In an interview with Italian TV station RAI 3 the Social Democrat leader said that not everybody who decides to vote for Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party (FPÖ) is necessarily a supporter of far-right ideology.
“People will vote because of what they are afraid of,” he said, adding that if the right-wing does gain political power in Europe, then much will be at risk. Pointing to the rise in support for the US presidential candidate Donald Trump and the French right-wing populist Marine Le Pen he said that “people are choosing to vote against the establishment".
The anti-immigration FPÖ is one of several parties to have gained support in Europe in the past year on the back of the continent's worst migration crisis since 1945. The party denies being racist and having links to neo-Nazis.
In May, Hofer narrowly failed to be elected president in a runoff election after being beaten by independent ecologist Alexander Van der Bellen by just 31,000 votes.
The FPÖ managed to have the election annulled in July however because of procedural irregularities. The re-run of the vote will now take place on December 4th. Hofer and Van der Bellen are running neck-and-neck in opinion polls.
Kern also told RAI 3 that the Brenner Pass between Italy and Austria will remain open, despite having been a major entry point for migrants and refugees. “We don’t need extra security checks at the Brenner border as Italy is doing an excellent job of policing it,” he said. “I was never in favour of the wall and I’m still not,” he added.
He went on to say that the European Union did need to change its policy on immigration but that creating internal borders is not the answer. “It’s more efficient to support the migrants in their countries of origin.”