In Austria, the far proper leads the race for European parliamentary elections | EUROtoday

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Austria’s far-right Freedom Party has been main the opinion polls for over a 12 months, hovering close to 30 p.c forward of June elections for the European Parliament. It’s an increase of some 10 factors from the occasion’s displaying within the 2019 European elections, fuelling the hopes of its chief, Herbert Kickl, for a victory in Austrian legislative elections in September.

“Stop the EU madness,” reads a slogan on a far-right Freedom Party (FPO) poster for the European elections, that includes European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky embracing – and flanked by a ruinous backdrop that includes a tank, helicopters, a syringe, wind generators and a migrant boat.

Now polling close to 30 p.c, the FPO is poised to win probably the most votes when Austrians forged their ballots to decide on their representatives for the European Parliament on June 9.

The FPO’s rhetoric – populist, Russophile, Eurosceptic and anti-vaccine – is favourably acquired by a big share of the nation’s citizens. If it continues to make headway within the run-up to the nation’s September parliamentary elections, the far proper might emerge because the ruling occasion in Austria subsequent autumn.

The occasion has led in polls since late 2022. Ahead of the European elections, the FPO – which already holds three of Austria’s 19 MEP seats – additionally has a snug lead, with 28.2% of help, in keeping with an Ipsos ballot printed on March 19, forward of each the centre-left Social Democratic SPO occasion (22%) and the centre-right People’s Party or OVP (21%).

The far-right occasion additionally has an enormous benefit on social media. Harald Vilimsky, head of the FPO occasion’s checklist for the European elections, has 4 occasions the next of rivals Helmut Brandstatter of the New Austria and Liberal Forum (NEOS) occasion or Lena Schilling of the Greens, in keeping with the Austrian information company APA.

Playing the sufferer within the face of scandal

Created within the decade following the tip of World War II, the FPO introduced itself in its early years as pan-Germanist, with the goal of getting ready for the return of National Socialism to Austria. “Most of the party’s leaders were former members of the Nazi party,” explains Benjamin Biard, analysis fellow on the Brussels-based assume tank, Centre de recherche et d’info socio-politiques (CRISP). “But that doesn’t mean this is still the case today,” provides Biard, a specialist on the far proper in Europe.

The FPO first got here to energy in 1983-1986, abandoning its unique ideological foundations and adopting a “liberal” free-market stance that led it to participate in a coalition authorities with the Social Democrats of the SPO.

But with the arrival of controversial chief Jorg Haider in 1986 the FPO was sidelined, and as an opposition occasion it moved more and more to the nationalist and populist proper, with Haider brazenly relativising or reinterpreting Austria’s Nazi previous. He ultimately resigned in 2000 after making controversial statements in regards to the Third Reich.

The FPO as soon as once more confirmed its power on the polls within the 1999 parliamentary elections, when it turned the second-largest political occasion. In February 2000, it joined a governing coalition with Wolfgang Schussel’s ruling People’s Party.

Read extraAlarm over Austria far-right occasion video as its help soars

According to Biard, this coalition was one of many first examples of “a new phase in the development of the extreme right in Europe since World War II” during which events are not content material “to act as major opposition forces, but have ambitions to reach the seat of power in order to exert a direct influence on public policy”.

So though the FPO skilled inner divisions and electoral setbacks, it once more returned to the center of Austrian political life in 2017, becoming a member of the federal government fashioned by the OVP’s Sebastian Kurz. This new expertise of energy was as soon as once more short-lived, this time as a result of “Ibiza-gate” corruption scandal that pressured former FPO chief Heinz-Christian Strache to step down as vice-chancellor in 2019.

The impression of Ibiza-gate nonetheless had a restricted impact on the occasion, believes Biard. In the final European elections of 2019, the FPO, regardless of shedding floor, remained the third-largest occasion with 17.2% of the vote.

“The dissatifaction of its electorate – or a segment of it – does not seem to have been borne out over the long term,” says Biard.

Despite a brand new scandal linked to the FPO, accused by the ruling Greens occasion this month of enabling Russian espionage, the occasion “is probably holding up well”, says Biard.

One rationalization for the FPO’s skill to climate scandal “lies in the fact that far-right parties have traditionally taken to presenting themselves as victims of the system as a whole” and are adept at utilizing victimhood as a means of deflecting critics, Biard explains.

Capitalising on folks’s frustrations

In addition to this anti-system rhetoric, the FPO’s different main themes are typical of far-right events: the rejection of immigration, the defence of a type of Austrian “patriotism”, a really hardline stance on Islam and an emphasis on Eurosceptic rhetoric.

As with most far-right events, whereas FPO voters are motivated by ideology in addition they vote “to express their dissatisfaction with, or even disenchantment with, the way democracy works today”, says Biard.

In a latest interview with the Austrian information company APA, Vilimsky, lead candidate of the FPO’s EU parliament checklist, acknowledged that his occasion’s mission was to “kick the establishment in the butt”.

In a research printed in April, Patrick Moreau, a political scientist specialising in modern Germany and Austria, cited a few of the causes for the FPO’s main place within the polls, notably the impeachment of former chancellor Sebastian Kurz and different People’s Party corruption scandals, the Social Democrats’ inner disaster, excessive inflation, rising costs, in addition to immigration.

Given the FPO’s behavior of linking questions of safety and immigration, “Austria feels exposed,” says Biard. Former chancellor Kurz noticed his approval score rise after he known as for the closure of Austria’s borders.

Biard notes that the FPO’s hardline immigration stance does not essentially replicate the fact. What counts for these far-right events “is being able to create a sense of fear within society in relation to these migratory issues, whether they are real or exaggerated”, he says.

According to an evaluation printed in 2017 by Hans Winkler, former editor of the regional day by day Kleine Zeitung, Austria is “at the crossroads of all migration routes in Europe” and was one of many three EU international locations most affected by the “great wave of migration” in 2015 and 2016. Austria took in 95,000 asylum seekers, extra folks per capita than Germany.

The FPO has “been able to mobilise a large section of voters by sticking close to the frustrations of the population”, Moreau writes in his research for the Fondapol (Foundation for Political Innovation) assume tank. “The nature of voter discontent favours the FPO, which builds support on these themes.”

Exit from the EU?

“Imagine a red button to get Austria out of the madness of the EU. I wouldn’t hesitate for a millisecond to press it,” Vilimsky declared on the FPO occasion convention in Vienna in mid-April.

Without going as far as to debate Austria leaving the EU, Vilimsky underlines the FPO’s radical stance in direction of Brussels, one shared by the far proper in Italy, France and the Netherlands.

However, most far-right European events “are now toning down their positions, not in favour of leaving the EU but rather of an in-depth reform of its institutions”, explains Biard. The Dutch Party for Freedom, for instance, lastly withdrew a proposal to go away the EU from its programme.

At the European Parliament, the FPO is a part of the Identity and Democracy group, which it co-founded in 2015 (then known as the Europe of Nations and Freedoms). The group is the sixth-largest within the present European Parliament, with 59 MEPs from eight international locations.

If the populist events do effectively within the June 9 election, Vilimsky’s FPO is hoping to unite the Identity and Democracy group underneath a “common roof” with the events of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, which shares ideologies with the Freedom Party.

According to Biard,”seeing the FPO win more seats in the European Parliament is a credible scenario”. If voting intentions are confirmed, the FPO might win three extra seats in Strasbourg.

(This article is a translation of the unique in French.)