German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday said that the far-right defeat in Austria’s presidential election was “a good omen” for Europe.
“If the first results are confirmed this will be a good omen against populism in Europe,” Steinmeier, who is to become Germany’s next president, told a news conference with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias in Athens.
Austria’s Norbert Hofer conceded defeat Sunday in his bid to become Europe’s first far-right president, as projections showed he was lagging behind Greens-backed independent Alexander Van der Bellen in a bitterly fought election re-run. Van der Bellen swept 53.3 percent of the votes against 46.7% for his rival from the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPOe), according to public television projections.
“In this particular situation Europe is facing, we are urgently in need of good news,” Steinmeier said earlier during a meeting with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, referring to “the Brexit decision” and to “mounting pressure by populist and nationalist forces.
The result from the election campaign was greeted with relief and congratulations by mainstream politicians in Austria and neighboring Germany.
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who heads Germany’s center-left Social Democrats, told the Bild newspaper that “a load has been taken off the mind of all of Europe.” He called the result “a clear victory for good sense against right-wing populism.”
Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said Van der Bellen “will represent Austria domestically and abroad in an excellent manner” — alluding to fears by establishment politicians in Austria that a victory by Hofer, whose anti-immigrant Freedom Party is critical of the European Union, would hurt Austria’s image.
Van der Bellen is pro-European Union and represents liberal to left-of-center views.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament called Van der Bellen’s victory a defeat for “anti-European, backward-looking populism.”