Austrian elections

No Time to Relax

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The possibility of a right-wing populist becoming chancellor is a real.

  • Facts


    • Alexander van der Bellen won the presidential election on Sunday, beating the right-wing populist Norbert Hofer.
    • In Austria’s parliamentary democracy, the president holds less power than the chancellor.
    • In parliamentary elections likely nexy year, Heinz-Christian Strache, another right-wing populist, is a strong candidate to become chancellor.
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Heinz-Christian Strache, the head of Austria's Freedom Party, could become Austria's chancellor next year. Source: AP

Liberal Austria is breathing a sigh of relief. The former head of the Green party and E.U. advocate, Alexander van der Bellen, decisively beat the far-right populist Norbert Hofer in the Austrian presidential elections on Sunday. That’s good news for the European Union.

But despite the election results, Austria’s business community and political establishment have no reason to relax.

Norbert Hofer may have roiled many on the campaign trail but he was never a danger to Austria’s economy. And even if he would have cast a “brown shadow” on Austrtia’s well-groomed image of Lipizzan horses of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austrian Empress Elisabeth “Sissi” and Mozart chocolate balls, it wouldn’t have been more than a symbolic shadow on Austria’s standing as a business location.

With Mr. Hofer’s fellow party member, Heinz-Christian Strache, it could be a different story.

Mr. Strache, who heads the Freedom Party of Austria, or FPÖ, and was engaged in neo-Nazi circles in his youth, could well become the country’s next chancellor. The country’s ruling grand coalition with the Peoples’ Party and the Social Democrats needs to get a grip on the backlog of reforms; otherwise, right-wing populists could provide a thriller again next year, when general elections are expected.

Norbert Hofer may have roiled many on the campaign trail but he was never a danger to Austria’s economy.

Social Democrat Chancellor Christian Kern, who came to office in May after his predecessor Werner Faymann resigned, has preferred to oversee small reforms over big ones. Instead of tackling urgently needed changes to the labor market and education, the coalition partners are distributing €100, or about $107, to every Austrian pensioner — an early election gift that many don’t grasp as such. And while the Social Democrats and conservatives squabble and hope for success in new elections in coming years, Mr. Strache is steadily pulling ahead in the polls.

His economic policy is about as well thought out as Donald Trump’s, but this vacuum of ideas no longer frightens off those voters increasingly left behind by prosperity. Instead of letting himself be carried away to new elections by Mr. Van der Bellen’s victory, Mr. Kern will need to deliver key reforms. Not only the Lipizzan horses need to be taken good care of; Austria’s status as a business location demands attention, too.


Andreas Macho is an editor with the business magazine WirtschaftsWoche, a sister publication. To reach the author:

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