BRUSSELS — Rather than a sudden lurch to the right, the victory of conservative and far-right parties in Austria’s elections Sunday was another reflection of the new normal in Europe, where anti-immigration populism and nationalism are challenging the European Union’s commitment to open borders for trade and immigration.
Nearly 58 percent of Austrians who voted cast ballots for center-right or far-right parties, with the far-right Freedom Party running neck-and-neck for second place with the establishment center-left. But the theme of the election was identity — anti-immigration and anti-Islamization — with the charismatic winner, Sebastian Kurz, just 31, tellingly absorbing much of the far-right’s agenda to transform his once-mainstream conservative People’s Party.
Mr. Kurz must now decide whether to create a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party or to renew a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats, which would ease European concerns to some degree about another populist party in government. But the message is clear: populism is vibrant in democratic Europe, and especially so in its eastern precincts.
Ivan Krastev, a political scientist who works in Vienna and Sofia, Bulgaria, sees the migration crisis, which has hardly ended, as the main threat to the European Union. “The resistance of liberals to conceding any negative effects of migration has triggered the anti-establishment (and particularly anti-mainstream media) reaction that is convulsing political life,” he wrote in his recent book, “After Europe.”
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