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Austria will stay pro-European, election victor tells Brussels

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

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.

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