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Strache plans stronger right-wing alliances

Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) chief Heinz-Christian Strache discussed immigration issues with high-ranking representatives of Italy’s rightists.

The Eurosceptic joined members of the European Parliament (MEPs) of the far-right Lega Nord party and former Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni to speak about asylum issues and Islamism in a platform discussion in Milan on Monday.

Strache said yesterday (Tues) he intended to strengthen his party’s ties with right-wing movements in Italy. The politician, who has headed the FPÖ since 2005, engaged in creating alliances among right-wingers across Europe in recent years. The FPÖ organised several summits attended by political representatives of right-wing circles in Denmark, the Netherlands and other countries. Strache was harshly criticised and accused of trying to create conflicts when he headed a delegation of European politicians meeting with nationalist Israelis last year.

The FPÖ is given good chances to overtake the People’s Party (ÖVP) for second place in the next election. The coalition factions of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the ÖVP are trying to avoid a collapse of their cooperation despite stark differences in opinion regarding the future of the Austrian army and the country’s school and education system. The parties are aware of surveys that the FPÖ might even come first if elections were to take place earlier than planned.

The next federal ballot is scheduled for 2013. The FPÖ is currently seen neck and neck with the SPÖ – which won the ballot of 2010 – by pollsters while the ÖVP tries to sharpen its profile. The Greens struggle to benefit from the corruption scandals members of their political rivals are entangled in. The left-wing party also failed to become more popular following Europe’s farewell to nuclear energy. The Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) is currently unable to compete with the FPÖ neither. The right-wing party headed by ex-FPÖ member Josef Bucher could experience difficulties getting over the four per cent hurdle into parliament in the next vote, according to analysts.

The FPÖ formed a coalition with the ÖVP for five years until 2005 when the BZÖ was founded. Strache focused on a strict anti-European Union (EU) course recently as an increasing number of Austrians allegedly disagree with the government’s decision to fully engage in supporting debt-stricken Portugal and Greece. The FPÖ caused a stir last year by running a poster campaign showing a tanned man lying in a hammock. The party said on the poster that money earned in Austria must be spent on Austrians only. The Styrian FPÖ’s campaign poster was just the latest series of initiatives which confronted the FPÖ with accusations of being a xenophobic movement.

The ÖVP decided to hold talks about a possible debt limit accord with FPÖ leaders despite criticism of its coalition party. However, the SPÖ scaled down its attacks on the ÖVP regarding the occurrences in the past few days – a development which made commentators speculate that the party had nothing against the negotiations.

SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann is reportedly glad that ÖVP boss Michael Spindelegger and the conservative party’s whip, Karlheinz Kopf, decided to check the chances for green light from the FPÖ for the government’s debt brake plans. The ÖVP leaders’ decision saved Faymann from party-internal feuds with left-wing backbenchers about whether the FPÖ should be approached to debate important political issues like a constitutional debt limit.

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