Former Austrian Chancellor to Run in European Elections Next Year

(Bloomberg) -- Austria’s opposition leader Christian Kern wants to keep the European socialists’ second place in the European parliament against the onslaught of emboldened right-wing populists in next year’s election.

Kern, 52, will step down as party chairman to lead his Social Democratic Party’s campaign, he said in Vienna before heading to Salzburg for a meeting with socialist leaders ahead of an EU summit there. Austrian media reported he’ll seek endorsement the leaders’ endorsement for running the socialist campaign for the entire bloc as “Spitzenkandidat.

Former Austrian Chancellor to Run in European Elections Next Year

“We’re watching how the idea of a liberal, open democracy is massively challenged by the Orbans, the Kaczynskis, the Straches, the Salvinis,” Kern had said late on Tuesday, referring to populist leaders from Hungary, Poland, Austria and Italy. “For us Social Democrats, it’s the most important task to make sure this European legacy is preserved, that Europe remains a shining city on a hill and doesn’t descend into a nationalistic swamp.”

Socialists across the EU are struggling to find an answer to globalized capitalism, mass migration and the rise of populists both on the left and the right wings of the political spectrum. A bastion of social democracy, Sweden this month became the latest country where an insurgent anti-establishment party gained at the expense of the center left.

Kern said his goal was to win the most votes in Austria in the EU election, winning back the top spot his party lost under his watch in national elections. Europe-wide, he wants to defend the second spot for the socialists, Kern said. The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament currently has 189 members, trailing only the conservatives’ 219 members.

Kern was appointed Austrian chancellor in 2016 after his party ousted Werner Faymann in acrimony. But he was outmaneuvered only a year later by Sebastian Kurz, who took over his conservative party, scuppered its coalition with Kern, and stormed to victory in a snap election.

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