August 3, 2017 / 6:26 PM / 2 years ago

Austrian centre-left goes on offensive to erode conservatives' poll lead

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s ruling Social Democrats (SPO) on Thursday attacked their conservative coalition partners, accusing them of fixating on immigration and adopting gimmicks to win votes ahead of an October election.

Austria's Chancellor and head of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPOe) Christian Kern delivers a speech during a party assembly in Vienna, Austria, August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Chancellor Christian Kern’s party is second or third in the polls, trailing the conservative People’s Party (OVP) which jumped into first place after picking a young new leader and forcing the snap parliamentary election, which will be held on Oct. 15.

“They want to talk about refugees all day long. Not about how we will create jobs, affordable apartments, secure pensions or the best education for our children,” Kern told a meeting of the party to approve its list of election candidates.

Under 30-year-old Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz who was picked to lead the OVP in May, the party overtook the hard-right Freedom Party in the polls. Kurz has provided few details policies but has made a hard line on immigration his hallmark.

Kern mocked Kurz for rebranding the party list as a “movement” that will include people from outside the party, a move seen as mimicking French President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign.

“We don’t have to take out newspaper advertisements to convince people we’re new. We are not new. On the contrary, our idea has a proud history. Our idea has existed for a very long time: the idea that all people are equal and have the right to a good life,” Kern said.

“And if that’s the case, we don’t need to invent anything. No new colour and no pop-star casting for the party list.”

Launching its election programme, the SPO said it would prioritise growth and employment, reiterating many policies it set out in a list of proposals in January.

The programme includes measures aimed at shutting out workers from eastern Europe where wages are lower, such as a plan to favour local workers in particular sectors, which would test the limits of the European Union’s principle of free movement.

It also includes a section on protecting strategically important companies from foreign buyers, citing the risk of a “technology drain” to China in particular.

“We demand that there be no further sales of strategically important Austrian companies to owners from third countries,” it said.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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