At the tender age of 31, Sebastian Kurz looks set to become Austria’s (and the world’s) youngest head of government after his center-right People’s Party (OVP) finished first in Sunday’s general election.
Sebastian Kurz, the republic’s foreign minister since 2013, told supporters Sunday’s electoral performance was not about ‘triumphing over others’ but a ‘chance for real change in the country’.
However, despite being described as the first millennial to win office, he has been accused of dragging Austrian politics to the right and of flirting with anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic themes to win votes.
Born and raised in Vienna, Kurz is a law graduate from the University of Vienna. After completing his studies he performed his compulsory military service. In 2010-2011, he served as a city councilor in Vienna.
In 2013, aged just 27, he won a seat in parliament, later becoming foreign minister in what was a meteoric rise. His appointment, without any diplomatic experience, led far-right Freedom Party figure Heinz-Christian Strache to tell parliament that it was a ‘farewell’ to the country’s foreign policy.
Ironically, Strache may well have to engage with Kurz if his Freedom Party, which performed well in Sunday’s vote, is to enter government for the first time.
In April 2011, Kurz had become state secretary for integration, a newly-created post in the Interior Ministry.
It was in 2015 that Kurz backed Austria’s ‘Islamgesetz’, legislation that, among other things, banned the foreign funding of mosques and imams in Austria. The controversial law, which eventually passed through parliament, was intended to develop an Islam of ‘European character’, according to Kurz.
Ahead of Sunday’s election, Mustafa Yenici, a Turkish-origin candidate for the Social Democratic Party of Austria accused Kurz’s OVP of adopting the agenda of the right-wing to win more votes.
“Right-populist politicians are deceiving people with simple but unrealistic expressions”, Yenici told Anadolu Agency.
The year 2015 also saw the adoption of Austria’s 50-Point-Plan on dealing with the unprecedented wave of migration in Europe.
Only last month, Kurz told the UN in New York: “Countries need effective control of their borders. Without such control, no government can establish security and maintain public support for legal immigration.”
He has also crossed swords with Turkey’s government in the past. In July 2016, he summoned the Turkish ambassador to Vienna, demanding to know if demonstrations in Austria supporting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were orchestrated from Ankara.
Currently unmarried, Kurz is dating Susanne Thier, a finance ministry employee.