May 23. 2024. 9:02

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The Brief – The rehearsal


Austria is charged with political electricity, but it’s not because of the upcoming EU elections in June. Bigger events are looming only three months later: the national election that might put the far-right in charge of the Alpine country.

In less than a month Austria chooses 20 EU lawmakers to represent it in Brussels and Strasbourg.

Despite the speeches about the importance of the EU, Austrian candidates are boilerplate backbenchers – unlike neighbouring Germany, where talk-show clashes between local political firebrands and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are looming large, while in France, EU election clashes happen daily.

But Austrian party slates feature political has-beens, like centre-right Österreichische Volkspartei’s (ÖVP) Reinhold Lopatka – who last held a relevant position in 2017 – or the eternal far-right Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ) networker Harald Vilimsky – who after 10 years in parliament, looks to continue his pet project of uniting the German-speaking far-right with those in Italy and Hungary.

The centre-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ) put forward Andreas Schieder – who remains an unknown after leading the party to a massive defeat in the 2019 EU elections.

Like the candidates, the political slogans stem from a lack of motivation. Lopatka promises ‘Europe. But better’ while the Greens say ‘Europe needs heart’.

The FPÖ appears to churn out posters at the same rate as all the other parties combined putting some zing into their campaign, with a particularly tasteless image of von der Leyen kissing Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenksyy, linking them to “Eco-Communism” and “warmongering”:

The European Election is, in fact, a rehearsal for the real thing: Just three months later, sometime in September, the country’s biggest parliamentary election of the decade will take place. Politicians will face the music in the form of the bill for COVID-19-related spending and the inflation that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

When citizens head to the polls to elect a new national parliament, they will unseat the longest-sitting lawmakers in the country’s democratic history – after terms were extended to five years in 2007, no single government lasted this long, and it is only the second government to even make it this far.

The political cards aren’t just being reshuffled – the whole table will be flipped.

2019 saw the liberal-conservative ÖVP – led by now-disgraced Sebastian Kurz – winning over a third of the vote. But today, reaching more than a fifth of the votes may be seen as a great result.

The Greens, who quadrupled their vote share to 13% in 2019, are now struggling to surpass 10%.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile biggest opposition party, the SPÖ, is floundering at about 20%, plagued by infighting and the missteps of the newly crowned far-left leader, the small-town Mayor Andreas Babler.

While initially touted as a revivalist of the well-trodden centre-left, Babler has failed to stand out politically and personally, spurning elites in favour of appealing to an undefined “our people.”

In the other corner, the FPÖ—with fresh support from anti-vaxxers and those partial to Russia—is at 30%, doubling its 2019 result to become the most dominant party. This would give the far-right to claim at least the post of parliament president, with its vast procedural powers.

And Herbert Kickl, the far-right firebrand and self-styled “People’s Chancellor,” may well become chancellor, the head of the Austrian government, a first in the country’s post-war history.

When Austria first welcomed the FPÖ, then led by Jörg Haider, into government in 2000, the EU was shocked and considered sanctioning the country. Few expect that external pressures will prevail this time around.

June will show whether the FPÖ can transform polling into poll results and whether one shock election will be enough to calm the population’s anger.

Until then, other political parties get to rouse their campaigners, rehearse their canvassing pitches, work on their design skills, and start training for the hot phase of the election – Kickl already did a cross-country test run last year, other politicians may well struggle to match him.


The Roundup

French delegate Minister of Industry Roland Lescure visited the production site of Italian pharmaceutical group Chiesi in the Loir-et-Cher area on Tuesday, after the company announced an investment of €10 million.

To get Europe on track for its 2030 renewables targets, the European Commission has provided new guidelines to EU countries for fast-track deployment zones while opening the door to more restrictive renewables auctions.

Member states keen on integrating their capital markets will likely move ahead by themselves if no EU-wide consensus can be reached, European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni said on Monday.

The European Union sent an official complaint to the broadcaster of the Eurovision song contest on Monday over its refusal to let participants wave the bloc’s flag at this year’s final.

A meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara occurred in a “positive atmosphere”, but thorny issues and disagreements remain.

Look out for…

  • Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski attends online 34th session of FAO Regional Conference for Europe on Wednesday.
  • Commission Vice President Vĕra Jourová attends joint signing ceremony of Interinstitutional Ethics Body Agreement on Wednesday.
  • Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi in Montenegro, participates in regional Western Balkans leaders summit on Growth Plan on Wednesday-Thursday.

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