Normunds Grostins
Development of European Union, Non-governmental organizations, Politics and economics in Baltic States

Will Austria vote for Freedom?

Austria’s Freedom party (FPÖ) won a rather predictable, but still powerful victory in the first round of the country’s presidential election.
23 May 2016

Despite mainstream media reports about an “unexpected” victory, the Europe-wide impact of the immigration crisis on Austrian politics became visible much earlier, in last September in fact. In that month, the Austrian Freedom Party won 30.4 percent of the vote in the state of Upper Austria, the country's industrial heartland, a striking improvement on its performance in the state’s last election in 2009 when it took only half as many votes with 15.3 percent.

The FPÖ has called for a border fence and stricter border controls for Austria. It has campaigned on an anti-immigration and "anti-Islamisation" platform for many years.

Two weeks later, in October, the Freedom Party celebrated another victory as it achieved a record result (31%) in the local government election in Vienna.  

So, was the success of FPÖ's presidential candidate Norbert Hofer really that unpredictable? Of course not. Mainstream media has merely avoided mentioning the growing influence of FPÖ because every one of their successes plays into the hands of the party’s German partner – Alternative für Deutschland (AFD, Alternative for Germany).

Furthermore, the electoral results of FPÖ demonstrate what could be achieved by AFD in the very near future. And this means significant change first in Austria, and then in Germany.

Since 1945, the occupants of Vienna’s Hofburg palace have been backed by either the center – left Social Democratic party (SPÖ) or the center- right People’s Party (ÖVP), which currently hold the grand coalition government together. But now, in a historic upset, the two main parties’ presidential candidates each polled at only around 11 percent while FPÖ’s Norbert Hofer scored around 36 per cent. 

Of course, Hofer can still be stopped if the left and right-wing pro-immigration parties, along with immigrant groups, unite against him in the second round as was done last year in France after the National Front's success in the first round of the country's regional elections. Angela Merkel, as well as many others of the mainstream political class in Germany, definitely want Norbert Hofer to be stopped. But this is equivalent to a temporary curing of some symptoms instead of providing real treatment for a disease. If this scenario happens in Austria, problems will only grow.

In the first round, Norbert Hofer received 1.5 million out of 4.27 million of valid votes. If his opponents unite, the Freedom Party could still be sidelined.

Nevertheless, it is quite obvious that the Freedom Party and Mr. Hofer, if voted in, are very likely to bring much-needed change and a kind of fresh opportunity for Austria. This was proved in early May by the resignation of the Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann.

Mr. Faymann, who has headed the Austrian government for eight years, is by far the biggest political casualty of the European migrant crisis. His political destiny is a huge hint for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.