Austria could be on the cusp of having its first populist Chancellor, an interview with a senior centre-right politician in the country has suggested.
Defence minister Klaudia Tanner of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) has confirmed that her group is looking at forming a two-party ruling coalition after the country’s forthcoming general election, due this year.
According to the senior politician, trying to build a framework for governance is “troublesome” and, for that reason, the ÖVP would “prefer” to work with just one other party if possible.
That has been seen by many as Tanner expressing interest in a coalition with the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), which is currently both the most popular in the country and the only group the ÖVP would be able to form a majority coalition with.
In turn, this would likely mean the appointment of the FPÖ’s first-ever Chancellor, with the group having never been able to secure the top job since it was founded in the 1950s.
Such a right-wing alliance would come with conditions, though, with the defence minister making clear that her party was not interested in entering government with the FPÖ if it remains under the leadership of Herbert Kickl.
According to Tanner, Kickl represents a “security risk” to Austria, with her having previously lambasted his “attitude towards investment” in the country’s military.
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— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) November 23, 2023
Tanner’s apparent olive branch towards the FPÖ, although conditional, seems to represent a shift in attitudes towards the populist party in Austria.
The long-standing party has had its ups and downs, but has seen consistent growth since the end of the pandemic, overtaking both the ÖVP and the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) in the polls in late 2022.
This has corresponded with a shift towards a more modern right-wing populism, similar to that of France’s Rassemblement National and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland.
The group has consistently remained at the head of the political pack since 2022, with it now the favourite to win both the European and general elections set to take place in 2024.
According to Tanner, the latter of these two elections will not be anytime soon, with the ÖVP adamant it will not announce the nationwide poll until after the summer.
The defence minister insisted it would make “no sense at all” to hold the general election before then, considering the current Government’s mandate only expires in the autumn.
“We were elected to work through to the end of the legislative period,” she said.
“There is enough to do, not least in the defence department.”
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