Austrian Chancellor compared to Donald Trump after pledging to 'make Austria strong again'

Christian Kern says he will demand permission to give Austrians job priority over European citizens

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The Independent Online

The Chancellor of Austria has been compared to Donald Trump after pledging to make his country "strong again".

In a speech aiming to claw back votes from the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), Christian Kern said his government would ask the EU to allow Austrians to be given priority for jobs over European citizens.

He pledged that his centrist government would be “changing course” with a 10-year plan covering issues including immigration and the economy.

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German-language newspapers accused him of “mimicking” Donald Trump after he used the slogan: “Let’s make our country strong again.”

Mr Kern said he would push for measures to restrict practices under which companies can send eastern European workers to Austria without paying full taxes.

“We have a situation where these eastern European countries are exporting their joblessness to Austria,” he added.

"I thought to myself - is this Kern or Trump speaking about Mexico?" one commentator wrote.

His plan, which stretches beyond when the coalition's term expires in autumn 2018, includes a push within the EU for candidates in Austria to be given priority for jobs in sectors that are particularly under pressure.

The far-right FPÖ, whose candidate achieved a record score in last year’s presidential election, is leading opinion polls with support of roughly a third of Austrians, capitalising on concern over immigration and rising unemployment.

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A protest against FPO presidential candidate Norbert Hofer (Getty)

Many of its new voters are former supporters of Mr Kern's Social Democrats (SPÖ) who have been left frustrated by the coalition with the conservative People's Party, an alliance marked by frequent bickering that is widely seen as ineffective.

The Chancellor dismissed speculation that the fragile alliance could collapse, forcing a snap parliamentary election.

“Those who no longer believe in us, those who are disappointed by us, those who are perhaps angry, I hear your message and I understand your disappointment,” he said. “From today we will change course.”

Mr Kern was speaking to hundreds of supporters in Wels, the biggest city in Austria run by an FPÖ mayor and a former SPÖ stronghold.

His 146-page plan covered a range of issues including healthcare, raising the minimum wage and punitive taxes for companies who register profits outside of Austria.

It also called for “200,000 extra jobs” alongside greater public investment and measures to help start-ups.

The nationalist FPÖ, whose representatives have met Mr Trump's team, runs under the slogan “Austria First”. It opposes immigration, the EU, same-sex marriage, Islam and any perceived threat to Austria’s “cultural identity”.

Its populist agenda has drawn surging support since the start of the refugee crisis, which has seen hundreds of thousands of migrants pass through Austria.

The head of the governing coalition’s junior party has called for further limits on the number of people allowed to apply for asylum in the country, after a cap was imposed in January 2016.

Reinhold Mitterlehner, the head of the conservative People's Party, said he wanted to halve the existing limit of 35,000 asylum applications in a year to around 17,000.

He claimed the move was necessary to fight sexual assaults and criminality, drawing criticism from left-wing politicians and human rights groups.

Under current rules, if the asylum cap is reached an emergency decree enters into force allowing authorities to turn away refugees at the Austrian border.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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