Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz plans to hold coalition talks with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), he said on Tuesday, a step towards bringing the anti-immigration party back into government after more than a decade in opposition.
Having won last week’s parliamentary election with 31.5 percent of the vote, Kurz’s party is well short of a majority and needs a partner to gain control of parliament and form a stable government. Only two parties have enough seats to do that with – the Social Democrats (SPO) and the FPO.
“I have therefore decided to invite (FPO leader) Heinz-Christian Strache and the FPO today to take part in coalition talks,” Kurz told a news conference at the headquarters of his People’s Party (OVP), adding that a minority government was a “good Plan B” if those talks failed.
Some European leaders have expressed concern about the possible return to power of the FPO, which was founded in the 1950s by ex-Nazis. The party has steadily increased its mainstream appeal in recent years, expelling members for anti-Semitic statements and even dropping calls for Austria to leave the European Union.
Kurz, who took a hard line on immigration during the campaign that overlapped heavily with the FPO’s, has sought to allay such concerns and repeated that any government must have a “clear pro-European orientation.”
Kurz called an end to the current coalition with the SPO when he took over as OVP leader in May, forcing last week’s election and heightening tensions with the SPO, whose leader said on Monday he might back a minority government led by Kurz but a coalition was off the cards.