Aus­tria may move to right


Aus­tria is set to move to the right in elec­tions on Sun­day with con­ser­va­tive Se­bas­tian Kurz ex­pected to be­come Europe’s youngest head of gov­ern­ment and form a coali­tion with the anti-im­mi­gra­tion Free­dom Party. The cen­tre-right Peo­ple’s Party (OeVP), re­branded by Kurz, 31, as his per­sonal turquoise “move­ment”, is fore­cast to come first with over 30 per cent, polls sug­gest. But in a fresh tri­umph for Europe’s pop­ulists just after Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD) be­came the third-big­gest party in par­lia­ment there, the Free­dom Party (FPOe) looks set to be sec­ond or third with at least 25 per cent — dou­ble the AfD’s score.

Aus­tria has had al­most 150,000 asy­lum claims since 2015, mak­ing the wealthy Alpine coun­try of 8.75 mil­lion one of Europe’s high­est re­cip­i­ents per capita. Like the AfD, France’s Na­tional Front and Geert Wilders in the Nether­lands, the FPOe — which al­most won the pres­i­dency in De­cem­ber — has stoked con­cerns about the in­flux, while also mov­ing left on so­cial is­sues. “No, Is­lam is not part of Aus­tria,” party head Heinz-Chris­tian Stra­che, 48, re­cently told a cheer­ing, flag-wav­ing FPOe rally.

Im­mi­gra­tion must stop “un­til fur­ther no­tice”, its pro­gramme says, and asy­lum is tem­po­rary. “Stra­che is the coun­ter­weight to (Ger­man Chan­cel­lor) An­gela Merkel whose ‘wel­come cul­ture’ is de­stroy­ing Europe,” one FPOe sup­porter said. “Aus­tri­ans should come first.”

“Wun­der­wuzzi” (“whizz-kid”) Kurz took over the OeVP in May and ended its ac­ri­mo­nious “grand coali­tion” with the So­cial Democrats (SPOe). Pre­sent­ing him­self as a breath of fresh air de­spite be­ing in the gov­ern­ment since 2011 and the OeVP hav­ing been in power non­stop since 1987, the for­eign min­is­ter helped his party leapfrog the FPOe to lead opin­ion polls.

This was partly thanks to Kurz swing­ing to the right, talk­ing tough on im­mi­gra­tion and pledg­ing to both shut Is­lamic kinder­gartens and cut wel­fare pay­ments for for­eign­ers.

Kurz and Stra­che also see eye-to-eye on low­er­ing taxes, re­form­ing Aus­tria’s bloated bu­reau­cracy and want­ing the EU to be less in­volved in how the coun­try is run. The once-mighty SPOe, in gov­ern­ment for a to­tal of around 60 years since 1945, looks set to be the main loser on Sun­day de­spite it too tak­ing a harder line on mi­grants.

Chan­cel­lor Chris­tian Kern, 51, whose busi­ness acu­men gave the SPOe hope when he took over last May, has suf­fered a string of mishaps, scan­dals and res­ig­na­tions. The young leader does not sub­scribe to the agenda of French europhile Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, who has out­lined an am­bi­tious re­form pro­posal for the bloc, he said.

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