Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent candidate backed by the Green party, defeated Norbert Hofer, of the anti-immigrant, Euroskeptic right-wing Freedom Party – but by just 50.3 percent against 49.7 percent, reflecting the Europe-wide rise in right-wing anti-immigrant sentiment.
Other countries – mostly in Northern and Eastern Europe – have seen growing support for right-wing parties. In Poland, the Law & Justice Party secured 37.6 percent of the vote in 2015 and formed a government. The Danish People's Party secured seats in parliament with one in five voters backing it.
There have been similar rises in Hungary, France – Marine Le Pen's Front National – Germany (AfD), Hungary (Jobbik), Belgium (New Flemish Alliance), Britain (UKIP, led by Nigel Farage) and many more, including the anti-immigration Lega Nord in the European Parliament, led by Matteo Salvini.
President of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament Gianni Pittella said:
"This is a political earthquake that follows a trend felt in all of Europe: the conservative and social democratic powers are losing support to extreme movements which fan the flames of people’s fear. Without radical reforms based on solidarity, we will be soon forced to hand the keys to our future to the Hofers, Salvinis, Le Pens, and Farages of Europe."
"Rightly or not, in front of the enormous challenges we face — the migration crisis, economic stagnation, the terrorist threat or the challenges of globalization — the traditional parties are increasingly perceived as incapable or unwilling to innovate themselves and reform the system," Pitella said.
Evelyn Regner, head of the Austrian S&D Delegation, added: "It is an important signal that Austria did not get a far-right president. Yet the division within the country is very worrying. This division and the wide support for the far-right candidate received are based on fears, which are wide spread across the European Union, not only in Austria."
European United Left/Nordic Green Left President Gabi Zimmer said:
"This presidential election has shown us the roots of mistrust that voters across the continent have for the establishment and the established parties — not just in Austria but also in other EU member states."
"The EU should be a project of its people — not of the elite or the banks," she continued.
"It should be about solidarity and it is the responsibility of the main actors to bring about changes to the style of government and that is the only chance the European Union has in winning people’s trust again."