2016-12-05 11:06:00

Europe welcomes defeat of Austria's right-wing leader in presidential election

(Vatican Radio)  Several European leaders across the continent are relieved that Austria’s euroskeptic anti-immigration candidate, who could have become the country’s first far-right head of state since the Second World War, was defeated in Sunday's presidential election. Former Green party leader Alexander van der Bellen was elected in a closely fought poll after far-right candidate Norbert Hofer conceded defeat.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report:

As preliminary results showed he secured just 46 percent of the vote, far right Freedom Party candidate Hofer, was quick to admit that he lost a bitterly fought election that was overshadowed by concerns over migration and relations with the European Union. “I have always said, the winner will be a good winner and the loser will be a good loser," he said.

"And I ask all the people who have voted for me to accept that in a democracy the voter is always right, always. And that in the end we all have to unite and stand together. That is of special importance,” Hofer added.

The 45-year-old former aeronautical engineer warned however that he would run again for president in 2022.


His opponent, former Green party leader Van der Bellen, who is 72, was pleased that he had won the vote with roughly 53 percent of the vote. “I hope that when people recognize me on the street or on the village green or in Vienna’s underground six years from now at the end of my term they’ll say, ‘look, there is our federal president’, not the federal president but everyone’s president,” he added.

His victory was welcomed across Europe with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier calling the outcome a "good omen against populism in Europe".

European Parliament president Martin Schulz called Van der Bellen's "victory a heavy defeat of nationalism and anti-European, backward-looking populism."

And French President President Francois Hollande said the "Austrian people have chosen Europe and open-mindedness." Migration was a key issue in the election with euroskeptic Hofer calling for a ban on economic migrants, while Van der Bellen called for faster integration of recognized asylum seekers and seemed more pro-EU than his rival.

Austria – a nation of 8.7 million – has taken in more than 120,000 migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia since since last year, bearing much of the burden of the influx together with Germany and Sweden.

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