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Kurz (L) and Merkel. Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

Austria’s coalition government has shattered in spectacular fashion after video emerged over the weekend of Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache discussing how a woman he believed to be a wealthy Russian could secretly funnel money to his far-right Freedom Party.

The backdrop: Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the conservative People’s Party quickly terminated his partnership with the populists, triggering fresh elections in September. It was Kurz who brought the Freedom Party, which has a long history of racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, into government 17 months ago. He defended that decision yesterday, but said “enough is enough.”

Why it matters: Mainstream politicians all over Europe have been flummoxed by the rise of anti-establishment parties, particularly on the far right. Kurz argued that the Freedom Party would be less destructive inside the tent, where they’d be forced to adapt to the realities of governance, than howling from the outside.

  • That approach won Kurz widespread praise and worked, up to a point. He remains popular, and he might now steal votes from his discredited former coalition partners.
  • The Strache affair is nonetheless an embarrassment. The lesson for “[o]ther mainstream European politicians facing threats from a growing far right” is clear, according to Alina Polyakova of Brookings: “pandering to them doesn’t work.”

Nothing else they've tried has worked either.

  • Spain’s People’s Party tacked hard right to fend off a challenge from the upstart Vox Party last month, only to suffer a disastrous defeat.
  • Once-powerful center-right parties have been boxed out both from the liberal center, as in France, and the far right, as in Italy.
  • Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats have clung to power but watched German politics fracture around them. Merkel is on her way out, with the far-right AfD taking credit.

Nowhere is the populist right more emboldened than in the U.K., where Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is poised to win three times as many votes as the ruling Conservatives in this week’s European parliamentary elections.

  • Prime Minister Theresa May is likely to depart before the end of the summer, having failed to deliver Brexit due in part to hardline demands from her party's right flank.
  • Boris Johnson is the favorite to replace her, in part because as a hardline Brexiteer he can credibly claim he’d win back Brexit Party voters. What he almost certainly can't do, writes Telegraph Europe editor Peter Foster, is win a parliamentary majority for his approach to Brexit.

What to watch: Farage is just one of the populist protagonists in this week’s European elections.

  • A far-right bloc led by Italy’s Matteo Salvini is on the rise. Meanwhile, the long-dominant European People's Party grouping is expected to lose about a quarter of its seats.
  • One of the chief headaches for that center-right bloc is dealing with a recalcitrant member and proud populist: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The big picture: It’s not just the conservatives. “Social democratic parties [on the center-left] have been hit even harder,” says Erik Brattberg of the Carnegie Endowment.

  • Brattberg says it’s not so much the traditional parties’ politics that are turning voters off, but the very fact that they’re the traditional parties. “Mainstream parties don’t excite voters anymore,” he says.

Go deeper

Updated 8 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

10 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.