Even if Austria’s far-right party fails to enter government after October 15 elections, its views on immigration already have.
The anti-Islam Freedom Party’s (FPO) popularity reached new heights during Europe’s migration crisis in 2015 when it denounced the centrist government’s decision to throw open Austria’s borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees and other migrants.
It ran first in opinion polls for more than a year, with support of more than 30 per cent, and its candidate came close to winning last year’s presidential election.
Now the party has slipped to second or third while the Social Democrats and conservative People’s Party (OVP) – the two parties in government, which have dominated post-war politics – have moved towards the far right’s positions.
Most of the migrants and refugees carried on to Germany in 2015 but 90,000, or more than 1 per cent of Austria’s population, stayed and sought asylum. The two centrist parties have since promised to make sure this never happens again.
“Both government parties are something like FPO light,” political analyst Anton Pelinka said. “They are not exactly the same as the FPO but the crossover has become very fluid.”
A spat with Italy on July 4 about control of their shared border has highlighted the shift.
In an interview with Austria’s top-selling tabloid, Austrian Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil he expected border controls at the Brenner Pass, a gateway for Italy to northern Europe, “very soon”. The article added that 750 soldiers and four armoured vehicles were available to secure the border if needed.
Italy reacted furiously, summoning Austria’s ambassador to Rome before Doskozil and Chancellor Christian Kern, both Social Democrats, backed away from the comments.