June 23. 2024. 12:55

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Austrian conservatives’ continued far-right flirt

On Easter, a holy day for conservatives, the political ballet in Vienna started a new chapter as conservative ÖVP grandee, Finance Minister Magnus Brunner, felt obligated to retract comments that indicated his openness to governing with the far-right.

In the autumn of 2024, Austrians will elect a new parliament. For months now, the far-right FPÖ has been leading the polls, hovering at about 30% of support, according to multiple pollsters. This will likely make it almost impossible to form a government without them.

When asked about this by Krone, Austria’s domineering tabloid, Brunner noted that there were already multiple state-level coalitions with the far-right in place. “You have to look at it pragmatically,” he told the tabloid in an interview published Saturday.

This was widely interpreted as if we must, we conservatives will again govern alongside the far-right. After all, just weeks before, Brunner’s home state, Lower Austria, saw an ÖVP-FPÖ coalition.

It wouldn’t be the first time Austria’s conservatives governed with the far-right.

They did so in the 2000s, although the judicial review of what kind of tomfoolery happened then is yet to be fully finished.

And they did so again in 2017. That government went up in flames when the FPÖ’s leadership attempted to drunkenly sell off core state assets to a supposed Russian oligarch in a sting operation.

But that was at a time when the FPÖ could be considered relatively more moderate: a political party that mixed anti-foreigner rhetoric with deeply conservative values and a distaste for state intervention.

Yet, years of COVID-19 restrictions – Austria was the only EU country to implement mandatory vaccination – and the impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have further radicalised a party that already catered to the extremes.

At least parts of the ÖVP seem to have a similar view of the FPÖ. Or they are being careful.

On Sunday, Brunner tweeted that his statement was explicitly limited to the Lower Austrian coalition with the far-right. “At the moment, it is not so easy to talk to the FPÖ,” he added.

He should have been sitting in his garden, dining on a lamb-shaped cake and reclining in his chair. It was Easter, after all. Instead, he tweeted. Could the conservative’s upper echelon have been unhappy with his statement? Or the way it was being perceived?

For Europe, and Austria, hope that the centre-right’s wariness of the extreme persists.

(Nikolaus J. Kurmayer | EURACTIV.de)