Austria’s far-right Freedom Party is gearing up for national elections on October 15.
Four years ago, the party took 20% nationally. The party’s leader Heinz-Christian Strache is courting voters on promises to prevent the “Islamification” of Austria, deny migrants access to generous welfare payments and boost the incomes of ordinary families.
“Voters don’t see us as a protest party – but a party with solutions,” says Hannes Amesbauer, who tops the party’s list of local candidates, dressed in traditional Lederhosen.
As reported by The Financial Times, a strong Freedom Party performance would be the next challenge for mainstream European politicians – after last month’s breakthrough by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) which won 13% of the vote in Germany’s election and took more than 90 seats in parliament.
In fact, a Freedom win on October 15 could reawaken fears of a far-right insurgency across Europe and make Vienna a more antagonistic EU partner, creating the threat of Austria joining an “awkward squad” of countries prepared to challenge Brussels on European issues.
But the Freedom Party faces a huge challenge from Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s youthful foreign minister and leader of the centre-right People’s party. He is riding a surge of support after outflanking the Freedom party on its main issue – Austria’s response to Europe’s 2015 migration crisis.
“My impression is that the Freedom party has lost some of its unique selling point,” says Günter Riegler, Graz’s finance minister and People’s party politician. “There is a still a big trauma here about the events of 2015. This is something on which Mr Kurz has answers.”