent of the vote in the latest polls.

The Freedom Party appears ticketed for a place in the next coalition given that the conservative People’s Party’s rating of around 33 percent is unlikely to improve enough for an absolute majority, and bitter disputes between the two centrist parties.

Conservative leader Sebastian Kurz has, like Strache, praised far-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for building a border fence to keep migrants out of EU territory.

To avoid losing votes, Austria’s mainstream conservatives have drifted recently towards the FPO’s anti-immigration positions and joined calls to shrink and refocus the EU’s powers.

Jean-Claude Juncker — the head of the European Commission — has invited Visegrad Group leaders to a meeting on October 18 to try to ease tensions between them and wealthier western Europe.