The rhetoric about sending troops to the Brenner Pass was especially reactionary. But Austrian Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil felt compelled to use it anyway.
Declaring that the landlocked country was ready to use tanks and soldiers to stop refugees from crossing its border with Italy, he couldn’t have been any clearer about his government’s resolve.
The question is why. Are Austrians so naïve as to imagine that the militarisation of their border with Italy would solve the migrant crisis?
But that was not the point. The idea was to reach out to potential voters in October’s forthcoming national election, who might otherwise vote for centre and far-right parties, more opposed to multiculturalism and immigration.
Pollsters are already calling for a Socialist Democratic Party (SPÖ) defeat in the October vote.
In a May poll, current coalition partners the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) would win 35% of the vote, while the anti-immigrant Freedom Party (FPÖ) would get 25%.
The centre-left would be the big loser, with the Socialists getting 21% and the Greens 9%.
Hence the sense of emergency communicated by Doskozil’s threat. It was as much about his government’s fear of losing power as it was about the non-existent threat posed by refugees.
Truth be told, this wasn’t the first time the SPÖ has reached out to the far-right. Undoubtedly eyeing the poll numbers, in May, Chancellor Christian Kern did not rule out a coalition with the Freedom Party.
The two parties already sit in a much-criticised coalition in Burgenland. But a national coalition would break Social Democrats’ longstanding policy against entering national coalitions with the far-right FPÖ.
That’s why the threat to militarise Austria’s Italian border is so significant. Not because the migrants are much of a problem right now – few are crossing the border anyway – but because it augurs a far more fundamental shift in Austrian politics.
If the Socialists can privilege a party that is both nostalgic for the Nazi era, and bedfellows with Italy’s Northern League and France’s National Front, the so-called populist surge is by nowhere near over.
It just means that its momentum has shifted, geographically, to where it would naturally be strongest. Given the nationalist, anti-migrant politics of Austria’s neighbours, the consistency makes more sense.
All the SPÖ are doing, in threatening to stop refugees with tanks, is normalising the paranoid rhetoric typical of the Visegrad countries, for whom immigration and diversity is far less familiar than to Vienna.
The future of populism may be hazy in Paris and Amsterdam but it is still in the process of becoming what distinguishes the eastern from western halves of the EU.
That Austria would be the transitional point makes perfect sense, given its proximity to its former imperial holdings.
The Inside Track
Water sports. Croatia has rejected a ruling that gave neighbouring Slovenia access to international waters just off its coast, in a move that might create new obstacles for future EU enlargement in the Balkans.
Go West. The Serbian government, opposition and Kremlin have all reacted to a statement by Prime Minister Ana Brnabić that, if forced to choose between closer ties with Russia and membership of the Union, Belgrade would choose the EU.
Not my president. Donald Trump’s visit to Poland is a fulfilment of the Law and Justice’s (PiS) wildest dreams. In his speech, Trump lavished Polish politicians with praise. Smiling Polish leaders, scorned in EU corridors and plenaries, now finally found their true ally and friend, writes Karolina Zbytniewska.
Distance is a virtue. Poland, which wants to decrease its dependence on Russian energy, said on Monday that the start of production of gas and crude oil from an offshore field near Norway, in which the Polish company PGNiG has a stake, was “very good news”.
Get a lifejacket. The Three Seas Initiative is viewed with suspicion in Brussels due to its political implications. The best thing the EU can do to make it a success and counter anti-EU rhetoric in Central and Eastern Europe is by embracing it, writes Łukasz Janulewicz.
Food not bombs. Europe’s development policy should stay true to its aims of eradicating poverty and raising people’s quality of life. The increasing military slant of EU development aid is both illegal and inhumane, writes Finnish Green MEP Heidi Hautala.
Transparency international. The European Parliament on Tuesday voted to oblige multinationals to publish details of their activities on a country-by-country basis, even outside the EU. The measure is designed to help the poorest countries fight tax evasion.
Only which way is up. The European Space Agency has its sights set on Mars. The only real barrier to a manned mission is the length of the journey, Jean-Yves Le Gall told EURACTIV France.
Landfill is underground. MEPs agreed on Tuesday that manufacturers of electronic appliances should be encouraged to boost the useful life-span of their products by offering affordable spare parts and repair services.
Defer to management. Spain’s agricultural sector is concerned about free trade negotiations between the EU and third parties. The agreement with Canada (CETA) and on-going talks with South American trade bloc Mercosur are raising lots of doubts. EFEAgro reports.
Socialist takeover. With Jean-Claude Juncker now over half-way through his term as the head of the European Commission, the jostling ahead of the 2019 presidential contest has already begun. Juncker has always said he will not stand for a second term. Pierre Moscovici remembered.