Monday

25th Jun 2018

Analysis

Austrian elections: The never-ending story

  • Graffiti with Hitler-type moustache on Hofer election posters (Photo: Michael Gubi)

It’s a never-ending story. Five months after Green Party-affiliated candidate Alexander van der Bellen narrowly beat far-right candidate Norbert Hofer, Austria still has no president and no definite date for another election.

The original result was annulled by Austria’s Constitutional Court because of vote-counting irregularities.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

A rerun scheduled for 2 October has now also been derailed - by glue that won’t stick. A number of envelopes sent to voters for their mail votes won’t stay closed.

Rather than run the risk of another election fiasco, and a possible renewed constitutional challenge to the outcome, the Austrian interior minister has asked parliament to approve a postponement to 4 December.

A week is a long time in politics. Two months is even longer and opinion polls in recent months had given Hofer a marginal edge over Van der Bellen.

In August, his narrow lead grew to 53 percent against 47 percent, before dropping back to a 52-48 margin.

Emergency decree

The lead diminished after the shock of attacks in Germany and France in the summer began to wane, a post-coup political row with Turkey stagnated, and a summer surge of refugees failed to materialise.

The absence, so far, of overwhelming new refugee numbers has not stopped hardliners - most notably the interior minister himself, as well as foreign minister Sebastian Kurz - from demanding firmer action.

They want an extraordinary parliamentary decree declaring a nationwide state of emergency and effectively halting all new asylum requests to be passed even before the self-imposed cap of 37,500 requests is reached.

The cap was agreed on by the Social Democrats (SPO) and the junior coalition partner the People’s Party, to which Kurz belongs.

The new leader of the SPO, chancellor Christian Kern, who was still head of the Austrian Railways when the first round of the presidential election was held six months ago, has suggested there is no need for an emergency degree unless there is actually an emergency.

But he’s being undercut by hardliners in his own party such as defence minister Hans-Peter Doskozil, who is a former senior police officer and is a political protege of the governor of the Austrian state of Burgenland. The Burgenland is ruled by an SPO coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, and the governor is said to be in favour of such a coalition on the national level too.

More election rumours

In a possible nod to this hard-line pressure within his own party, Kern surprised friend and foe alike by undiplomatically calling for a complete end to EU accession talks with Turkey following the attempted coup.

He issued the call on the same night in which thousands of supporters of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan demonstrated in the streets of Vienna without the necessary prior registration. Not to be outdone, Hofer subsequently suggested a hold be put on granting Austrian citizenship to Turks.

Renewed coalition bickering sparked by these differing opinions, and other disagreements, both between and within the two governing parties, have refuelled rumours that early legislative elections are in the offing well before the end of the current government’s full term.

In taking a tough line on refugees, some suggest, certain politicians from the two mainstream parties may be preparing to take the wind out of the sails of the far-right Freedom Party, which has for months dominated national opinion polls, while at the same time paving the way for a coalition with the far right should they still triumph in early elections.

In any event, the hard-nosed - some say populist - tone of certain mainstream party ministers on the refugee crisis resonates with the key anti-immigrant, pro-security focus of Hofer’s presidential campaign, and may provide impetus to far-right support for it from the electorate mainstream.

This support could increase further if there are any more Islamist attacks before the now-postponed rerun, if the refugee crisis rears its head again, or if the political spat with Turkey takes a further turn for the worse, especially with renewed demonstrations by Erdogan supporters in Austrian cities.

Candidates still hopeful

“A lot will depend on developments that may still occur in Austria,” Hofer spokesman Martin Glier told EUobserver.

In the annulled vote, Van der Bellen beat Hofer by only 35,000 votes, so any such developments - or the absence thereof - may be crucial in determining how many people decide to vote for the candidate they didn’t vote for last time.

Polls indicate that voter turnout is going to remain high. The irritation, anger, bemusement and disbelief sparked by yet another twist in the drawn-out presidential saga are not yet translating into voter fatigue.

Meanwhile, both Van der Bellen and Hofer remain indefatigably confident. Glier acknowledged that despite the postponement the race was still “tight”, but he said Hofer’s chances were “intact”.

Asked if Van der Bellen retained confidence that he would be Austria’s next president, his spokesman Reinhard Pickl-Herk had one word for EUobserver: “Yes.”

Austria drafts anti-asylum law

Austrian lawmakers are set to pass a law that would prevent people from applying for asylum once a self-prescribed upper limit has been reached.

Analysis

Austrian election sets Europe's nerves on edge

The rerun of the Austrian election, in the post-Brexit climate, poses questions for the broader viability of the EU's post-WWII vision of a liberal and united Europe.

Austrian candidates both seek Trump effect

Donald Trump's victory is enlivening Austria's presidential campaign - one side seizing on it as a sign that the masses are rising up, the other depicting it as a stark warning of the dangers of demagoguery.

Austrians ponder shift to far right

Austrian voters will on Sunday decide whether to stay in the EU centre, or lurch to the radical right, with Hofer slightly ahead in polls ahead of the presidential election.

Analysis

Greece facing post-bailout challenges

Creditors are expected to agree Thursday on a final loan and debt relief measures for Greece. After eight years on an international lifeline, the country will remain under close surveillance - but will have to find a new economic model.

News in Brief

  1. Venice Commission: Hungary should repeal NGO law
  2. Trump threatens to slap 20 percent tariff on EU cars
  3. EU closes deficit procedure against France
  4. Romania's ruling party leader gets jail sentence
  5. EU states defer individual decisions on asylum reforms
  6. Commission opens case on Qatar gas flow
  7. EU adopts posted workers directive
  8. EU leaders to call for 'coordinated plan' on AI

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMHRMI Launches Lawsuits Against Individuals and Countries Involved in Changing Macedonia's Name
  3. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  4. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  10. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  11. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network

Latest News

  1. EU leaders still in search of migration plan
  2. Migration row at centre of EU summit This Week
  3. Merkel's woes cast shadow on EU's future
  4. Europe's tech race - trying to keep pace with US and China
  5. Merkel and Juncker's mini-summit risks fiasco
  6. Greece and creditors proclaim 'end of crisis'
  7. How a US firm pushed for EU €2.1trn pension fund
  8. Commission defends Africa migrant plan ahead of summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  2. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  4. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  7. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  9. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  10. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  12. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us