VIENNA The leader of Austria's Jewish community called on a right-wing politician to drop his campaign for re-election to the European Parliament after he was quoted as likening the European Union to the Third Reich in Nazi Germany.
Andreas Moelzer, co-lead candidate for Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) in the May EU election, made headlines when a German paper quoted him as calling the EU a dictatorship that made the Third Reich look "informal and liberal" by comparison.
The Third Reich "certainly did not have as many rules and regulations, commandments and bans", the Sueddeutsche Zeitung's magazine quoted him as telling a gathering in Vienna last month.
Jewish leader Oskar Deutsch said on Monday Moelzer's refusal to distance himself from the comment showed he was apparently unable to come to grips with the fact that proponents of extreme-right thought shared responsibility for Nazi crimes.
"Such people may not represent Austria in Europe, so Moelzer should draw the consequences and withdraw his candidacy," Deutsch said in a statement.
Moelzer did not immediately respond to an email and a message left on his mobile phone seeking comment.
In a statement, he dismissed suggestions that his comments sought in any way to play down Nazi crimes or the criminal nature of the Hitler regime, which he condemned. He said political rivals were trying to trump up allegations.
Adolf Hitler's Germany annexed Austria in 1938 and wiped out its once-vibrant Jewish community in the Holocaust genocide of six million Jews.
Austrian opinion polls show the FPO - which denies accusations that it harbors anti-Semitic sentiment or that it tolerates neo-Nazi supporters - running neck and neck with the two centrist governing parties ahead of the May EU voting, in which the eurosceptic far right is expected to make gains.
Former FPO leader Joerg Haider, who died in a 2008 car crash, reproached Austria's government in the 1990s by citing the "proper labor policies" of the Third Reich.
Haider denied harboring Nazi tendencies and later expressed some regret for comments that appeared to put the Third Reich in a more favorable light.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Mark Heinrich)