John O'Neill

EU toasts defeat of ‘backward-looking populism’ as Hofer concedes Austrian election

EU toasts defeat of ‘backward-looking populism’ as Hofer concedes Austrian election
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Norbert Hofer has just conceded defeat in Austria’s presidential election after exit polls and interim results showed him losing by 47 per cent to 53 per cent. Victory goes to Alexander Van der Bellen, the 72-year-old former Green party leader. He has said the election result sends a message ‘to the capitals of the EU that one can win elections with high European positions.’

The last time Hofer lost to Van der Bellen, in May, his margin of defeat was just 0.4 per cent, or 31,000 votes. His right-wing populist Freedom Party brought an appeal and Austria's Constitutional Court ordered the election to be run again.

But this time, Hofer seems to have lost by at least 300,000 votes. Rather than claim the election was rigged, or was corrupted by dodgy ballot envelopes, he has congratulated his rival – then called for national unity on Facebook.

Dear Friend: I thank you. Your support has been magnificent and I am incredibly sad that it didn't work out. I would have liked to take care of our Austria. I congratulate Alexander Van der Bellen on his success. I now ask all Austrians to pull together and work together. We are all Austrians, no matter who we backed at the ballot box.

There is audible relief in Brussels: it seems that the wave of Brexit and Trump has not reached Austria – and that it will not, after all, end up with a populist head of state. Here's the president of the European Parliament:

So the EU survives to limp on to its next crisis, which could well come in the next few hours with the result of the Italian constitutional referendum.