Chancellor Resigns

Austria's Political Powder Keg

Faymann dpa
Austria's chancellor, Werner Faymann, the first major political casualty of Europe's refugee crisis.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Mr. Faymann’s resignation highlights a major political crisis brewing in Austria and beyond. With refugees flooding Europe, the rise of the far right in Austria is being mirrored across much of the continent.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Werner Faymann had been Austrian chancellor since the end of 2008. He resigned with immediate effect.
    • Austria’s two major political parties, Mr. Faymann’s center-left SPÖ and the center-right ÖVP, suffered embarrassing defeat in presidential elections two weeks ago.
    • The right-wing Freedom Party’s candidate won the first round of voting in the presidential elections, though it is likely to lose the runoff to a Green party-backed candidate.
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    Audio

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Few countries have borne the brunt of Europe’s refugee crisis more than Austria. On Monday, the ongoing refugee crisis claimed its first major political scalp.

Werner Faymann resigned suddenly on Monday as Austria’s chancellor, two weeks after his Social Democratic party suffered an embarrassing defeat in presidential elections. Mr. Faymann also stepped down as the head of the center-left SPÖ, the Austrian Social Democratic Party that has ruled the country for much of the post-war period.

His resignation, brought about by a failure to stop the far right’s rise in this central European country of 8.5 million people, should serve as a cautionary tale for much of Europe. Much of the continent has struggled to curb populist parties in the past year amid sharp disagreements over how to handle an influx of well over one million refugees from Syria and other countries.

Austria has been at the center of Europe’s tortured response to the refugee crisis – and has often seemed overwhelmed. Mr. Faymann himself has been a controversial player in the debate over how to handle the influx of hundreds of thousands that passed through Austria in the past year, first offering a welcoming hand before making an about-face and closing its borders to new arrivals.

Mr. Faymann’s rightward shift over the past few months angered many in his own party. It also did little to stem the far right’s rise in a country that has a history of dabbling with populist parties.

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