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All eyes on Austria on Sunday

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Is Austria next in line after Brexit and Trump?
Voters in Austria have a choice between a far-right and a Green president. No matter who wins, populism is gaining ground in the country.
Vienna (dpa) - Europe will look to Austria on Sunday to see if the small but wealthy country will elect Western Europe‘s first far-right president, giving a fresh boost to populists in the wake of Britain‘s Brexit vote and Donald Trump‘s win in the United States.

But even if rightist Norbert Hofer loses and his left-leaning Green rival Alexander Van der Bellen wins the hotly contested presidential race, populism would only suffer a temporary setback rather than a defeat.

This is because Hofer‘s Freedom Party is poised to win the next parliamentary election, and its anti-immigration views have been adopted by mainstream parties.

Sunday will provide 45-year-old Hofer a second chance to win Austria‘s top job.

In May, 72-year-old Van der Bellen looked certain to become Austria‘s president when he won the run-off election against Hofer by a narrow margin of 0.6 per cent.

However, the opposition Freedom Party successfully challenged the vote in the Constitutional Court by bringing evidence that ballots were counted without proper oversight in many towns.

The court ordered a repeat election, which was planned to go ahead in October but had to be pushed back to December after the envelopes for postal votes were found to be manufactured with substandard glue.

Hofer, one of the deputy presidents of Austria‘s parliament, has won support from half of the voters by criticizing the government for allowing 90,000 migrants to enter the country last year.

The former aviation engineer has also chided German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her welcoming stance in the face of the wave of migrant arrivals.

"By announcing ‘We can do it,‘ she [Merkel] encouraged many people to undertake very, very dangerous journeys across the sea," he said in a recent television debate. Austrian taxpayers were footing Germany‘s bill as many of these migrants ended up in Austria and needed to be housed and fed here, he said.

Following Britain‘s referendum decision to leave the European Union, Freedom Party leaders welcomed Brexit and said that Austria should hold a similar vote if Turkey were to be admitted into the European Union, or if the bloc proved to be incapable of reforming itself.

However, Austrians have little appetite for exiting the bloc, and the EU-sceptic Freedom Party has since backpedalled.

Hofer told dpa that he sees the EU as "a project that is in urgent need of development." However, he sticks to the view that a referendum remains a measure of last resort.

Former Green party chief Van der Bellen is pro-European. He keeps warning that Hofer‘s recent soft EU stance only masks his wish to destroy the bloc, in line with like-minded populist movements in France and Germany.

On the migration issue, Van der Bellen stands by the many Austrians who have spontaneously formed grassroots projects to help arriving migrants.

"Do we want to see Austria as a friendly, open, bright country?" the economic scholar said in a speech. "Or do we want to see it as a country that is threatened by conspiracies, where fears take over, where everything is terrible?" he said, challenging the Freedom Party‘s world view.

Although polls predict another neck-to-neck result on Sunday, his position is an increasingly lonely one.

Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz has been successful with his strategy of closing down the Balkan migration route, pushing for restrictive immigration policies and demanding the end of Turkey‘s accession talks with the EU.

Kurz currently tops Austria‘s popularity rating for politicians.

The Social Democrats, who form the government coalition with Kurz‘s centre-right People‘s Party, have gone along with Austria‘s immigration about-turn and have reluctantly supported a cut-off limit for the number of asylum seekers that can enter per year.

An increasingly vocal wing in the Social Democratic party has been mulling cooperation with the Freedom Party after the next parliamentary election, which is due in 2018 at the latest.

The Freedom Party has led the polls for more than a year and currently enjoys the support of 35 per cent of voters, according to the latest survey published by the tabloid Oesterreich in early November. "Nothing and no one will stop us," Hofer said at an election rally.


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"Austria" (German: "Österreich", literally "the Eastern Realm" or "Eastern Empire") is a landlocked alpine German speaking country in Central Europe bordering Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west,
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"Austria", officially the "Republic of Austria" (German: ), is a landlocked country of roughly 8.3 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by Germany and the Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east,
"Traiskirchen" is a town in the district of Baden in Lower Austria in Austria. There is the oldest public obeservatory in Lower Austria.Category:Cities and towns in Baden DistrictCategory:Baden
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(18.07.2019 11:33)

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