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Oct 17,2017 - Last updated at Oct 17,2017

The win by Sebastian Kurz, the 31-year-old leader of the centre-right Austrian Peoples Party in the October 15 general election comes only a couple of weeks after the startling win by the far-right Alternative for Germany Party in German elections; it sends a clear signal that the political fortunes of the nationalist, populist political parties in Europe may be well on the rise.

The German party won 12.6 per cent of the votes, which gave it, for the first time, seats in the Bundestag. The Austrian party did even better, winning 31.7 per cent of the vote, which puts its leader, Kurz, in a position to form the next Austrian government.

Signs of a similar rise of right-wing groupings can be seen elsewhere in Europe, their fortunes and public support on the rise seemingly because, besides the dire economic situation, of the controversy over the rise in the number of immigrants, particularly of Muslim refugees, since 2015.

In Kurz’s case, he is right-wing on immigration; when foreign affairs and integration minister, he had asked that the “Balkan route” (taken by immigrants travelling from Greece to Austria and beyond) be closed and imposed a popular burqa ban; and during the election campaign his message to immigrants was that welfare was to be cut to push them into work and those not trying to integrate would be penalised.

The conflicts in the Middle East, notably the war in Syria, and the economic situation in other regions of the world gave rise to a dramatic increase in the number of refugees.

The majority of regional refugees sought safety in neighbouring countries — Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey — but many others preferred countries farther away, and accessible, like Austria, Germany, France and Italy in Europe, seeking not only sanctuary but also opportunities for a better life.

The waves of refugees, especially from Muslim countries, also gave rise to Islamophobia and hostility towards them, with some European nations viewing Muslims among them as a threat to their culture and way of life.

Actually what it all boils down to, in most cases, is the fear that employment opportunities are being lost to foreigners, and fear that a traditional way of life is being eroded by different cultural values.

In Germany, reelected Chancellor Angela Merkel had to put a cap — of no more than 200,000 a year — on the number of refugees entering the country. Similar constraints have been introduced to the admission of refugees in most other Western countries.

Of course, the ultimate solution is to put an end to the reasons that force individuals to leave their homes and loved ones behind and live in foreign lands.

As long as there is poverty, denial of human rights, absence of democracy and lack of employment opportunities, people will always look for prosperous places with functional democracies that respect their citizens.

 

As for Europe, it now will have to wait and see where the latest, and youngest, leader leans: towards right-wing Central European countries with their populist, reactionary governments, or towards Germany and France, whose rational politicians gauge problems and try to find solutions.

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