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Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 21:20 GMT
Haider: 'The Blair Factor'
demonstrations
Demonstrations against Mr Haider are being held all over Europe
By European Affairs correspondent William Horsley

Austria's far right figurehead Joerg Haider has written an article claiming that the Freedom Party shares "amazing similarities" with the British New Labour Party, led by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The signed article, published in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, looks like an attempt to end the isolation and bad publicity that has dogged Mr Haider since the Freedom Party was accepted as part of the Austrian Government earlier this month.

Blair
The article has annoyed Prime Minister Tony Blair
Mr Haider claims the "amazing similarities" include the drive for modernising reforms, like encouraging enterprise instead of high welfare spending.

He says his own party is not extreme on questions of asylum and immigration, and claims it is "arguably" less tough on asylum and immigration questions than the British Labour Party.

Earlier this month, Mr Haider had already compared himself with Mr Blair.

'Risible idea'

The article has annoyed the UK Government.

Mr Blair's spokesman rejected Mr Haider's assertion, saying that the idea of genuine similarities is "risible".

The vehemence of this denial is not surprising.

It has become clear that Joerg Haider's past comments in praise of some of Adolf Hitler's policies have made him a political outlaw across the European Union.

But if Mr Haider's party is to survive its current crisis, he needs to show that the governments in Britain and the United States are prepared to do business with the new Austrian coalition. Even if others like Germany and France refuse.

Haider
Joerg Haider has compared himself with Mr Blair before
Mr Haider argues that his party has discarded its old "right-nationalist" ideology, in the same way as Mr Blair's party has set aside its old "dogmatic, leftist" ideas.

This comparison may seem facile and far-fetched.

Appeal

Yet it is important for people across Europe not to be over-emotional in dealing with what Mr Haider represents.

His appeal in Austria is based on his promise of a more dynamic economy and an end to the power of old vested interests, as well as on a more nationalist stance on immigration, and questions related to Austria's Nazi past.

The burden of proof is still on Joerg Haider to show that he is no longer what he says he was - an ideologue of right-wing nationalism.

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03 Oct 99 |  Europe
Profile: Joerg Haider
07 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Haider: I'll borrow ideas from Blair
20 Feb 00 |  Europe
Mass protest against Haider
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