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Austria Dodged A Bullet, But Brexit Is The True Test For Europe

The recent Austrian presidential elections have ensured that Altiero Spinelli's dream of a united Europe will live on -- for the moment. Green Party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen's victory over the right-wing candidate, Norbert Hofer seems to have been an act of fate, since it happens to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the death of Spinelli, author of the Ventotene Manfiesto.

Even those who don't believe that fate has a role in current events must admit that the results of the Austrian elections represent a good omen.

The next 30 days will be a trying time for the European Union: Until June 23, everyone on this side of the Atlantic who believes in Spinelli's dream of a united Europe will experience a number of difficult tests. The Austrian elections became a symbol for the current conflict between Austria and Italy at the Brenner border, which has been closed for reasons that are more related to the recent elections than to an actual state of emergency.

There are at least three obstacles that need to be addressed in the upcoming period.

First is the finalization of yet another version of a Greek bailout plan, since it has become clear to everyone that the government in Athens will never be able to repay the new loan of 86 billion euros, despite the new draconian measures put in place by the Tsipras government.

The elections hung by a thread, since the country has been stricken by fear of the foreigners coming from distant lands.

Second, Brussels needs to make a decision on the EU-wide deposit insurance fund. (The Germans have condemned the plan, and are insisting on absurd sovereign debt ceilings.)

Finally, on June 23, everyone will find out the results of the referendum in which Great Britain will decide whether or not to remain in the EU. We cannot predict the repercussions of a "Brexit" ahead of time, but they would certainly be similar to those of a "Grexit."

The path ahead is not an easy one. The victory of the Green party and the pro-Europeans in Austria was a surprise. The elections hung by a thread, since the country has been stricken by fear of the foreigners coming from distant lands.

However, the numbers tell a different story, one which seems to have charmed many Austrians. According to the United Nation's World Population Prospects report, 1.2 million migrants settled in Europe between 2000 and 2010 -- which makes up 0.2 percent of Europe's population. This number seems quite daunting, given that the United States received 1 million migrants within the same time period. From 2010 to 2015, the number of migrants dropped dramatically to 400,000 per year, and between 2000 and 2015, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain received between 100,000-200,000 refugees each.

As Thomas Piketty, the famous opponent of austerity, noted, it was only last year that the number of migrants flooding into Germany reached one million. This influx was perhaps the main cause for Austria's concerns, and for the closing of the border with Italy. Now, Italy is at the front lines.

Europe can breathe a momentary sigh of relief, but we cannot ignore the fact that the migration plan that the Juncker Commission is preparing is not progressing as expected. Its failure will only fuel the fires of the xenophobic parties, who have turned the Brenner frontier into a symbol that has more to do with ideology than with creating an actual barrier.

Nonetheless, despite the battle over migration in Austria, now that the worst seems to be over, it is worth taking a moment to reflect. Among all of the European states, Austria has one of the highest numbers of foreign jihadists per capita who have left to fight with ISIS: Over 260 Jihadists in a country with a population of 8.5 million.

According to the 2014 census, the Muslim population in the country amounted to a total of 600,000 people (7 percent of all Austrians), including 120,000 Turks, 51,000 Bosnians and 34,000 Afghanis. A portion of the Austrian population uses these statistics to suggest that every Muslim migrant is a potential terrorist. This argument will probably be brought up by every nationalist party during the upcoming European elections. It is necessary to counter this manifesto with a better idea, one that convinces Europeans to choose instead the path of greater integration. It will not be an easy task.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Italy. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.