Austria shifts to the right

The conservative ÖVP led by Sebastian Kurz scored a clear victory in Austria's legislative elections on Sunday, garnering 31.4 percent of the vote. The right-wing populist FPÖ came second with 27.4 percent. Both parties gained around seven percentage points. Europe's commentators analyse why the FPÖ's strong showing hasn't caused much of an outcry this time.

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Adevărul (RO) /

Coalition with FPÖ no longer a scandal

The FPÖ's participation in a coalition with the ÖVP left Austria isolated in 2000 but times have changed, political scientist Radu Carp writes on his blog with Adevărul:

“Today, the very same coalition would no longer lead to disputes in Brussels. Why? Because after Austria populist parties have come to power in several other countries in recent years. From a pragmatic point of view Brussels prefers a coalition like this, in which the EPP [European People's Party] calls the shots, to a minority government led by a populist or left-wing party. Democratic standards are different today to what they were in 2000: even a populist leftist party [Syriza in Greece] is now an acceptable dialogue partner.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Harmless right-wing populists in Vienna

The prospect of the FPÖ participating in Austria's new government won't trigger panic anywhere, Lidové noviny concludes:

“Imagine what would happen if the AfD were involved in the formation of the government in Germany, or the Front National in that in France. This would be inconceivable and cause a lot of unrest. The FPÖ is also an anti-system party. But Austria has already had experience with it in government between 2000 and 2006 and knows that the FPÖ undermined neither the constitutional system nor liberal democracy. This 'Austrian exception' is a warning not to tar all parties described as right-wing populists with the same brush.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

Deep rifts and real fears

For the ÖVP and the FPÖ the switch from election campaign mode to government mode won't be easy, the Wiener Zeitung suspects:

“[Sebastian] Kurz and Heinz-Christian Strache blame foreign workers and refugees for almost every socio-political problem and the SPÖ has also joined in - albeit less vociferously. This won't be the case when it comes to the nitty-gritty of governance, as a glance at the figures shows. And further divides have become apparent. ... The big cities, first and foremost Vienna, voted very differently to the rural areas. And the industrial regions voted differently to those whose economies are based on tourism and smaller businesses. Here the goal will be to assauge all kinds of fears - the election campaign did the opposite.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Young star more in tune with the times

The ÖVP's leader must now show that he can bring about the country's renewal, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung explains:

“The victory of Kurz's list is a chance for Austria, where the grand coalition model between conservatives and social democrats has had its day. ... Many of Kurz's ideas - more efficient administration, tax cuts and more say for the people, are good. It's their implementation that's always been the problem. Kurz must now prove that he can tackle tough issues beyond the burqa ban and the Balkan route - all the more so given that his likely coalition partner the FPÖ cut a poor figure as a partner in the last government. The expectations for Kurz are about as great as the potential for disappointment.”

Denik (CZ) /

Voters choose realism over naivety

Austria has changed and the voters want the government to react to that change, Denik surmises:

“The number of Muslims has risen from four to eight percent in the last 15 years, and from eight to 14 percent in Vienna. The higher that figure became, the less willing these immigrants were to give up their traditional way of life and adapt. The losses suffered by the Social Democrats and Greens show that Austrians are now less willing to take in refugees. But it's pretty certain they won't become xenophobic. Austrians expect Kurz to combine solidarity with realism. The demographic and sociological forecasts show that Austria can no longer afford to be naive.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Shift to the right an antidote to populists

Sebastian Kurz is among the politicians who have been able to put themselves on a new and positive footing in view of the challenges posed by mass immigration, columnist Daniel Johnson writes in The Daily Telegraph:

“Everywhere the same pressures from uncontrolled migration are making themselves felt: on housing, on public services, on security. Such pressures will only grow as tens of millions of migrants from Africa and Asia head to Europe over the next decade. And so everywhere mainstream leaders have been repositioning themselves to see off populist challenges, from Mark Rutte in The Netherlands to Emmanuel Macron in France. Conservatives who ignore border anxiety are doomed to lose power to the populists, as Mrs Merkel now knows to her cost.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Welcome to the Visegrád Group

Rzeczpospolita believes that Austria could soon become part of the V4 group:

“Law, justice, sovereignty. These are the concerns represented by both victorious groups, the ÖVP and the FPÖ. ... They're bringing Austria, a country rooted in Old Europe, closer to the East and the new Europe. ... And for many Austrians that doesn't sound like an insult. Because the leader of the FPÖ has announced that he wants Austria to join the Visegrád Group. ... If Vienna really wants to join Bratislava, Budapest, Prague and Warsaw, Visegrád would gain hugely in significance. On the face of it Austria is a country with just under nine million inhabitants. But in the eyes of the EU elites those inhabitants come from a different, better world.”

La Stampa (IT) /

The tip of the iceberg

Populism is winning out in Europe, La Stampa fears:

“With its demands above all regarding immigration populism is determining the agenda of the new governments - whether or not populist parties actually take part in those governments. Austria is the tip of the iceberg; here the manipulation is obvious: in order to win Kurz had to adopt the position of the Freedom Party. ... But Austria is not an isolated case. The same conditioning is behind the election and the formation of the new government in the Netherlands and will also covertly influence the future German coalition government too. Yes, Germany is the main body of the iceberg, not because - or not just because - of the AfD's forceful presence in the Bundestag but also because of the concessions that Angela Merkel will be forced to make to the CSU and the FDP.”