If there’s any overarching trend that spans all the European elections I’ve covered this year, it’s this: traditional, centrist political parties are struggling, and their losses are in large part far-right populists’ gain.
But in Austria, the traditionally center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) bucked that trend in Austria’s parliamentary elections on Sunday, coming in first with more than 31 percent of the vote. The reason? 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, the People’s Party leader who is expected to become the next chancellor and the youngest head of government in Europe. Kurz, who took over the People’s Party leadership this summer, worked to remake the party in his own image—both in terms of pitching it as a young, fresh, new “movement” (à la Emmanuel Macron in France) and by shifting its rhetoric sharply to the right on immigration, a move intended to co-opt the political space previously dominated by the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ).
As center-right parties look to figure out how they can regain support and fend off their far-right populist challengers, many will undoubtedly look to Kurz as a model of a new generation of European leaders.
Check out the piece here, for The Atlantic. Next up is the Czech Republic, which votes on Friday and Saturday — stay tuned for my reporting from Prague!