In the latest news, we hear almost every day about the rapid growth of populist movements and parties’ influence on the European political landscape. It seems as if there is no clarity about ideas, proposals and voters’ support of these parties, everything seems confusing and consequently, the situation is perceived as more desperate than how it actually is. In this article we focus our attention on Austria, as it is fairly close to Italy and some serious changes are currently happening there.
Since a few weeks, Austria is building a fence on the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy. It is not a real wall but, to be honest, there is not a great difference; the purpose is the same as the one of the barbed wire fence that Hungary erected at the confines with Serbia; to prevent migrants to enter the country, to keep them where they arrived and thus, avoid massive inflows towards continental Europe. Brenner is not just a border, it is a symbol of the United Europe after the Schengen agreement; it is the main route from southern Europe towards the rest of the countries. Closing the Brenner Pass is a huge mistake, something Italy will certainly recall at the next European Council’s meeting. Today there has been a meeting between German chancellor Merkel and the Italian Prime minister Renzi after which both have declared their explicit dissent of the Austrian decisions, which completely violate the European rules.
On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that Austria had 90,000 asylum requests last year. It is not an absolute large number but it is the second highest figure in Europe on a per capita basis.
The fence construction is not the only recent event in Austria these last weeks.
On the 24th of April, Norbert Hofer, candidate of the Freedom Party won the first round of the presidential election with 35% of the vote; the best result at the polls in the history of the party. He will then compete against Alexander Van der Bellen, representing the Greens Party, in the run-off. The candidates from the other parties did not pass the first round, having obtained a too low share of votes.
Freedom Party is the far-right party in Austria, founded in 1955, one of the oldest populist parties in Europe. It has been significantly influential in the political landscape for a while, since the beginning of the 2000s, fuelled firstly by the economic crisis and then the current migrant crisis.
More specifically, its growth in importance is to be blamed on the coalition governments of the two establishment parties, the Social Democrats and the People’s Party. During these years, they gave weak responses to the problems the country was facing and they did not manage to make the adequate structural reforms. In addition, they did not find a common opinion on critical topics such as taxes, education and pensions.
The general climate of political stagnation is what led to this result. Citizens need to see that the government is taking concrete action, they need to see the resolutions of daily problems, otherwise it is almost certain that they will turn their backs from the usual parties and rulers and they will decide to vote for someone new. The worst thing is that they do not necessarily like this someone new and what he or she declares and proposes, but they vote him or her anyway only because they hope for positive changes at last. This is the current reality in Europe, citizens don’t feel represented by their governments and want their life to improve. When people feel frustrated they would do anything to possibly fix it, even voting someone they don’t respect or admire.
Concluding, the situation in Austria is quite worrying in the sense that it is highly likely that its next president will be Hofer and it is also possible that Freedom Party will win the general election scheduled for 2018. As a recent survey has shown, they already have 30% of voters’ support. Even though it is just a projection and it may change, we must take into account that there are high chances that our neighbours on the other side of the fence will be ruled by a strong far-right party.