Simon Tisdall writes: The sigh of relief that followed Alexander Van der Bellen’s victory in Austria’s rerun presidential election on Sunday could be heard all over Europe. After the twin traumas of Trump and Brexit, centrist parties, social democrats and liberals of all stripes had feared another triumph for the advancing forces of nativist populism represented by Van der Bellen’s rival, the far-right Freedom party’s Norbert Hofer.
Instead, Europe and its much-battered political incarnation, the European Union, have won a reprieve – although probably temporary. And Austria has escaped the odium of being the first modern-day democracy to pick as its head of state a political extremist whose party traces its ideological roots back to the strident neo-Nazism of its best-known leader, the late Jörg Haider.
Van der Bellen, a left-leaning, pro-Europe moderate backed by Austria’s Greens, was estimated to have won by an unexpectedly large margin of 7%. The initial contest in May gave him a 1% lead or less, an outcome that was challenged by Hofer.
The result will give a boost to likeminded politicians across Europe who also face potent electoral challenges from the far-right next year, notably in France. “What happens here today has relevance for all of Europe,” Van der Bellen said before casting his ballot, pointing to Hofer’s strong anti-EU, anti-immigrant, nationalist stance. [Continue reading…]