VIENNA Dec 4 Austrian conservative leader Michael Spindelegger asked President Heinz Fischer on Wednesday to help ease coalition talks with Social Democrats (SPO) that show little sign of a breathrough more than two months after September elections.
The centre-right People's Party (OVP) has been pushing their centre-left SPO partners to embrace ambitious measures to shore up the euro zone country's finances and pension system after both parties stumbled to historic lows in the vote.
But the SPO has shown little appetite for belt-tightening that would arouse opposition in a country accustomed to high social spending.
Spindelegger told reporters after a meeting on Wednesday that both the parties that have dominated post-war politics needed to show flexibility to close what he called a 13 billion euro ($18 billion) structural budget deficit.
He dismissed speculation he could end the talks and try to form a centre-right government instead.
"I am not thinking of alternatives, rather of how we can... finalise the talks with the SPO, but only when something moves. At the moment we are far apart," he said.
Fischer did not comment on the meeting with Spindelegger, but SPO negotiator Doris Bures said it was time for the OVP to commit itself to forming a fresh coalition with the SPO, with which it has governed since 2006.
"I urge the OVP to say, yes we take on responsibility for the next five years, we set measures to have a stable budget but we knock off these games and these blackmail attempts," she told broadcaster ORF.
Both parties agree Austria needs to shake up its underperforming education system and reduce its bloated bureaucracy, she said; but she accused the OVP of trying to slash the social safety net under the guise of reform.
Analysts still expect a deal to emerge eventually but the political logjam has left major policy decisions in limbo, such as what to do with ailing nationalised lender Hypo Alpe Adria and how to craft the 2014 budget. ($1 = 0.7360 euros) (Reporting by Michael Shields; editing by Ralph Boulton)