Austria’s upcoming presidential election could prove to be a litmus test for Werner Faymann’s incumbent government, although there are few who fear that the country’s pro-EU stance is in jeopardy. EURACTIV Germany reports.
On 12 June 1994, 67% of Austrian voters chose to join the EU. Needless to say, the population, as in other member states, are still sceptical about EU decisions made in far-off Brussels. Yet despite all the criticism the majority of the Alpine republic is still behind the EU and are in favour of remaining in the bloc. Some are even in favour of strengthening the EU’s position in an increasingly globalised world. The upcoming presidential election is unlikely to change any of this.
Despite the Austrian presidency having just a largely representative role, with little actual power to influence policy, the leanings of the eventual successful candidate could prove to be important.
Of the potential candidates, it is only Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party that has a detached attitude towards Brussels. He has stressed in the past that he voted to join the EU in the 1990s and would do so again now, but if Turkey were to gain membership, he would campaign for Austria to leave.
The other four candidates, Irmgard Griss, Rudolf Hundstorfer, Andreas Khol and Alexander van der Bellen, are all pro-EU and have been active in the Brussels political scene for a number of years.
Austria, much like Germany, is very sceptical of the proposed free trade deal between the EU and the United States (TTIP). Van der Bellen, of the Austrian Greens, has announced his intent to block the agreement at every possible opportunity. Chancellor Werner Faymann has also made his anti-TTIP attitude clear.
The other candidates have their concerns about TTIP as well, but are more open to waiting for the negotiations to conclude before judging the proposed deal objectively.
A potential “Austro-exit” from the EU remains highly unlikely, despite the current ruling parties, the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), dwindling in the polls. The major issue facing Europe, the refugee crisis, is beginning to work politically for the incumbent parties in Vienna, as the government is now enjoying public support to some extent.
Whatever the outcome of the presidential election on 24 April, Austria’s future seems certain to be tied to that of the EU’s, what kind of EU that will be will be highly dependent on the actions of other member states such as the United Kingdom and Germany, as Brexit and the refugee crisis continue to dominate the agendas of Europe’s leaders.