The anti-immigration Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) led the polls for several months leading up to the election but lost after an incredible comeback by the old conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in the last month.
The great loser is the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), which had its worst election in its history since World War II, thereby joining its many sister parties across Europe that have experienced one disaster after another at the poll booths in the last year.
A Solid Win for Anti-Immigration Advocates
The ÖVP’s success can mainly be attributed to their young and charismatic new leader, Sebastian Kurz. The 31-year-old is set to become the youngest head of state in the world. Despite his youth, Kurz is already an experienced statesman and has served as foreign minister. It was during his time as the minister that he built his credibility with voters. Unlike many other politically correct politicians, Kurz showed that he was tough on immigration by fighting German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migrant sanctuary policies.
Although the nationalist FPÖ lost its momentum in the final month, the leader of the party, Heinz-Christian Strache, was clear that the election result was a win for their cause. He told his supporters: “Sixty percent of the country has voted for an FPÖ agenda.”
His analysis is probably correct. Kurz has already indicated that the conservatives prefer to form a majority government alliance with the Freedom Party rather than cooperating with the social democrats. However, there is also a lesson to be learned for traditional conservative parties. Kurz was able to win over a significant amount of votes from the Freedom Party by merely being willing to treat the concerns of the majority with respect and by promising a tough line on immigration and Islamization.
Austrians Prefer Centrist Alternatives
What this shows is that there is no inevitable march to the extremes in European policy. When the people are given healthy centrist alternatives, they prefer them over the populist fringes. The only reason the center is dying in many countries is that so many of the centrist parties have insisted on a suicidal embracing of a profoundly unpopular form of multiculturalism.Sebastian Kurz takes a hard stance on immigration.
Consider the difference between Germany and Austria. In Germany, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere floated the idea of introducing a Muslim holiday in Germany. By contrast, Kurz’s party introduced a burqa ban in the lead-up to the election.
While the burqa ban will only affect about 150 individuals in Austria, its symbolic importance was not lost on the voters. The conservatives showed that they were willing to stand up unapologetically for Austrian values, and the voters rewarded them with a significant victory. Germany’s CDU – Merkel’s party, and technically a sister party of Kurz’s conservatives – experienced a similar collapse in support in its recent election.
Political pundits and parties all across Europe are sure to follow Kurz’s new government closely. Don’t be surprised if other centrist-conservative parties follow suit and try the formula that has proved successful in Austria.