Immigration Unease Strengthens European Conservatives
31-year-old conservative People’s Party Sebastian Kurz became the youngest world leader on October 15th following elections in Austria. Kurz’s election demonstrates a recent spike in support for conservative right-winged parties throughout Europe.
“It is time for change in this country. Today is a strong order for us, to change this country, and I say thank you to all who made this possible…I’m overwhelmed, I am happy and I look forward to working for Austria,” Kruz stated in his acceptance speech.
The People’s Party is set to win more than 31 percent of the Parliament, and could potentially be seeking an alliance with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). FPÖ has described itself as the “defender of tradition” in Austria with its political platform similar to the conservative German Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and French National Front. The similarities include:
- A strong anti-Muslim message, calling for a ban on face veils (which has recently been signed into law)
- FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache calling for an “Islamization ban” describing Islam as “misogynistic,” “anti-liberal,” and having a “fascistic world view.”
- Support for reducing asylum applications from 35,000 seen in 2016 to 17,000 in 2017.
In addition, FPÖ has been critical of current Austrian Federal Chancellor Christian Kern from the Social Democratic Party, with Strache referring to Kern as “one of the co-perpetrators of those human trafficking organizations.”
This recent development in Austria is indicative of an internationally changing political narrative that is resonating with voters all over the world. Over the past couple of months, the European Union has seen several critical elections in key member states amidst the current refugee crises and the Brexit referendum. In each election, there have been strong conservative political successes on both presidential and parliamentary levels.
During the French elections, presidential candidate Marine Le Pen garnered 35 percent of the vote, earning the party its biggest-ever vote share in a presidential election (nearly doubling her father’s 17.8 percent). In the United Kingdom, Conservative Party Prime Minister Theresa May led the conversation on Britain’s historic divorce from the EU. This past September, despite Angela Merkel’s fourth secured term as German chancellor, the conservative Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) secured 13 percent of German Parliament seats. This exceptional share of seats marks the first time in almost sixty years that AfD will be represented in the German government.
The popularity of these far-right political parties parallels voters’ concerns of immigration and national security. According to a research study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2016, a majority of citizens in ten European nations are concerned that the influx of refugees will increase the likelihood of terrorism and impose a burden on their countries. This research was conducted prior to the terrorist attacks in France and Germany that occurred during summer 2016.
With immigration on the forefront of European nations’ agendas, elections have demonstrated substantial support from anti-immigration political parties.