Austria’s embattled chancellor was greeted yesterday (1 May) with loud boos as he addressed around 80,000 people in Vienna on May Day, a week after the government’s disastrous defeat at the hands of the far-right in a presidential ballot.
The jeering and whistling at times threatened to derail Werner Faymann’s speech as he sought to defend the ruling coalition’s handling of the migrant crisis and rising unemployment.
Many in the crowd gathered outside the city hall held up signs reading: “Retirement for Faymann! Step down now!”
Raising his voice, Faymann urged party supporters and trade unions to choose a “united path… for a fair, socially equal Austria”.
The coalition, made up of Faymann’s Social Democrats (SPOe) and the conservative People’s Party (OeVP), has been haemorrhaging voters to the far-right Freedom Party, whose presidential candidate Norbert Hofer won the first round of a presidential election last weekend.
Austria’s government was licking its wounds after a historic debacle that saw the opposition anti-immigrant far-right triumph yesterday (24 April) in a presidential ballot two years before the next scheduled general election.
Meanwhile candidates from the two main parties, which have effectively run Austria since the end of World War II, failed to even make it into the runoff on 22 May.
The FPOe also looks set to do well in the scheduled general election in 2018, consistently scoring more than 30% in voter opinion polls.
In light of this, there has been a growing rift in the SPOe between those pushing for closer cooperation with the FPOe and those strongly opposed to any rapprochement.
Several regional party heads have also demanded Faymann’s resignation in recent days – a call he has so far rejected.
Austria received 90,000 asylum demands last year, the second-highest number in the bloc on a per-capita basis.
In response, the government introduced border fences and imposed tough restrictions on asylum-seekers.
Tensions reached a boiling point between the European states worst affected by the refugee crisis ahead of a meeting of Balkan states in Vienna today (24 February), as new figures showed no let-up in the influx of asylum seekers.
The Austrian government announced yesterday (20 January) that it would cap the number of people allowed to claim asylum this year, and that it would send excess refugees back, or deport them to the neighbouring countries through which they came.
But this has not stemmed growing dissatisfaction among Austria’s regional leaders who say their states are unable to shoulder the burden of the many new arrivals.
In addition to the refugee crisis, Austria also no longer has the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union, and Faymann’s coalition, in power since 2008, has bickered over structural reforms.
Gianni Pittella, leader of the Socialist and Democrats group in the European Parliament, told EurActiv.com that Faymann is responsible for the poor results in the first round of the presidential election, because his party imitated the xenophobic right on migration issues. Anxious voters “chose the original, and not the photocopy”, he said
- 22 May: Second round of Austrian presidential election.