The formation of a right wing government in Austria shows us that the European Union is not a bulwark against racism – and that the left would do well to turn against its institutions in order to prevent a far right resurgence, argues Vladimir Unkovski-Korica
Austria just saw a right wing government take power as the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far right Freedom Party (FPÖ) joined forces.
You will look in vain for the howls of indignation as you scour the front pages of the press across Europe. Instead, you will be told that the Freedom Party has moderated its stances to win elections.
But the Freedom Party counts France’s Front National, the Dutch PVV of Geert Wilders and Italy’s Lega Nord as its sister parties in the European Parliament.
Its elevation to government is a shocking development. Austria now joins the so-called Visegrad Group, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, as a country with a right government.
Indeed, the campaign was dominated by the Freedom Party’s anti-immigrant and law and order rhetoric, something that the leadership of the People’s Party adopted.
Unlike in 2000, when the Freedom Party was last in power, the European Union has not threatened sanctions. The truth is that an anti-immigrant agenda is now deeply embedded in Brussels.
The left should take note. It was just a year ago that Alexander Van der Bellen, a Green, narrowly defeated the Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer to become president of Austria.
But that victory did not stop the continued rise of the far right. Following meetings with the People’s Party’s Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz and Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, Van der Bellen said:
“In these talks, among other things, we agreed it is in the national interest of Austria to remain at the centre of a strong European Union and to actively participate in the future development of the European Union.”
This is probably also a re-assuring reference to the rest of the EU which has, just a month ago, launched its military pact, PESCO, which will commit member states to increased investment in defence and cooperation in developing defence capabilities.
Watch out for increasing calls for a Christian Europe to unite against an alleged Islamic threat. Freedom Party General Secretary Herbert Kickl will now be interior minister. He authored such election slogans such as “Home not Islam” and “Western lands in Christian hands.”
The Freedom Party will also now hold the defence ministry and the foreign minister will be its nominee, Karin Kneissl, who in 2015 claimed that refugees from the Middle East were in fact economic migrants.
The left cannot stop the rise of such parties by defending establishment institutions and their bankrupt and unjust foreign policies and domestic agendas. It must instead turn to mobilising the population for a better vision of society.
Doing so in Britain is not achieved by making pacts with the likes of Tony Blair to stop Brexit. That is the surest way of taking Britain down the Austrian road.
Rather, it is done by formulating a positive agenda for a people’s Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn has given hope to millions by telling the banks that he is a threat to them.
Let us build on that and create a fighting left alternative in the workplaces and on the streets to take on the power of the establishment.
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