‘EU at high risk of fragmenting after Brexit, Austria could be next’

© Francois Lenoir
Far-right parties across Europe are trying to gain a greater level of federalism and autonomy inside of the EU by putting a referendum on the agenda, as it would give them leverage against Germany, says political writer and journalist Mark Bergfeld.

Speculation has begun that the EU could have a second departure on its hands with the media saying Austria will follow Britain's lead. That is as the far-right Austrian presidential candidate, who lost in May's election, has been given a second chance after the country's top court overturned the result.

Recently the president of the Czech Republic said he wants to follow the same approach. Milosh Zeman says that he is personally against leaving the EU, but would do everything to allow people to express their will.

A survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations said that Brexit could start a political tsunami with referendums being used as a way to challenge established parties on issues such as EU membership and migration.

RT: Critics say the presidential re-run in Austria could be another blow for the EU. Do you agree?

Mark Bergfeld: The EU is at high risk of fragmenting after the Brexit vote. It is clear that Austria is a high-risk country potentially leaving the EU, given that it didn’t follow Merkel’s course in summer 2015 when the Schengen and Dublin agreement were defunct and it closed its borders unilaterally. With the re-run we will see whether this will become another topic – Austria potentially leaving the European Union.

RT: If the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer wins in September, what's next for Austria and Europe as a whole?

MB: I think that Hofer, who is on the very far-right, who has launched his campaign against Muslims, who has launched his main party platform against immigrants, is very unlikely to win these elections, to begin with, I think that many people in Austria were very shocked by the initial result that we have seen where he came very close to beating the Green Party candidate.

What we will see is that a lot of people will unite behind the Green Party candidate instead of Hofer because it came as a real shock to Austria. And what effectively threatened their position inside of Europe as well. I think the Austrians are very well aware of the fact that electing someone like Hofer would damage the country’s reputation, especially their tourism, and also their close relationship with Germany.

RT: Hofer himself says he doesn't want to leave the Union, but he wants it reformed. How realistic is that?

MB: I think there are two tendencies at this moment in time to see the future of the EU. On the one hand, we can see how continuing crisis throughout the European Union has led to a greater degree of centralism. So, if you look at the Greek crisis as well as the border crisis, you see how it led to greater integration of the different European states into the European framework.

What you also can see on the other hand is greater calls for federalism inside of the EU. And so what Hofer effectively is trying to do and what the right-wing parties across Europe are trying to do at this moment in time is trying to attain a greater level of federalism and autonomy inside of the framework of EU by putting referendum on the cards because it would give them greater leverage against the German superpower inside of Europe.

RT: A survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations says alternative parties across Europe are calling for dozens of referendums. Will Brussels take notice of this?

MB: I personally believe that there is a lot to criticize about the EU. First of all, the very fact that it is a neoliberal institution and a neo-liberal framework which does not allow for progressive economic policies that benefit the vast majority of people. We can criticize it for its bureaucracy and its unaccountability as well. And so the far-right and the right-wing and the eurosceptics are using these arguments time and again. What they aren’t effectively doing is representing the very people they claim to represent.

So, if you look at the funding they receive, at the way they are backing up big businesses doesn’t chime with the kind of rhetoric that they are putting forward. Brussels, in effect, constitutes itself out of its different membership states. And because the membership states are stronger together against the US as well as against the new BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), will continue to remain inside of the EU and Brussels will adapt according to the political pressure coming from its member states.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.