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25th Feb 2024

Austria's far-right candidate softens EU views

  • Hofer: "I am not for an EU exit" (Photo: Hofer's campaign)

The far-right candidate for president in Austria has said he does not want an EU membership referendum and has no plans to exit the euro or Schengen areas.

In an interview to Die Presse newspaper on Tuesday (17 May), Norbert Hofer tried to express moderate views on the EU and focused on migration.

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Hofer came top in the first round of the presidential election on 24 April, with 36 percent, and is the favourite to win the run-off on Sunday (22 May).

According to the latest polls, voting intentions for Hofer are between 49 and 57 percent, with 43-51 percent for his opponent, Green candidate Alexander Van der Bellen.

"Austria pronounced itself for [EU] accession. We have adapted our whole system to the EU. Therefore I am not for an EU exit,"Hofer told Die Presse.

Asked whether he shared the view of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen that the EU must be "destroyed", Hofer said he "didn't stand for that position".

He said that he was against Austria's EU membership in 1995 because he wanted the country to "maintain its freedom". But now he had taken note of “the democratic result” and saw "no necessity" for an EU membership referendum.

But Hofer said such a referendum would be "a last recourse" if the EU developed into a centralised state.

He said he wanted a "subsidiary Europe" where more decisions could be taken at national or local level.

"Should agricultural policy and aid be regulated at a European level? I think member states can do better," he said.

Migration limits

He did not say whether he supported the euro or not, but said that he would not support a unilateral Austrian exit from the single currency.

"A euro exit cannot work if Austria is alone in doing it. If there is a problem with the euro, we could go only in unison with Germany," he said.

A strong critic of EU refugee policies, Hofer said he did not want to abolish the Schengen free-travel area.

"The model of Schengen with security at the external borders is the optimum. When it doesn't work we have to secure the borders," he said.

At a domestic level, the far-right leader reaffirmed that he wanted to maintain the cap on the number of people allowed to file an asylum request imposed by the government of former social-democrat Werner Faymann. Some 37,500 asylum requests will be accepted by Austrian authorities this year.

"We cannot make it financially," he said, after more than 90,000 people applied for asylum in Austria in 2015.

He said he wanted a "sectoral immigration break" that would also apply to EU citizens.

"If a person can do something for which there is a demand, he can come. If someone has a job that offers him no chance, he cannot come," he said.

Hofer said he doubted that integration could work in Austria and suggested he could organise a referendum to ban minarets in the country.

But when asked whether people with origins outside the German cultural area could be Austrian, he said: “Of course.”

Austria curtails asylum rights

Austria approves a law that will allow it to reject many asylum seekers, including those from war-torn countries, in a move decried by rights groups.

Far right wins first round of Austrian vote

Candidates from Austria's two main parties were eliminated in the first round of the presidential election for the first time in its post-war history.

Analysis

Austria prepares for historic swerve to the right

A victory of the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer at Sunday's presidential election would open the way to a tandem with a far-richt chancellor in a near future, with unforessen consequences for the country's democracy.

Germany speeds up Georgia and Morocco asylum returns

Germany is expanding agreements to return rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin as part of a wider shift in Europe to curtail migration. Berlin has reached deals with Georgia and Morocco since December.

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