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EU Refugee Crises: Merkel’s Austria Problem, Merkel’s Turkey Problem - by Judy Dempsey

Austria and Turkey have two things in common. Both are undergoing major political changes. And both are needed by Angela Merkel to stem the flow of migrants and refugees wanting to reach Germany. The political shifts in both countries do not augur well for the German chancellor.

In Austria, society has become deeply polarized, as the presidential election that took place on April 24 and May 22 confirmed. Immediately after the second-round runoff, Norbert Hofer, who represents the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria, was running neck and neck with Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Green party leader. The result was decided by postal votes: Van der Bellen squeaked through.

The outcome matters for Merkel and for Europe. Although Hofer lost, his wide appeal—and his ability to push the established conservative Austrian People’s Party and center-left Social Democrats out of the presidential race—has shaken Austria’s comfortable postwar consensus.

The traditional political elites were so taken aback by Hofer’s dramatic rise that the Social Democrats’ Werner Faymann was forced to resign as Austria’s chancellor on May 9.

Faymann had forged a close relationship with Merkel and had cooperated with her at the height of the refugee crisis. But the Freedom Party was able to tap into the growing fears and anxieties of a country that was taking in many refugees from the Middle East. As a result, Faymann, with the agreement of governments in the Western Balkans, closed off the route through that region used by refugees. Yet that wasn’t enough to save his political career, as the presidential campaign showed.

Read more: Merkel’s Austria Problem, Merkel’s Turkey Problem - Carnegie Europe - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

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