Austria: has Kurz defeated right-wing populism?

Austria's ex-chancellor Sebastian Kurz is the big winner of Sunday's election after his Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) secured a record 37.2 percent of the vote. The Greens also made major gains with around 14 percent, whereas the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) and the Social Democrats suffered heavy losses. Commentators reflect on whether right-wing populism is on the wane in Austria.

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Die Presse (AT) /

ÖVP supporters don't want the Greens

A government coalition comprised of the conservatives and Greens would go against the will of most of Sebastian Kurz's voters, Die Presse criticises:

“As a rule, those who voted for the ÖVP in this election didn't do it because they wanted a conservative-Green coalition but so that the country would remain on its present turquoise-blue [ÖVP-FPÖ] course. Or they wanted pure turquoise, which only differs from turquoise-blue by a few nuances. Sebastian Kurz has won the support of some who previously voted FPÖ. And in any event, those who no longer wanted to vote for him because he wasn't Christian-social enough, or left enough, or whatever, voted for the Neos. Those who voted ÖVP this time around wanted a continuation of the 'centre-right policy', as Kurz himself calls it.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

Voters could change sides again

The populist parties aren't defeated yet, Helsingin Sanomat contends:

“In the view of the observers who follow the ups and downs of European populism there were indications of a weakening of populism in the parliamentary elections in Austria on Sunday. ... The populist parties thrive on strong, charismatic leaders, and when their image is tarnished - as was the case with former FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache - the entire party suffers. And when on top of that the rival party has a charismatic leader, as the ÖVP has in Sebastian Kurz, then the voter support may shift - albeit not necessarily for long.”

Daily Sabah (TR) /

Reason has prevailed against populism

Kurz's election victory as a sign that conservatism is making a recovery, Daily Sabah counters:

“Kurz not only managed to receive conservative voters' support; he also managed to bring a majority of the voters that were affected by FPÖ's far-right and populist arguments back to the ÖVP. He also successfully and masterfully managed to show the voters that far-right and populist politicians are actually only causing scandals and simply speaking nonsense by exploiting subjects like the European Union, refugees, foreigners, Muslims and unemployment and by giving false populist promises. ... It also proved that it is possible for a conservative party to win the struggle against far-right and populist parties in Austria, in Italy and in many other European countries by showing the voters it is not a solution to see the far-right and populist parties as a hope and that these parties are a waste of time.”

Der Standard (AT) /

The wInners should govern

Austria needs a coalition between the ÖVP and the Greens right now, Der Standard argues:

“This would be an alliance between the two big winners on election night: the ÖVP and the Greens, who have fought their way back with around 14 percent and performed even better than the polls predicted. It would be a new constellation for Austria, with a focus on climate protection and economic policy - two non-trivial issues in our times. Kurz could once again be seen as someone who stands for change and shake off his international image as a partner of the far right. However, with their self-confident base the Greens wouldn't be as compliant a partner as the FPÖ.”

Die Welt (DE) /

A chance for a real breakthrough

The daily Die Welt hopes that Kurz will have the courage to form an alliance with the Greens and Neos rather than teaming up with the FPÖ again:

“In a coalition with the right-wing populists Kurz could rein in the FPÖ more and prevent further radicalisation in the opposition. But it would still be risky: the FPÖ may be about to split, this party is in part extremely right-wing, and its appetite for reforms is limited. ... An alliance with the Greens or the liberal Neos would be a chance for a real breakthrough in Austria and could even set a precedent. This new alliance between conservatism, liberalism and ecology could usher in a new phase in the European market economy.”

Mérce (HU) /

A test lab for a CDU-Green government

Kurz has always displayed pragmatism in his political dealings, Mérce observes:

“When it came to gaining and maintaining power, Sebastian Kurz never had any scruples: he was able to reconcile his ideas with both the Social Democrats and the far right FPÖ. Aware of the pronounced climate consciousness of the Austrians, he's even been campaigning with green issues himself in recent months to secure votes. ... But a coalition between the conservatives and the Greens is not just on the agenda in Austria: in the EU's largest and strongest country, Germany, the Bundestag elections are due to take place in 2021, and according to current polls a coalition government consisting of the CDU and the Greens is likely to gain a majority. In this respect Austria could now become a test lab for Germany over the next two years.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Vienna could follow in Rome's footsteps

Like Giuseppe Conte in Italy, Sebastian Kurz is now in a position to bring about a turnaround in European politics, La Repubblica comments:

“Sebastian Kurz will have to do a considerable U-turn to turn his back on the xenophobic and Eurosceptic far right with which he governed until May, and to open his arms to the Social Democrats. Or, as seems more likely in this hour of truth, with the Greens. But if he can pull off such a feat the difference would above all be felt in Europe, where many are hoping for a second 'Conte' scenario - with the outgoing chancellor staying in office, but with a junior partner who is less anti-Brussels and more open to dialogue on major European issues like migration policy.”

Pravda (SK) /

Kurz looking for stability

Pravda also believes Kurz will avoid unnecessary risks:

“The fact that the Freedom Party wasn't a complete washout in the wake of its recent scandals means Sebastian Kurz could easily enter a coalition with them. However it's questionable whether he's willing to take such a risk. Presumably the ÖVP leader is looking for a stable coalition partner for the next four years. After the formation of several black-green [conservative-Green party] coalitions in neighbouring Germany the Austrian Christian Democrats are also ready to test the concept. ... According to Kurz even a minority cabinet isn't out of the question. But the chances of that are slim.”