The right's European policy vision

When, in the year 2000, the right-wing populist FPO led at the time by Jorg Haider entered the governing coalition for the first time, the European Union responded with a diplomatic boycott. Today, the FPO/OVP government's assumption of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union until the end of 2018 went unchallenged. This shows the extent to which Europe has shifted to the right. For the coalition, refugees and border security are top of the agenda.

The first informal meeting of EU interior ministers in July in Innsbruck was attended by the interior ministers of Germany, Italy and Austria. While both Matteo Salvini and Herbert Kickl represent nominally right-wing populist parties, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer is nominally a Christian Democrat, though his agenda is hardly Christian and as far as migration goes, also right-wing populist in flavour.

The three interior ministers discussed how work should continue on consolidating Fortress Europe. Matteo Salvini stressed that the migration question is a "vital issue" for the European Union. Austria's Interior Minister Kickl, one of the FPO's leading lights, made it clear he wants a paradigm shift in asylum policy.

By this, he primarily means enhanced border security measures and co-operation with countries in North Africa to set up refugee camps outside the EU. With these centres, it would seem that Kickl even intends the sole – de facto – filing of asylum applications from outside the European Union in future. The FPO Interior Minister wants the establishment of a "security union" to manage the "migration crisis".

In Vienna, before it joined the Kurz (OVP) administration, the right-wing FPO was required to make a formal commitment to the European Union. But this overlooks the fact that although the Freedom Party may have expressed this commitment to Europe, it has instilled it with a quite different meaning. The new right-wing was for a long time a supporter of Europe, but a Europe with a different face. If you believe its programme, it wants a Europe of fatherlands, a Europe of nations.

With the right-wing shift of Christian democrat people's parties such as Viktor Orban's Fidesz in Hungary, the Bavarian CSU led by Horst Seehofer and Sebastian Kurz's newly-organised People's Party, a new front for the isolation of Europe has been created. "Europe that Protects" is the official motto of the Austrian EU Council presidency, now enjoying the general support of EU member states. In this endeavour, Austria's young head of government Sebastian Kurz is casting himself as Europeʹs security chancellor, while the right-wing interior ministers implement his concepts.

Right-wing populism the new normal?

The new right-wing populism of ruling centre-right and right-wing parties essentially questions standards regarding the issue of asylum and basic rights that have applied to date. The "Axis of the Willing", as Salvini, Kickl and Seehofer describe their co-operation, is making every effort to implement a deal agreed at the EU summit in late June on tightening refugee policy.

The upgrading of border and coast guard agency Frontex to a European border protection police force with 10,000 officers by the year 2020 shows what kind of face the security union will be showing the rest of the world.

There may have been time to prevent the publication of initially formulated racist phrases in the official final document. But despite the watered-down rhetoric, the same applies: Europe is steering a law-and-order course and consolidation of its isolationist policy stance looks likely to continue.

Farid Hafez

© 2018

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

Farid Hafez is senior researcher at the University of Salzburgʹs Department of Political Science and a senior research scholar with Georgetown Universityʹs Bridge Initiative in Washington D.C., USA.

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