Austria’s government coalition collapsed on Friday, almost certainly paving the way for elections in the autumn, when one of Europe’s longest-established far-right populist parties could win the largest share of the vote. Sebastian Kurz, foreign minister, in effect tore up a coalition deal between his centre-right People’s party and chancellor Christian Kern’s Social Democrats by demanding an early national vote. His decision reflected widespread disenchantment with the “grand coalition,” which has failed so far to reverse Austria’s economic underperformance — although the country remains among the most affluent in Europe.
The move came despite opinion polls showing the far-right Freedom party ahead of the two mainstream parties, and less than a week after the National Front’s Marine Le Pen won 34 per cent of the vote in the final round of the French presidential election.
Austria’s Freedom party was partly founded by former Nazis in the 1950s, and rose to prominence in the 1990s under its then-leader Jörg Haider. It has gained in popularity as a result of Austria’s struggling economy and during Europe’s migration crisis, which saw more than 130,000 seeking asylum in Austria in 2015 and 2016. In December, the party came close to winning the country’s presidency.