VIENNA (Reuters) - Norbert Hofer, proposed to replace scandal-tainted Heinz-Christian Strache as leader of Austria’s Freedom Party, is the country’s transport minister who nearly became western Europe’s first far-right president in 2016.
- The 48-year-old former aeronautical engineer who flies small planes as a hobby told Reuters in a 2016 interview he saw U.S. President Donald Trump’s electoral victory as proof that he was on the right track with his populist Austria-first election campaign that included calls to stop immigration.
- Like Trump, Hofer sees himself as a nationalist who recognizes the concerns of ordinary people ignored by a political establishment. Until now deputy FPO leader, he is one of Austria’s most popular politicians, better liked than the polarizing Strache.
- Hofer lost a presidential run-off by a mere 31,000 votes against former Greens Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen but got a new chance when the Constitutional Court annulled the result due to counting irregularities, only to lose by a bigger margin.
- Photogenic, well-dressed and softly spoken, Hofer has focused on the refugee crisis, rallying for a ban on what the Freedom Party calls “economic migrants”. He supports the idea of creating what he called “safety areas” outside Europe where asylum requests should be processed.
- Hofer, who voted against Austria’s joining the European Union in a 1994 referendum, has backed off from previous calls for an “Oexit” - an Austrian exit from the EU - after it became clear that Austrians largely do not want to follow Britain in choosing to leave the bloc.
Reporting by Michael Shields, Kirsti Knolle and Francois Murphy; Editing by Alison Williams and Jane Merriman