Sunday

26th Mar 2017

Austria's presidential rivals clash over EU and migration

  • FPOe's Hofer could become the EU's first postwar far-right head of state (Photo: Hofer's campaign)

Austria's presidential candidates have clashed in a TV debate over US president-elect Donald Trump, immigration and the future of the EU before voters head to the polls on Sunday (4 December).

Alexander Van der Bellen, backed by the Greens, and far-right contender Norbert Hofer for the Freedom Party (FPOe) echoed the faultlines where mainstream politics and populism have clashed in Western democracies recently.

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Van der Bellen accused Hofer of creating insecurity by threatening to pull Austria out of the EU. "The FPOe has always been an EU exit party," he said.

Hofer had earlier pledged to call for a referendum on EU membership if Turkey joined the union or if Brussels tried to centralise power.

"The most important thing is the solidarity between member states, otherwise we won't be able to assert ourselves in the face of Russia or the United States," 72-year-old Van der Bellen said during the live debate broadcast on private channel ATV.

Hofer, 45, dismissed such claims, saying: "There won't be an Oexit."

Hofer attacked Van der Bellen for criticising the US election victory of Donald Trump.

Van der Bellen said many in Europe felt "anxious" about the US president-elect who has been accused of sexism and racism.

Van der Bellen also warned that the election of Donald Trump in the US showed there was justified anger, which made voters feel abandoned and forgotten.

Hofer retorted by saying that in Austria a lot of people feel abandoned.

On immigration, Van der Bellen appealed for fast integration of recognised asylum seekers in Austria, kickstarting German courses and helping to find jobs.

Hofer blamed German chancellor Angela Merkel for the EU's failed migration policy. He also doubted Turkey will hold itself to the migration deal with the EU for much longer.

Historic vote

The two candidates have already made history, since it would be the first time Austria's president does not come from the Social Democratic and Austrian People’s Party, which have dominated the political scene since World War II.

Hofer could also become Europe's first postwar far-right head of state after 4 December.

Austrian voters need to head to the ballot boxes again after Hofer challenged the result of the May election which he narrowly lost to Van der Bellen.

Hofer said however he would not contest the outcome this time.

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