Austrian chancellor rows back on talk of government collapse


 Reuters International

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern attend a EU Summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Yves Herman

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VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria's Social Democrat Chancellor Christian Kern rowed back on talk of the coalition government with his Conservative junior partners possibly collapsing, saying that all parties were trying to hammer out a policy action programme by Friday.

Earlier this week, Kern said he was losing patience with his conservative partners and set an ultimatum for the coalition to agree by Friday on policy goals - ranging from cutting unemployment, equality for women and education reforms - for the remaining one-and-a-half years of its term. Otherwise, he warned, there was "no need" for this coalition.

Spats within the centrist bloc are common and neither party appears to have an interest to precipitate an early parliamentary election, which is not due until 2018, since polls suggest the anti-immigrant Freedom Party (FPO) could win.

"There won't be snap elections. Now there is intensive dialogue and a process of negotiations," Kern told ORF radio as talks paused after midnight. "At the end, this must result in a project for this federal government which can change Austria."

Polls regularly show the FPO in first place with support of roughly a third, followed by Kern's Social Democrats on around 27 percent and the OVP on about 19 percent.

The FPO candidate put in a record performance in last year's presidential election, gaining almost half of the ballots in a vote which could have made him the first freely elected far-right head of state in Europe since World War Two.

The FPO has been gaining support for years, helped by fears about economic insecurity and immigration in a country that was caught in Europe's migration crisis in 2015. Frustration has also grown with two centrist parties, which have dominated Austrian politics for decades and which many now see as ineffective.

(Reporting By Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Reuters

 Reuters International