He did it. Sebastian Kurz, head of the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), won the Austrian election.
His shift to a more populist stance on immigration and the EU may have been decisive, and reflects a broader trend in the region, with Kurz endorsing a reform scenario where the Union should be “doing less more efficiently” during his campaign.
However, after his victory, Kurz was at pains to point out that he intends to lead a “pro-European government” – a jab directed at the notoriously euroskeptic Freedom Party (FPÖ). But perhaps there is common ground. Kurz’s disregard for traditional politics is in tune with Czechia’s Andrej Babiš and Slovakia’s Robert Fico. His style may even be compatible with the national-conservative outlook of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Poland’s PiS government.
The latter in particular seeks to put an end to the EU’s “lecturing” on judicial independence, freedom of the press, LGBT rights and refugee relocation, wanting the Union to focus on economic development first and foremost. Kurz seems sympathetic to this low-key pragmatism, and the Freedom Party certainly is.
Closer cooperation with its neighbors – all nations once part of the Habsburg Empire – is essentially a good thing for Austria. The country has always felt a bit stranded – supposedly Western, but smack in the heart of Central Europe. Is this good for Europe at large?Austria EU status could help promote neglected initiatives, but may also strengthen anti-liberal tendencies. Only time will tell.