Austria: Strache ante portas

Juncker, Timmermans, and other EU leaders may not be happy to hear it, but in all likelyhood there will soon be another EU Member State with a Euro-skeptic government. But this time, the Member State concerned is a net payer, and the Euro-skeptic leader in question is more “hard-core” than, say, Viktor Orban or Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The so-called “Grand Coalition” between Socialists and People’s Party has broken down, and this time it seems that really there is no chance for renewal. The People’s Party is in search of a new leader, and everyone seems to be agreeing that it must be Sebastian Kurz, the (only) 30-year-old Foreign Minister and political shooting star. Well aware that he is the conservative perty’s last hope, Kurz is dictating his conditions: he wants full control.

But while this drama is unfolding, the important news from an EU-perspective is that the relationship between the Socialists and the People’s Party have degraded to such an extent that a renewal of their coalition, which has ruled Austria for the greater part of the last 70 years, seems excluded. And this means that neither the Socialists nor the People’s Party will be able to form a government without the right-wing and euro-sceptic Freedomite Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ), lead by  Heinz-Christian Strache, successor of the notorious Jörg Haider. It is even possible that Strache will be the next chancellor, if his (as some opinion polls suggest)  party comes first at the next elections which are now expected to take place still this year.

When a government that included the FPÖ was formed in 2000, the other EU Member States did not even wait for the new government to do anything wrong, but immediately reacted with so-called “diplomatic sanctions”, a mis-guided and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to isolate Austria diplomatically. What has remained from that time is a deeply entrenched Euro-skepticism in large parts of the Austrian population, and on the side of the EU the insight that sanctions can backfire.

It is therefore not to be expected that there will be another such attempt in case the next Austrian government includes, or is even led by, the Freedomites. Instead, there will be a third country (besides Poland and Hungary) led by Euro-skeptics – and the European Institutions will slowly but surely come to the insight that they cannot be at war with three Member States at the same time.

Perhaps the EU’s assiduous “anti-fascists” will be reconciled by the fact that it is the Socialists, not the People’s Party, that currently seem more likely to become the Freedomites’ coalition party…