VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s vice chancellor and leader of the Conservative Party threatened to quit the coalition government on Wednesday if his Social Democrat partners do not toughen their policies on migrants and shrink the welfare state.
Reinhold Mitterlehner’s conservative Austrian People’s Party (OVP) suffered an election blow on Sunday, losing votes in provincial elections to the far-right, anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPO).
On the national level, the FPO has scored around 30 percent in recent opinion polls, overtaking both the Social Democrats and Conservatives who have traditionally ruled Austria in coalitions since World War Two.
“I say it honestly: I am not prepared to be a passive traveller on a fateful path after the election in (the province of) Upper Austria,” Mitterlehner, who is also Economy Minister, told newspaper Oberoesterreichische Nachrichten.
Mitterlehner said the government needed to shrink the state and be firm in its selection of migrants who received protection in order to win back votes.
“We will sharpen these points... If we don’t clearly prove in the near future, I mean in the coming months, that we want to, and can, govern, then there is no sense in muddling through in the long term,” he was quoted as saying in the interview posted on the newspaper’s website.
“I am not available for such a thing.”
Austria, wedged between Hungary and Germany, has been a centre of the migration crisis unfolding across Europe as tens of thousands of people, many of them fleeing war and poverty in countries like Syria, try to reach northern Europe.
In September alone about 170,000 migrants, most dropped at the Hungarian-Austrian border by Hungarian authorities, arrived in Austria, a nation of 8.5 million, according to Chancellor Werner Faymann.
FPO national leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who is running to become Vienna’s mayor next month, wants to give preferential treatment to Christian migrants over Muslims to protect what he calls Austria’s western character.
The OVP holds 51 seats in Austria’s 183-seat parliament, or National Council, one less than the Social Democrats (SPO). The next national election is scheduled for 2018.
Reporting By Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Janet Lawrence