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A Setback?
Austria Holds Back Populist Tide (for Now)

Europeans dismayed on Sunday by the resounding defeat of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s constitutional referendum may have sought solace in another election. In Austria’s presidential re-run, the pro-Europe left won out against far-right contender Norbert Hofer. Reuters:

Austrians’ desire to stay anchored in the European Union outweighed concerns over immigration and security and helped former Greens leader Alexander Van der Bellen defeat his far-right rival Norbert Hofer in Sunday’s presidential election.

Van der Bellen, whose win bucks a trend of populist victories across Western democracies, had put Britain’s decision to leave the EU at the center of his own campaign, warning voters not to “play with this fire”.

“I will be a pro-European president of Austria open to the world,” Van der Bellen, 72, said in his victory speech.

The defeat of Hofer—a candidate from the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), which was founded in 1956 by a former SS officer—is a real setback for the populist tide sweeping Europe. Although Austria’s presidency is a largely ceremonial position, Hofer’s election would have resulted in more calls for early parliamentary elections. That outcome has been averted for now, but Europeans should not feel too complacent. Just as many mistakenly feared that a “No” vote in Italy over the weekend would represent an unambiguous setback for the EU, there is a risk of over-interpreting the Austrian election as a decisive rejection of populism.

The dam has held against euroskeptic populism once again, but future repeats of this now-familiar scenario are by no means assured. As Dalibor Rohac notes, the forces that drove the popularity of FPO show no signs of abating. Current polls show that FPO leads all other contenders for the parliamentary elections currently scheduled for 2018, but which could well take place in the first half of next year if the current “grand coalition” government falls apart. In fact, the head of the Social Democrats and Austria’s current Chancellor Christian Kern has reportedly already started putting out feelers to Freedom Party representatives in the event that his party needs to cooperate with them.

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  • Andrew Allison

    If you think that the defeat of Hofer is a real setback for the populist tide sweeping Europe, I want some of what you’re smoking. In case you haven’t noticed, with the Socialists being shut of of the second round election in France and Fillon moving right to stop Len
    pen, the populists just won resounding victories in the second and third largest economies in Europe, and Merkel is getting worried about the largest.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    It’s Ugly how the Leftists are constantly spinning the rise of the Nationalists with the negatively associated “Populism” responsible for cults of personality, and murderous Leftist Dictators like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

    • Observe&Report

      “Populism”, when not being used as an arrogant swearword by the cosmopolitan elite, is usually spelt “democracy”.

  • DISQUS Inferno

    This post is unworthy of TAI.

    There have been numerous posts (annoyingly, un-attributed) that mislead US readers on the new non-social-democratic Parties of Europe.

    In those posts Germany’s AfD and Austria’s FPO[*] have been slanderously labeled ‘far-right” and “populist”[**] and grouped with Neo-Nazi movements. This article reaches a new low by insinuating a connection of the FPO – a party which recently held federal government in Austria and it’s states – to the SS!

    The truth is: The closest equivalent to either AfD and FPO (familiar to most US readers) are the modern tea-party and UKIP.[***]

    TAI has earned a great reputation for objectivity, non-partisanship and intelligent analysis.
    It is disappointing that this reputation is soiled by an uninformed back-room writer, who doesn’t know better than to ape the defamations of the continental media[****].

    +++
    [*] I have no intrinsic knowledge of Geert Wilders’s “Party for Freedom” and the ‘Sweden Democrats”, but suspect the problem applies here in similar fashion.
    [**] The term was devised as a slander, from the beginning. Unlike true populist policies [which by definition are counterproductive and popular], (e.g. Minimum-Wage-Laws, Trade-Barriers, Energie-Wende or even Willkommens-Kultur) AfD’s & FPO’s positions are not (self-evidently) the former and certainly not the latter: FPO achieved between 10-27% of the votes in recent multi party elections, while AfD is polling at 10%.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_Party_of_Austria#National_Council

    [***] Compared to either, both AfD & FPO are distinctly more pro-EU and social-democratic (read: more state).
    [****] Which displays as much view-point neutrality & diversity as the NYT.

  • FriendlyGoat

    People don’t necessarily have to be going mean-spirited everywhere just because some are. Congratulations to Austria.

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