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Austria to propose plans for businesses to hire local workers ahead of other EU citizens

Center-left Chancellor Christian Kern has accused eastern European countries of "exporting joblessness." Austria's Social Democrats have launched an apparent bid to win back voters from the far-right Freedom Party.

As he presented his 10-year economic plan, Austria's Social Democrat (SPÖ) Chancellor, Christian Kern, on Wednesday outlined drastic proposals seeking to raise employment and win back support from the resurgent far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ).

The most eye-catching of Kern's proposals were his calls for the EU to allow Austrian employers to give priority to local candidates before other EU citizens.

"That means - only if there is no suitable unemployed person in the country can (a job) be given to new arrivals without restriction," Kern's plan read. The proposal singles out migrants from eastern Europe, countries he accused of "exporting their joblessness to Austria."

Kern's plan also outlined proposals on a number of popular FPÖ themes, such as immigration and asylum seekers, whose intake he wants to see reduced from 35,000 per year to 17,000, and clamping down multinational firms booking profits in other countries with lower tax bases.

Core SPÖ themes were also under the spotlight, including increased healthcare funding and the minimum wage, which he hopes to raise to 1,500 euros ($15,900) per month.

Battling a surging FPO

Kern presented his 146-page plan in Wels, the largest town in Austria with an FPÖ mayor and once an SPÖ stronghold. Many new far-right voters were once Social Democrat supporters who became frustrated with the consistent bickering that has characterized SPÖ's current coalition with the center-right People's Party.

The two central parties were knocked out in the first round of last year's presidential election, while the FPÖ have gone on to lead in the polls with more than 30 percent, having also made political hay of Europe's migration crisis. 

Some 115,000 migrants arrived in the Alpine nation of 8.7 million people since the beginning of 2015, triggering a public backlash and harsher asylum policies.

"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," Kern said. "From today we will change course."

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for next year.

dm/es (Reuters, dpa)

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