What the EU Elections Mean in AUSTRIA
Jo Arnold Le Goeuil talks to Fabian Schmidt, Journalist at Der Standard, and Moritz Moser from the Addendum group about the turmoil facing the far right governing parties.
Just a few days ago, Austrian Vice-Chancellor and leader of the far-right FPÖ party, Heinz-Christian Strache resigned amid video leak showing himself and Russian oligarchs offering business deals in exchange for friendly media coverage. Since then, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has announced he is ending its 18-months coalition with the far-right and has called for a snap election.
Times have changed and nearly two decades later, far-right Eurosceptic parties have seized power all over the continent and once more Austria makes no exception
Three major parties are dominating the Austrian political system, the ÖVP (conservative), the SPÖ (social-democrat) and FPÖ (far-right Eurosceptic), all three polling between 23 per cent for the FPÖ to 29 per cent for the ÖVP for the EU Election.
It has to be said that Austria always had a strong Far Right – despite its tumultuous history – and the country shocked Europe when the FPÖ entered in coalition with the ÖVP in the early 2000’s. Back then the country was boycotted and marginalized.
Times have changed and nearly two decades later, far-right Eurosceptic parties have seized power all over the continent and once more Austria makes no exception. For Fabian Schmidt from Der Standard, the major difference from now and the early 2000’s consists in the radicalization of the FPÖ, showing not restraint and adopting Trumpian political messages.
Despite a Green Federal President, Austrian voters are mostly right to right-wing meaning the proportional system offers no alternative for the left than a ‘grand coalition’ with the ÖVP.
Unless the party finds other partners in the centre or on the left (Greens and a liberal party NEOS exist but are not strong enough at the moment) the centre of political gravity in Austrian politics is condemned to be on the right. This helps Chancellor Kurz who tries to present himself as a modern, centrist politician while not having problems with copying the FPÖ rhetoric – feeding it by the way.
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Mr Moser told me before the scandal leak that Mr Kurz is doing quite well in appealing to right-wing voters and is successfully asphyxiating the FPÖ.
“Currently there are more people in the FPÖ, who are afraid their party could be asphyxiated by the ÖVP, than the other way around. Kurz is young, talented and has capable advisers. His vice chancellor, the FPÖ’s chairman Heinz-Christian Strache, however will turn 50 in June. Strache consolidated his Party after the turmoil of its first coalition government with the ÖVP, but it is growingly hard for him to appear as a dynamic, anti-establishment politician.“
An anti-establishment credential that the scandal is unlikely to restore…
The FPÖ was worried – and now even more – that, as in the early 2000s, its partnership with the ÖVP could lead to its destruction. Moritz explains that the 2002 snap election led to the collapse of the party which split in two over its attitude to the ÖVP. Now that Strache has resigned and that the country is on its way for a new snap election, a whole new political game is opening with the certain end of the FPÖ presence in government unless the ÖVP does not convince the SPÖ to write a new page of the country’s history together. Both ways will be hard to realise.