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Austrian Social Democrats drop ban on coalitions with far right

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s ruling Social Democrats have dropped a 30-year ban on allying with the far right, saying on Wednesday they would be prepared to enter a coalition with anyone on certain terms.

FILE PHOTO: Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia, June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Mikhail Metzel/TASS/Host Photo Agency/Pool

After a party leadership meeting, Chancellor Christian Kern presented a “values compass” of principles that his Social Democrats (SPO) would require of any future coalition partner.

That effectively swept aside a self-imposed rule against tie-ups with the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPO) before a parliamentary election in October, although differences between the two parties remain stark in several areas.

Opening the door to an alliance with the far right is a rare step for a European centre-left party but it could be the cost of staying in government. The SPO and its coalition partner, the conservative People’s Party (OVP), are at loggerheads and their government is deeply unpopular.

The Oct. 15 election is shaping up to be a three-horse race between those parties. The OVP, less torn over the idea of forming coalitions with the far right, is leading in opinion polls.

“What we want to do today is not to answer the question of whom we want to enter coalition talks with but to say what we want to talk about,” Kern told reporters. “We are not rolling out the red carpet for the Freedom Party.”

Alongside the values compass, which included broad principles such as support for human rights, gender equality and the European Union, Kern outlined separate but more specific points he wanted to be part of any coalition deal, such as raising the minimum wage to 1,500 euros ($1,692) a month.

“Anyone who is prepared to implement this catalogue is a welcome partner,” Kern said, while also outlining differences between his party and the FPO on issues including gender equality, taxation and integration.

“For the FPO to become a possible partner they must move significantly,” he added.

Kern said other parties should decide after the election whether to hold talks. Any deal would then be submitted to SPO members for a vote.

He also hinted at a tactical motivation, saying the SPO had previously only had the OVP as a potential partner and coalition talks were less “successful” than they could have been.

Both the SPO and OVP have been in government with the FPO before. But the SPO’s last national coalition with the far right ended 30 years ago, after the late Joerg Haider, a eurosceptic and anti-immigrant nationalist, took over as FPO leader.

The OVP went into coalition with the FPO in 2000, triggering European sanctions against Austria, and the far-right party is still a prominent feature of Austrian politics. For years, polls have shown a quarter of voters or more support it.

The OVP and SPO are also currently in coalition with the FPO in provincial governments.

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Editing by Jeremy Gaunt