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Rightist delight

Editorial |

From India to Austria, the Right has cogent reasons to feel delighted. Vienna is poised to be the only west European capital with a far-right party in government. The loop gets lengthened across the Atlantic with Chile in South America scheduled to be helmed by a conservative leader. While the current trend towards nationalism is likely to be renforced, the fact that the Austrian conservative leader, Sebastian Kurz, has concluded a coalition deal with the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPO) cannot but be a distressing thought to the migrants.

Quite a stark contradiction considering that Angela Merkel, in neighbouring Germany, has been singularly  sympathetic and accommodating in her policies towards those fleeing North Africa and the Arab region, not to forget the Rohingyas. The coalition pact, that was signed in Vienna, comes two months after a parliamentary election that was dominated by Europe’s migration crisis. The wheel has turned full circle for the FPO, which was in the opposition for more than a decade. It had last entered government with the People’s Party (OVP), that Mr Kurz now heads.  While details of the coalition agreement are yet to be spelt out, Mr Kurz as the President-to-be has already worked out his agenda ~ “We want to reduce the burden on taxpayers  and, above, all we want to ensure greater security in our country, through the fight against illegal immigration.” He has thus made his position clear on by far the most sensitive issue that confronts Europe today.

Anti-establishment parties have scored major electoral gains in Europe in recent years by exploiting the general dissatisfaction of voters with the  handling of the economy, security and immigration by mainstream parties. Most of these parties, including the Front National led by Marine Le Pen, who made it to the French presidential runoff this year, have fallen short of entering government. In Austria, however, the FPO is expected to hold key posts, notably the interior, foreign and defence ministries. Which makes the psephological swing in Austria so very critical in the context of the nationalist surge in Europe, primarily the discourse over Brexit.

When the FPO last entered government in 2000, other EU countries had in protest imposed short-lived sanctions on Austria. Given the changed political landscape in Europe since then, the reaction is likely to be more restrained. There is little doubt that there is a nationalist wave across the Continent or even sub-regional jingoism as in Catalonia. Kurz has, however, sought to stave off potential criticism by offering assurances that his government will be pro-European. He plans to shift some EU departments from the foreign ministry to his office, and has secured a guarantee that there will be no Brexit-style referendum on leaving the bloc. That jingoist assertion was more pronounced in Britain.