The threat of increasing far-right rule has risen even higher in the media’s long and growing list of global fears this week. Radical parties across Europe have been strengthened by the victory of the successful anti-immigrant Brexit campaign and the near victory of the far-right candidate in the Austrian election. We should remember that far-right power is in fact already a reality for many cities in Europe.
So what do they do when they’re in power? Last week, the mayor of the Austrian city of Wels, Andreas Rabl of the far-right FPÖ party, used his position to prevent further migrants from settling there, as this local Austrian newspaper reports.
Central government plans to convert disused barracks into homes for 450 refugees were blocked after negotiations between Rabl and the Austrian Interior Ministry. He was supported by local councillor and head of urban development, Peter Lehner (of the conservative ÖVP). The mayor hailed this is a success, and stressed:
“Wir bleiben dabei. Keine neuen Asylquartiere in Wels.”
We remain. No new asylum centres in Wels.
Andreas Rabl, 22 June 2016
A recent article in the Guardian, amidst the tension immediately prior to the 2016 Austrian presidential election, shone a spotlight on this small provincial city. It was the first time Wels had appeared in the British media but may not be the last. The new FPÖ mayor has – unsurprisingly – followed a clearly right-wing direction since his election, focusing on the promotion of Austrian values and citizens, at the expense of those of ethnic minorities. His priorities have so far included:
- Emphasising Christian values and Germanic culture in early years education
- Restricting access to benefits, including social housing, to new arrivals and those without German language skills
- Cuts to social services, targeting the young and ethnic minorities first
Researching the distinctiveness of far-right urban governance for my masters thesis, I’ll regularly update from far-right cities in Europe including Wels. If you know more about Wels, or other cities in a similar situation, get in touch.