October 19, 2017 / 12:56 PM / 9 months ago

Austria will stay pro-European, election victor tells Brussels

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Austria’s likely next chancellor assured European Union leaders on Thursday of his support for the EU, allaying concerns that his country would become a dissonant voice in the bloc with the far right expected to enter its government.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz (L) meets with European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels, Belgium October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Olivier Hoslet/Pool

Sebastian Kurz of the mainstream conservative OVP party won a parliamentary election on Sunday after campaigning on an anti-immigration platform, and a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) is widely anticipated.

Arriving at a meeting of conservative EU leaders, the 31-year-old Kurz said he would speak to all parties in the Austrian parliament before deciding on a governing partner.

“Any government I form will be a pro-European one,” Kurz, who has been the Alpine republic’s foreign minister since 2013, told reporters.

“I’m not just glad we have this European Union, but I also see it as the responsibility of my younger generation to actively engage and shape the EU in a positive way.”

Kurz, who will not represent Austria at regular EU summits until he forms a government, also met European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, hailed Kurz on Twitter as a “truly pro-European winner of the Austrian elections”.

Austria became a member of the European Union in 1995 after a two-thirds majority voted to join the bloc. Recent opinion polls show three-quarters of Austrians want the affluent country to remain a member of the EU.

The FPO, which won over a quarter of Austria’s vote to the conservatives’ nearly 32 percent, gained from public unease over a large influx of mostly Muslim migrants into Europe in 2015. Once anti-EU, the FPO now professes to be pro-Europe but wants Brussels to hand back more powers to member states.

Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Robin Emmott; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Mark Heinrich

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