The Future of Austria's Far Right

Its Freedom Party Threatens the European Project

Head of Austria's far right Freedom Party Heinz-Christian Strache and former presidential candidate Norbert Hofer address the media in Vienna, Austria, December 2016.  Heinz-Peter Bader / REUTERS

The defeats of right-wing populists in the Austrian presidential election in late 2016 and Dutch parliamentary elections in early 2017 have been reassuring for supporters of the European project. Over the past 15 years, Euroskepticism and anti-immigrant sentiment have attracted considerable support across Europe. Yet their electoral performance has so far been less than impressive. In turn, such parties no longer seem to constitute an existential threat to the European Union. (In Foreign Affairs, Pierpaolo Barbieri recently wrote about a “reverse domino effect” after the relative defeat of Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands.)

Moreover, upcoming French presidential and German parliamentary elections bode well for the EU. To be sure, the stakes in France are enormous: a victory by National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the second round of elections could mean nothing less than the end of European integration and the EU as we know them. Yet it seems unlikely that Le Pen would win the face-off. Lately, it has become conceivable that she won’t win even a relative majority in the first round of the elections; the outspokenly pro-EU Emmanuel Macron has quickly become the race’s front-runner and likely victor in both rounds of the election.

In Germany, too, the overall picture for this fall’s Bundestag elections is encouraging. It is true that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party alliance of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) has seen its poll numbers fall in recent weeks. To be sure, Merkel’s disappearance from European and world politics would, in view of her rich diplomatic experience and high international respect, be a clear loss for the West. However, the main reason for the CDU/CSU’s loss of support is the unexpected rise in popularity of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) under its new leader, Martin Schulz. Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, is a committed EU integrationist. And unlike his SPD predecessor Gerhard Schröder, he fully

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