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Austrian leader plans coalition with far right party

Sebastian Kurz, who won last weekend's general election, has picked a party founded by former Nazi as his preferred partner in government

    Sebastian Kurz, Austria's Foreign Minister and winner of last week's election, at a press conference on Saturday
    Sebastian Kurz, Austria's Foreign Minister and winner of last week's election, at a press conference on Saturday Getty Images

    Austria’s new leader plans to negotiate with the far right Freedom Party (FPÖ) to form a coalition government.

    Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party won the country’s parliamentary elections earlier this month, but without a clear majority. The 31-year-old has already met with other parties but now plans to hold talks with the controversial FPÖ.

    Many believe Mr Kurz’s success owes much to his willingness to emulate the rhetoric and policies of the far right. He has previously pledged to close Islamic kindergartens and his party has overseen a controversial new ban on the burqa.

    The two groups share some of the same key policies, having both campaigned for tougher immigration controls and tax cuts. Together they won support from nearly half the country’s voters.

    Launched in 1956 by former Nazis, the FPÖ took office in the 1990s under Jorg Haider, who praised Hitler's employment policies. Long associated with xenophobia and antisemitism, the party has in recent years attempted to soften its image.

    The only other option facing Mr Kurz is to form a coalition with the Social Democrats, but the last such partnership collapsed earlier this year.

    Mr Kurz, 31, said at a press conference on Tuesday: “Austria deserves a fast and quick formation of a new government.”

    The FPÖ's Heinz-Christian Strache will begin talks to enter a coalition government in Austria
    The FPÖ's Heinz-Christian Strache will begin talks to enter a coalition government in Austria Getty Images

    He added: “The goal is clear, to form a stable government with a solid majority in parliament. If that's not possible, a minority government is definitely an alternative.”

    The FPÖ’s leader Heinz-Christian Strache accepted the invitation, adding that negotiations would begin this week. If successful, the negotiations could see the FPÖ return to government after more than a decade in opposition.

    The president of the Vienna’s Jewish community conceded that the FPÖ will “probably be a part of the coalition” despite protest from his members.

    Speaking after the election, Oskar Deutsch said: “I am the president of a very small community… I don’t think that the state of Austria will listen – or maybe they’ll listen but my influence is not so big.”

    Both Mr Deutsch, whose 7,000-strong community boycotts the FPÖ, and Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the European Conference of Rabbis, called on Israel to shun the party and its officials regardless of whether they enter government.

    Yet despite their vehement opposition, Rabbi Goldschmidt acknowledged that working with officials tied to that party may be unavoidable for the local Jewish community.

    “Any Jewish community has to work with its government,” Rabbi Goldschmidt told the JTA.

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