Relief across EU as far-right candidate defeated in Austrian presidential vote
Published 24/05/2016 | 02:30
Austria has apparently stepped back from the brink of being the first EU country to elect a far-right head of state, electing a 72-year-old Green candidate to the country's presidency yesterday in a surprise move that will be welcomed by Europe's political establishment.
According to the BBC, postal votes counted yesterday gave Alexander Van der Bellen the victory by a narrow margin over Norbert Hofer (pictured) of the Freedom Party.
Mr Van der Bellen won by the slimmest of margins, with 50.1pc of the vote, according to Austria's 'Kurier' newspaper.
"It's now clear: Alexander van der Bellen will be the new president," Austria's 'Die Presse' newspaper reported.
Mr Hofer came within an ace of victory, with 49.9pc. He conceded defeat in a statement posted on to his Facebook page yesterday afternoon.
Mr Hofer's failure to become the EU's first far-right head of state will be a blow to Europe's burgeoning populist movements, including France's Front National and Germany's Alternative for Deutschland (Afd) who had hoped that a Hofer victory would provide the catalyst for continent-wide electoral gains.
It will also come as a huge relief in Brussels and among Europe's establishment parties who have been under assault in recent years from populist movements angry over uncontrolled immigration and economic austerity and had warned that a Hofer victory would "change the character" of Europe.
Among them was French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who expressed his "relief" at learning Mr Hofer had failed to win the election.
"Relief to see the Austrians reject populism and extremism," Mr Valls wrote on Twitter, "everyone in Europe should learn from this."
Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said: "We would like to congratulate Mr Van der Bellen on his victory in the Austrian Presidential election.
"This is a clear sign that Europe is beginning to realise that hate and fear politics are not the answer to the many challenges we are facing as a continent. "As we approach our standing committee meeting in Vienna, I look forward to meeting the new president and working with him to help the Jewish community."
News of Mr Hofer's defeat received a predictably muted reaction in his home town of Pinkafeld, a picture-postcard small town an hour's drive south of Vienna.
"I'm disappointed. When I saw the result on the TV I switched it off, I couldn't watch," said 74-year-old Irene Schutter, a retired school cleaner drinking coffee in the town's market square.