Austrian elections went the worst possible way. First, the far-right Freedom Party won 18% and its sister party, the breakaway faction led by Carinthian governor Jorg Haider won 11%. The two traditional mainstream parties – Social Democrats (30%) and Christian Democrats (26%) will still form a coalition probably – but the PM designate, Social Democratic leader Werner Faymann, is also a strong Euro-sceptic. Chances are, this will be an additional slow down to EU enlargement (not necessarily a bad thing), a further obstacle to the Lisbon Treaty (also not terribly bad) and a boost to the more racist elements of the anti-immigration voices in Europe (bad).
Immigration remains a challenge for European societies, where huge numbers of immigrants have not been welcome by effective integration policies. The difficulty in absorbing foreign workers and asylum seekers has been coupled with a politically correct language of denial by ruling elites about the undeniable challenges posed by fast immigration and the need to rethink our overall policies in Europe. The result has been a shift of popular support to the extreme right – Austria is just the latest example.
Perhaps European integrationists will heed this call – after it came repeatedly elsewhere, such as Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Denmark. Or perhaps they will keep on burying their heads in the sand, pretend the problem is not there, and pretend that progressive rhetoric about the brotherhood of mankind will defeat racism. It will not, and it is a recurring theme of European politics that our moderate centres give away to radical extremists out of their lack of courage and resolve.