Razor-thin victory for Van der Bellen

Green Party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen has won Austria's presidential election, beating Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party by a narrow margin of roughly 31,000 votes. The country has shown that its political landscape is more colourful than many believe, some commentators write with relief. Others view Hofer's strong showing as an alarm signal for all Europe.

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The Washington Post (US) /

The rise of national socialism

Right-wing parties like the FPÖ are gaining ground with a growing number of voters by combining their nationalist ideologies with leftist economic policies, columnist Anne Applebaum writes in The Washington Post:

“The rise in support for all of these parties is usually attributed to the wave of immigrants coming to Europe from Syria and North Africa. While anti-immigration is an emotional touchstone for all of them, hardly anyone has noticed that national socialist parties are also picking up voters bored by the business-friendly socialism of the center-left and the pragmatism of the center-right. Maybe it’s not surprising: A generation has now passed since the collapse of Soviet Communism. Centralization, nationalization and protectionism all seem like new ideas to people who don’t remember them. Few remember the poverty they created, or the corruption.”

Der Standard (AT) /

A critical European

In Alexander Van der Bellen the Austrians have elected a pro-European who is not afraid to criticise the EU, Der Standard writes:

“The former Green Party leader and economics professor was always an advocate of integration, even back in 1994 when his party colleagues were still saying no to EU accession. The fact that he has a critical mind, that he doesn't blindly support the EU and that he will push for more progress on ecological and social issues is even an advantage. Austria must free its Europe policy from black-and-white thinking and foster rational debate on its future in Europe. Van der Bellen has announced that he wants to unite the country and lend an ear to critics and Eurosceptics: a good recipe against the right. If he can do this he will be a great president.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Right-wing populists score points with softer tone

The Freedom Party and other right-wing parties in Europe have been able to gain the support of large sections of the population by toning down their messages, The Daily Telegraph comments:

“Up until now, the intense negative feelings such parties provoked has limited their support, especially in one-on-one contests – it was notable in France for example that the National Front barely expanded its vote share between the first and second round of the elections and therefore failed to win any regions. However, such parties are increasingly moderating their core messages and fusing anti-immigration policies with more centre-Left economic ones, they are able to broaden their appeal beyond their traditional base. It is striking that young voters, who many would assume to be more cosmopolitan in outlook, are ready to vote for such parties.”

Südostschweiz (CH) /

Austria's more likeable side has won

Südostschweiz believes Van der Bellen's election can indeed bring change to Austria:

“In a few weeks on an emotional rollercoaster a nation plunged to the depths of right-wing populism, made a little detour on a ghost train to the past - and suddenly now everything is different. … This election of a Green president does not express the mood in the country, but it could change that mood. Austria is uneasy and has been chronically bad-tempered for some time now. But Austria is not as right-wing as other countries tend to believe. And Alexander Van der Bellen is an Austrian to the core. With his easygoing temperament, his self-irony, his tolerance and resilience against unreasonable conformism and both left and right-wing narrow-mindedness, he embodies the congenial side of the Austrian identity. It wouldn't be surprising if the Green president turned out to be a highly popular head of state.”

Kurier (AT) /

Austrian politics now more colourful

Traditionally dominated by the SPÖ and the ÖVP, the elections have made Austrian politics more diverse, Kurier believes:

“Headlines like 'A country divided' and 'Austrians at loggerheads' are superficial and short-sighted. On the contrary: the political camps have become more flexible. For the first time tens of thousands of dyed-in-the-wool socialists and conservatives have voted for a member of the Green Party or the Freedom Party - though many did it holding their noses. Once you've voted for another party you're no longer a core voter. And depending on who's running, when the next election rolls around you might be tempted to say: the individual counts more than the party. ... Austria's political landscape has become more colourful - and more unpredictable.”

Financial Times (GB) /

More than just a warning

The Financial Times, by contrast, sees no reason to breathe a sigh of relief:

“By coming within a whisker of making Norbert Hofer the first far-right European head of state since the war, voters there have normalised the Freedom party, whose revisionism and anti-Semitism used to be considered unacceptable. The victory of Alexander Van der Bellen, the Green party candidate, is not a cause for complacency. The size of the vote for Mr Hofer will benefit other parties, such as the National Front in France, that are pursuing a strategy of 'decontamination'.”

Novi list (HR) /

Hofer's policies triumphed long ago

Anyone who believes that Van der Bellen's victory has staved off a shift to the right in Austrian politics has another thing coming, Novi list warns:

“Hofer may not have been able to take the presidential palace by storm, but his policies have long since triumphed - not just in Austria but in much of Europe. If chance had given the victory to Hofer, he wouldn't have been able to push through his outrageous policies. Not because the president hardly has any powers, but because his far-right policies have already been implemented by the Social Democrats and the so-called moderate right. With border closures, razor wire, the cap on the number of refugees and one of the toughest asylum laws around, Faymann had already shaken the EU to its very foundations and prevented a joint European solution to the refugee crisis.”