VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen will insist that the coalition government formed after next month’s parliamentary election should be pro-European, he said on Tuesday, but he stopped short of saying that ruled out the far-right.
Van der Bellen, a former Greens leader, ran on a pro-European Union platform and beat an opponent from the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) in last year’s presidential election.
As head of state, he is mainly a figurehead but he does have the power to appoint and dismiss governments.
The eurosceptic FPO initially cheered Britain’s vote last year to leave the European Union but has since watered down its criticism of the bloc as polls have shown that a clear majority of Austrians want their country to remain a member.
“I will ensure after the election that the new government, whatever its composition, does not lose sight of one thing: Austria should also in the future be a country at the heart of Europe, at the heart of the European Union,” Van der Bellen said in a speech to the nation ahead of the Oct. 15 vote.
Van der Bellen has said he would aim to prevent FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache from becoming chancellor if the anti-immigration party won the election.
That outcome appears increasingly unlikely as polls show the conservative People’s Party (OVP) led by Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz has a significant lead, with Chancellor Christian Kern’s Social Democrats (SPO) or the FPO in second place.
The SPO and OVP have dominated post-war politics and are in coalition together, but tensions between them have grown, making it more likely the election winner will turn to the FPO to obtain a parliamentary majority and form a government.
In his address, Van der Bellen called on Austrians to inform themselves on political parties and their policies and to shun short-term thinking. He also said parties should avoid clashing so fiercely that they could not hold talks after the election.
When asked after his speech if he would prevent the FPO from entering government, he did not give a direct answer.
“I have always said clearly, and I stand by it and I think I have also made clear today, that I place the greatest importance on Austria having a pro-European government,” he said.
Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Janet Lawrence