Presidentianl candidate backed by the Greens Alexander Van der Bellen reacts during an election party after the second round of the Austrian President elections on May 22, 2016 in Vienna. / AFP / APA / ROLAND SCHLAGER / Austria OUT        (Photo credit should read ROLAND SCHLAGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Van der Bellen: We'll overcome anti-immigrant attitudes
01:23 - Source: CNN

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Van der Bellen: I have a migration background, still got a majority of Austrians behind me in this election

Austria is a small country, an open country, and dependent on good relations with other countries

London CNN  — 

Ask Alexander Van der Bellen what his victory in Austria’s presidential polls means, and he will tell you frankly that he has averted a crisis.

The left-leaning politician won the presidency by a hair’s breadth over his rival, Norbert Hofer. Had he failed to do so, Austria would have become the first nation in the European Union to be led by a far-right leader.

“To those far-right parties, my election will certainly, I think, bring some frustration. On the other side, among the capitals of the European Union, I think you could hear a sigh of relief when on Monday evening it was clear that I’m becoming president of Austria,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who asked him his opinion on the rise of right-wing parties across the continent.

Presidential candidates Alexander Van der Bellen (L) and Norbert Hofer before a TV discussion following the second round of the elections on May 22, 2016

Van der Bellen said that Europe “shouldn’t dramatize” the growing popularity of far-right parties in Europe. France’s National Front, the Danish People’s Party and Germany’s AFD have all found growing support in recent years on anti-immigration platforms, as the region deals with its worst refugee crisis since World War II and deadly terror attacks on a scale it has never seen.

Van der Bellen is optimistic that this nationalist sentiment will soon subside.

Austrian President-elect Alexander Van der Bellen during an election party after the second round of the Austrian President elections on May 22 in Vienna

“I think the rise of renationalization in Europe, that is in the European Union, is maybe at its height and will come down in the coming years. In the capitals of the EU, they were not only afraid that Austria would become part of this renationalization alliance, but that it would lead to a chain reaction in other capitals, and this at least has stopped,” he said.

“I mean, take myself for instance… I have a migration background and still got a majority of Austrians behind me in this election.”

Van der Bellen’s election marks a significant change to Austria’s political landscape, which has been dominated by two centrist parties since the end of World War II.

Van der Bellen narrowly defeated Hofer in a tightly fought contest decided by mail-in votes.

Van der Bellen, a 72-year-old economist, ran as an independent, although the Green Party, of which he was a former leader, financially backed his campaign.