Austria: Chancellor's resignation due to "populism trap"?

Article published on May 10, 2016
Article published on May 10, 2016

Austria's Social Democratic Chancellor Werner Faymann tendered his resignation on Monday, citing a lack of support in the SPÖ. Is he being made to pay for his party's weakness or did he opt for the wrong approach in the refugee crisis?

Paying for his crisis of confidenceHospodářské noviny, Czech Republic

Faymann is a victim of the crisis of the traditional parties, Hospodářské noviny comments: "The feeling is spreading across large sections of Austrian society that the traditional parties are no longer in a position to solve the country's problems. And this in Austria of all places, which got through the financial and economic crisis without major setbacks and has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the EU. The roots of the crisis of confidence lie in the sempiternal grand coalitions between Social Democrats and the conservative People's Party. This has paved the way for protest groups. ... The traditional parties should quickly wake up to the fact that the old days when power was divided according to proportional representation are over." (10/05/2016)

SPÖ on the brink of collapse - Delo, Slovakia

Faymann does not bear all the responsibility for the SPÖ's current predicament, the daily Delo believes: "He merely personifies the increasingly divided party. In its desperate attempt to maintain its traditional coalition of workers and intellectual voters the SPÖ has become caught up in a self-destructive 'strategy'. If the party thought it was going to attract more voters from the 'proletariat' - many of whom had gone over to the Freedom Party - by taking a tougher line on refugees, it made a big mistake. At the same time it has lost its liberal intellectual supporters because of this stance. The latter might return if the party campaigned for a more open refugee policy once more. But social democracy can only be saved if it can find a way to regain the confidence of the lost souls among proletarian voters." (10/05/2016)

Chancellor caught in populism trapEl País, Spain

The failure of the Austrian chancellor should be a lesson to the other EU politicians, writes el País: "What happened on Europe Day in Austria is a lesson to other European politicians who might succumb to the temptation of sacrificing their ideals and the fundamental principles of the EU. … The change of direction has not undermined support for far-right populism but has cost the government the trust of a significant proportion of progressive voters who see the change in stance as a betrayal of the party's principles. … The political earthquake that has shaken Austria teaches us two lessons: the problems are there and they can't be ignored; and making concessions to xenophobic populism and adopting some of its demands doesn't stop its progress but only gives its discourse legitimacy." (10/05/2016)

Propelled to power by his party and the tabloidsWiener Zeitung, Austria

Faymann owed his rise to power to the tabloids and his party, the Wiener Zeitung rails: "The chancellor spent a lot of taxpayers' money on securing the solidarity of the tabloids and in return they heaped him with praise in their reporting. This was one of the axes that propelled Faymann from Vienna's town hall, where he held the post of City Councillor for Housing from 1994 to 2006, to the Ministry of Transport and finally to the position of party chairman and Austrian chancellor. Another axis consisted of personal loyalties. … Functionary for the Socialist Youth Vienna, local councillor, tenants' association official, city councillor, minister, chancellor - Faymann's career always remained within the closed loop of Social Democratic Party politics. He even did his community service in an SPÖ organisation. And his second wife, Martina Ludwig-Faymann, is municipal councillor for the SPÖ in Vienna." (10/05/2016)

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