Austrian leader rows back on EU labour restrictions
Austria's chancellor Christian Kern appears to have retreated on a previous pledge to prioritise local hires over EU nationals.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Monday (13 February), the social democrat denied any efforts were being made to let local employers hire Austrians before other EU citizens.
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"I think the important thing for me is that we have nobody in Austria who is calling for preferential treatment for local inhabitants or Austrian nationals," said Kern.
In January, while speaking in the Austrian town of Wels, a far-right stronghold, he accused eastern European countries of exporting their unemployed and said restrictions need to be imposed.
"Only if there is no suitable unemployed person in the country can [a job] be given to new arrivals without restriction," he had said.
Wels is a city dominated by the far-right Freedom Party. Kern's remark's last month in the city was widely seen as a bid to woo far-right voters ahead of elections.
But on Monday, Kern refuted the plans while addressing reporters in a joint press conference alongside European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Austrian president Alexandre Van der Bellen.
"The problem is not so much that people from other European countries are working in Austria but rather they doing that in potentially unfair conditions," he said.
Kern did not elaborate on what such unfair conditions entail but noted than a fifth of Austria's unemployed were foreigners.
"It is a question of finding jobs for everybody," he said.
Austria's president Van der Bellen said the issue was "very very complex".
Juncker said the three had spoken about it at length during their meeting.
He said the EU commission is working with the Austrian government to put an end to social dumping where workers sent from another EU state earn less than their local counterparts.
"That is not what the internal market is for," said Juncker.