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international, Europe, Austria, far-right, anti-immigration
Ronald Zak/AP
Jorg Haider

Austrian Election Pushes EU Further Right

September 29, 2008 05:29 PM
by Christopher Coats
Election results in Austria continue a continent-wide shift to the right, as inflation and immigration fuel voter frustration with the left of center.

Rightward Shift

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Winning significant support in parliamentary elections this week, two far right parties have made it impossible for either of the country’s biggest political parties to hold an effective majority.

Although neither has enough support to win the country’s presidency, the Freedom Party’s 18 percent and the Alliance for Austria’s Future Party’s 11 percent have made it impossible for either of the nation’s right and left of center parties to claim a mandate.

Further, there is worry among traditional party members that the two far-right groups could collaborate to create a stronger conservative presence on the national stage, as they existed as a single party until 2005.

Tapping into voter frustration regarding increases in inflation and Austria’s immigration policies, the two groups made significant gains in this election, sending a message of frustration to the national government.

This shift to the right reflects a larger European move toward ultraconservative political leadership, leaving only three western European nations under governments that can be described as left of center.

Compared to 12 of 14 countries governed by left of center politicians a decade ago, only Spain, Portugal and England remain, although the latter appears ready to shift to conservative leadership after a frustrating stint under the unpopular Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Key Figures: Jorg Haider Returns

This week’s results also signal the return of Jorg Haider to the national spotlight after years of interparty struggling and international criticism of his far-right views on immigration and social issues.

Once the head of the Freedom Party, Haider was at the group’s helm when they joined the ruling government coalition in 2000, earning Austria widespread criticism and EU sanctions as a result.

Known for his sympathy for the Nazi Party, which included his parent’s active role in the party during World War II, Haider soon resigned and would eventually go on to create his own party in 2005; the Alliance for Austria’s Future.

Winning 11 percent of the parliamentary votes this week, Haider’s party tripled their results of 2006.

Haider is currently the governor of the Carinthia region of Austria, which is located along the southernmost edge of the country, bordering the north of Italy, which has also seen a dramatic surge in far-right and anti-immigrant sentiment over the past year.

Earlier this year, Silvio Berlusconi won a third term as prime minister of Italy under on a platform that concentrated on anti-immigration reforms and struck up a working relationship with two far-right political parties similar to Haider’s.

This concentration on Europe’s immigration policy comes at a time when the continent has seen a 10.9 percent annual increase in the number of appeals for asylum, as well as more porous borders to the east as new nations join the wider European community.

Coupled with slower economic growth than expected in the Euro currency zone and an inflation rate that shows little sign of decreasing, worries surrounding immigration have become the focus of many far-right political parties across the continent.

Related Topic: European nationalism

Resources: Europe’s political right

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