Exciting Race for EU Mandates: Austria's Parties in Starting Position

PeoplePoliticians ♦ Published: January 31, 2024; 12:50 ♦ (Vindobona)

Austria's political landscape is gearing up for an exciting election year, starting with the election of EU representatives in June. The Neos were recently the last of the parliamentary parties to complete their list of candidates and their election program, marking the official start of preparations for the EU elections. Despite this great start to the campaign, the rise of right-wing populist parties in Europe and the troubled relations between the EU and Russia will make the EU elections even more complicated.

The EU elections are taking place in the context of relations between the EU and Russia and could be further complicated by the rise of right-wing populist parties in Europe. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons; Diliff, CC BY 3.0 DEED (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en)

Helmut Brandstätter was elected as the Neos' top candidate in Vorarlberg, joining the list of top candidates that includes Reinhold Lopatka (ÖVP), Andreas Schieder (SPÖ), Harald Vilimsky (FPÖ) and Lena Schilling (Greens). The EU election is seen as decisive for the future direction of the European Union. The candidates bring a wide range of experience and political views to the table, suggesting a diverse and committed campaign. Lena Schilling, who is entering the race as a Green newcomer, stands out for her commitment to climate protection and her positioning as a "bulwark against the right". The Neos are aiming to win two seats, an increase on their 2019 result.

However, the political scene is not only characterized by ambition and strategic goals. The federal congress of the Greens on 22 June and the upcoming National Council elections in the fall show that the political year will be full of important decisions for Austria. Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) recently put an end to speculation about a possible election date in the spring by referring to the National Council elections in the fall.

The candidates for the EU elections face different challenges and opportunities. Harald Vilimsky (FPÖ), known for his networking within right-wing parties in Europe, and Reinhold Lopatka (ÖVP), an experienced foreign policy expert, represent the experienced political front. Andreas Schieder (SPÖ), who entered the race in 2019 as a "gap filler", wants to strengthen his position in Europe, while Helmut Brandstätter (Neos), with his profound understanding of EU issues, is seen as a beacon of hope for his party. Lena Schilling, a young, female activist in Austria, is seen as a key figurehead for the Greens, as she and climate protection have been closely linked since the Fridays for Future protests.

With a mix of experienced politicians and fresh faces, the upcoming EU elections in Austria promise to paint a revealing picture of citizens' political preferences and visions for the future. Voters are faced with the important task of setting the course for the future of Europe and Austria's role in it.

Significance for the EU

The upcoming EU election in Austria is characterized by a diverse list of candidates offering a wide range of political experiences and visions for the future of the EU. Current polls show a dynamic political landscape: while the FPÖ is in the lead, the ÖVP is predicted to decline compared to the 2019 results. The SPÖ is holding its position and the Neos and the Greens are seeking to improve their mandates.

The EU election is seen as decisive for the future direction of the EU, with domestic issues expected to dominate, although international issues are also likely to play a role. An interesting aspect of this election is the high proportion of voters who say they are certain to vote, indicating a high level of political engagement among the population.

The political landscape in Austria is lively in the run-up to these elections and shows the commitment of the parties and candidates to help shape the future of the EU. The coming months leading up to the election in June therefore promise to be exciting, with intense debates and campaigns highlighting the different visions for Austria's role in Europe.

European elections 2024: shift to the right and Russia

The 2024 European elections will be marked by growing concerns about a possible shift to the right within the European Union. Right-wing populist parties are gaining support in several EU countries, with figures such as Viktor Orban in Hungary, but also heads of government in Italy and other countries, holding the leadership or enjoying significant political support. This development is fueled by a mixture of fear of war, relegation, and foreigners, with the supporters of these parties no longer just coming from the margins, but increasingly from the center of society.

The right-wing and right-wing populist parties in Europe, including the European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID), are hoping for strong growth in the upcoming elections. Projections suggest that these groups could significantly increase their seats in the EU Parliament, which would strengthen their political influence. A merger of these forces could even bring them close to the strongest political groups and thus significantly change the political landscape in the EU Parliament.

Concerns about a shift to the right include the fear that a stronger weight of right-wing populist forces in the European Parliament could block or delay important EU reform projects. This development could affect the EU's direction on issues such as the rule of law, democracy, migration, and climate policy and stands in contrast to the EU's efforts to pursue unified and progressive policies.

In this context, it is important to keep an eye on developments and understand how the political landscape in Europe is changing, as this could have a significant impact on EU-Russia relations.

Relations between the EU and Russia could be further complicated by the rise of right-wing populist parties in Europe. Some of these parties, such as the Fidesz party led by Viktor Orbán in Hungary, are known to have adopted a pro-Russian stance and are seeking proximity to Russia's leadership under Vladimir Putin. This trend can also be seen in other European countries, where right-wing populist forces are gaining influence and in some cases pursuing pro-Russian policies.

Russia's relations with far-right and right-wing populist groups in Europe are diverse and range from direct political alliances to ideological support. These ties are part of a broader Russian strategy to strengthen its influence in Europe and gain allies within the EU. Particularly in south-eastern and central Europe, but also in western Europe, pro-Russian attitudes can be found among far-right and right-wing populist parties.

A shift to the right in the EU could therefore influence relations with Russia in two ways: On the one hand, pro-Russian parties within the EU could advocate an easing of EU sanctions against Russia and a rapprochement with Moscow. On the other hand, greater fragmentation and polarization within the EU could further complicate the EU's common foreign policy, particularly concerning Russia. Overall, the 2024 EU elections will therefore not only decide the composition of the EU Parliament but also the future political and social direction of the European Union.