16th Sep 2019

Austrian far right scores big win

  • A bitter victory for Austria's Social-Democrats, as they won the elections with the lowest score since 1945 (Photo: SPÖ)

With the Social Democrats and centrist People's Party hitting their most historic lows since 1945, Austrian elections on Sunday saw two far-right parties doubling and almost tripling their seats in parliament. The result could lead to a new coalition involving the right-wing extremists, despite EU sanctions having been applied to a similar government in 2000.

Hard bargaining lies ahead in attempts to form a governing coalition, as no party has scored over 30 percent, and a minority government would be a first in Austria.

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The Social Democrats, who won the most votes - 29.7 percent, down from 35 percent in 2006 - are ruling out any alliance with the anti-immigrant Freedom Party (FPO) - up seven points to 18 percent - or the Alliance for Austria's Future (BZO), led by Nazi-fan Jorg Haider, which jumped from four to 11 percent.

According to Social Democratic leader Werner Faymann, the centrist People's Party (OVP) remains their preferred coalition partner, despite the fact that the same such coalition formula led to the current early elections. But the OVP, which also hit a historic low on Sunday - plummenting from 34 to 25.6 percent - has not ruled out talks with the far-right groups.

Although together they account for the second largest block in the Parliament, FPO and BZO remain divided. FPO chairperson Heinz-Christian Strache said there will be no alliance with his former party boss Jorg Haider, and has called for the SPO or OVP to enter a two-coalition government with him as chancellor.

Meanwhile, Mr Haider has left all options open and is enjoying his comeback after years spent on the sidelines following a 2000 scandal when the EU imposed symbolic sanctions on Austria after his party at the time, the FPO, joined a government coalition with the People's Party.

Back then, 14 EU member states suspended bilateral relations with Austria, putting the alpine country in a "diplomatic freeze."

"The phoenix of Carinthia spreads his wings over all Austria," writes Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung about Mr Haider's political resurrection.

EU sanctions unlikely

In the event that the far right ends up in a government coalition, the EU however may be reluctant to repeat the 2000 sanctions move, which proved counter-productive and increased the popularity of such movements.

On 12 September 2000, the EU decided to lift the sanctions, following a report by three "wise men" appointed by the European Court of Human Rights to examine the post-FPO government situation in Austria.

Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, ex-Spanish foreign minister Marcelino Oreja and the German expert in international law Jochen Frowein warned in their report that "nationalist sentiments" in Austria had been unleashed by the EU sanctions because these were "falsely understood as being directed against the Austrian people." The effect of the sanctions "would be counter-productive if they were maintained, which is why they should be ended," read the report.

However, according to Article 7 of the Nice Treaty, which still applies today, the EU should react when "a clear danger exists of a member state committing a serious breach of fundamental rights." If this occurs, the qualified majority of the EU's heads of state may suspend certain EU council voting rights of the country concerned.

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