A Populist Victory in Austria

The Freedom Party Enters Government

Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Vienna, December 2017. Leonhard Foeger / Reuters

On December 18, 2017 a new Austrian government took office, consisting of a coalition between the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) and the right-wing populist Freedom Party (FPÖ). When the FPÖ last entered government, in 2000, Austria became an international pariah. Israel withdrew its ambassador, and many countries—including all 14 EU member states at that time—imposed bilateral sanctions on the government in Vienna. Popular protests in the Austrian capital were so severe that the new cabinet could enter and exit the inauguration ceremony only through underground passages. This time, both the international and domestic reactions were much more muted.

The FPÖ’s success is a reminder that populism is still a potent force in European politics. In Germany, gains by the Alternative for Germany party spoiled Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chance at a majority government; in Norway, a strong showing by the populist Progress Party allowed it to return to government as

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