VIENNA—Herbert Kickl might be the most important far-right ideologue you’ve never heard of. He’s radically reshaping both refugee policies and the tone of political discourse across Europe.
A longtime strategist for Austria’s nativist Freedom Party (FPÖ), Kickl has gone from working behind the scenes to becoming the country’s interior minister. And with a string of controversial statements and policy proposals—primarily related to immigration and refugees—he is using his newfound prominence to help ensure that those issues remain a part of the conversation domestically.
In that, Kickl is an example of a broader trend in Europe. The FPÖ entered government in the fall of 2017, partnering with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party. While coalition partners might have traditionally squabbled over who in the foreign ministry could stand on the world stage or who in the finance ministry could control the country’s purse strings, that’s no longer necessarily the case. Populist politicians like Kickl now covet the interior ministry.
Because immigration issues are still near the top of the European political agenda, even as refugee arrivals have dwindled, the job gives people like Kickl an excuse to talk about their favorite issue. As interior minister, he has not only the possibility, but the responsibility, to address immigration and integration topics. One need only look at Kickl or Matteo Salvini, of the far-right League in Italy, to see how instrumental such a position can be for these parties’ goals. Indeed, for like-minded parties and politicians across Europe, Austria, and Kickl, serve as a test case for how far a right-wing government can go in implementing stricter immigration policies. And the government in Vienna has proposed some of the most stringent rules in the European Union.