VIENNA A new political party founded by an Austrian billionaire gained its first seats in parliament on Thursday after five right-wing lawmakers defected to his Eurosceptic group.
The move gives Frank Stronach, founder of one of the world's biggest car parts makers, a platform for his anti-euro views ahead of elections next year, where he could become a kingmaker in deciding the shape of a future government coalition.
Underlining the extent of his political ambition, the 80-year-old stepped down from the board of Canada-based Magna, saying: "I do not want my political views to be confused with my role" on the board.
Although it has never contested an election, his Team Stronach party was officially granted parliamentary group status by Speaker Barbara Prammer after five members of a small right-wing opposition party jumped ship to join it.
By becoming the sixth party represented in the legislature, Team Stronach gains access to public funding as well as seats on policy-making committees.
Stronach burst onto Austria's political scene this year with a call to abandon the euro and return to the Austrian schilling, tapping growing fatigue in wealthy countries for bailing out weaker euro zone states like Greece, Portugal and Ireland.
Stronach, who emigrated to Canada after World War, presents himself as an honest man of the people to a public tired of corrupt politicians and hungry for change.
Opinion polls show Team Stronach commanding about 10 percent of public support, well behind the ruling Social Democrats and conservative People's Party, but enough to give him a possible role in coalition talks after the election in autumn 2013.
(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl and Angelika Gruber)