A collective sigh of relief across Europe: With Norbert Hofer and Geert Wilders defeated at the polls, right-wing, anti-European populism appears to be in retreat – at least for now.
There’s even talk of a reverse “Trump effect”: After seeing the chaos the U.S. president has sowed in just a few weeks in office, disgruntled voters are far less likely to take a chance on a demagogue offering easy answers. Better to stick with the devil you know…
Let’s be cautious in our celebration. Wilders still came in second, largely because mainstream parties pandered to the right, co-opting their tone and agenda; Incumbent Mark Rutte even picked a diplomatic fight with Turkey on the eve of the election.
Here in Austria, Chancellor Christian Kern and Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz – the likely conservative front-runner – are trying to one-up each other with Austria First rhetoric and EU criticism; the far right must be grinding its teeth.
These victories may be pyrrhic: At this rate, the FPÖ, AfD and their compatriots don’t need to win, as every defeat pushes their agenda further into the mainstream.
And the true litmus test for European unity, solidarity and an open society is yet to come: The French elections.