Austrian election: why is it significant and what does it mean for EU policy on borders, migrants and refugees?

Austrian election: why is it significant and what does it mean for EU policy on borders, migrants and refugees?

By Justin Huggler

Why is today’s vote significant?


The two-party system which has held a grip on Austria since the Second World War looks set to be broken. For the first time since 1945 it seems almost certain an outside candidate will win the presidency.


How powerful is the Austrian president?


The presidency is largely a ceremonial role, but for it to be wrested from the traditional parties could be the start of a revolution in Austrian politics, and a sign of things to come in 2018’s general elections.


Who’s likely to win?


Norbert Hofer, an anti-immigrant gun enthusiast, and Alexander van der Bellen, a pro-refugee environmentalist, are neck-and-neck in the opinion polls. Imgard Griss, a former Supreme Court judge, is just behind them.


How did Austria get here?


The past year has been one of political turmoil in Austria. While its neighbour Germany has dominated the headlines, it has been hit just as hard by the migrant crisis.


Last year Werner Faymman, the Austrian chancellor, backed Angela Merkel’s “open-door” refugee policy. But as 90,000 asylum-seekers flooded in and public opposition rose, his government performed an extraordinary U-turn.


He closed Austria’s borders, imposed limits on the number of asylum-seekers, and led the international bid to shut off the “Balkan Route” and confine migrants in Greece.


So is this an anti-migrant vote?


Not entirely. While the gun-toting Mr Hofer is riding high on anti-migrant rhetoric, he’s actually a couple of points behind Mr van der Bellen, who has been largely pro-refugee.


The child of refugees himself, Mr van der Bellen opposed the government’s limits on asylum-seekers.


What the polls appear to show is that, just as in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, public opinion is deeply divided over the migrant issue.


Does it matter outside Austria?


Yes, because the polarisation of attitudes across the continent, reflected in the Austrian polls, is making it hard for Europe to agree common policies on migrants, refugees and border security. Since there is supposed to be freedom of movement inside the EU, the crisis affects everyone, including Britain.


When will we know the results?


Voting closes at 4pm on Sunday London time, and the first exit polls should be available some time after that.


But a final result is highly unlikely today. No candidate looks like getting enough votes to win outright.


The election will almost certainly go to a second-round run-off between the highest-finishing two candidates, to be held on May 22.



The Telegraph






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