Austria's vice chancellor and leader of the conservative People's Party said Monday that he will recommend an early election, indicating that the days of the country's "grand coalition" government are over.
Wilhelm Molterer, who also is Austria's finance minister, said at a hastily called news conference that he would make the suggestion to senior party officials at a meeting Tuesday.
Austria has a so-called grand coalition government between the People's Party and the Social Democrats. Both have been bickering on and off since their union began in early 2007 following October 2006 elections that gave the Social Democrats a slight lead.
Speculation about new elections has circulated for some time.
An overarching point of contention is an apparent EU policy reversal by the Social Democratic leadership.
In an open letter published late last month by the tabloid Kronen Zeitung, Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and party Social Democratic chief Werner Faymann said they would seek referenda on future changes to the EU's reform treaty, as well as Turkey's possible accession to the 27-nation bloc.
Austria's parliament ratified the treaty in April.
Gusenbauer, during heated debate before the vote, said ratifying the treaty was an important, necessary and right step for both Austria and Europe.
But Gusenbauer, whose popularity has plummeted amid dissatisfaction from members of his own party, justified his change of heart by citing the results of a recent study showing that only 28 percent of Austrians have a positive image of the EU.
The unexpected announcement caused a firestorm of reaction from the People's Party, which was not consulted beforehand. The mass-circulation daily, the most widely read newspaper in Austria, is known to be critical of the EU.
Late Sunday, negotiators from both parties also failed to reach agreement on reform of the country's health care system, further reflecting the deadlock between them.
At Monday's news conference, Molterer justified his comments by saying the Social Democrats were only focused on themselves and lacked leadership and direction. He added that the Social Democrats had left their "common basis."
"Enough!" a resolute Molterer told reporters at the start of the news conference. "Good work in Austria's federal government ... is no longer possible. I therefore recommend immediate, prompt new elections," he said in televised remarks.
"I cannot watch and am not allowed to let the crisis of the SPOe (the Social Democrats) become a crisis for Austria," Molterer added later.
The next steps were still unclear. A motion in Parliament is possible in the next few days calling for an early election. It was not immediately clear who would make the motion; the Austria Press Agency reported that Molterer wants the coalition partners to jointly do so.
APA quoted Erwin Buchinger, the country's social affairs minister and a Social Democrat, as saying he could not imagine that his party would support a motion for new elections.