(Likely Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, left, meeting with John Kerry, right. Taken on April 4, 2016 when Kurz was Foreign Minister, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
Soon Austria will likely welcome the youngest leader in its history and in all of Europe. Thirty-one-year-old Sebastian Kurz has lead his center-right party (the ÖVP) to a strong victory in recent elections. While votes are still being tallied, it is almost assured that Kurz’s party will maintain its lead and form a coalition government.
Kurz can pick between the center-left SPÖ or the far-right FPÖ. Right now, smart money is on the FPÖ. The FPÖ will have the second most votes and seats in parliament, making the Kurz-led coalition a powerful one. The ÖVP and the SPÖ also had a falling out last May when a coalition between the two parties dissolved over dramatic scandals.
The FPÖ and the ÖVP both share a tough immigration platform, though there are still key differences that could separate them. According to Newsweek,The FPÖ wants to freeze migrants out of Austrian social services, and has pushed through a ban on face veils important to the Muslim faith, and said in their platform that “Austria is not a country of immigration.”
The ÖVP does want to close borders to immigrants, according to Business Insider, but does not go as far as the FPÖ in making it a part of Austrian identity.
Kurz is also not of the typical Western right-wing populist model. Kurz is no political outsider and in many ways is a mainstream politician in Austria. Though his political career is young, he has spent most of it working in foreign policy –on immigration and integration. This makes Kurz more experienced and potentially more reasonable than Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen.
Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky points out that Kurz has helped design and pass a number of sensible and centrist integration policies such as increased language training for immigrants and speeding up the citizenship process for immigrants with strong legal records. Bershidsky argues these policies are not far from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s own. To that point, Angela Merkel recently congratulated Kurz on his victory without chagrin.
Bringing the right to the center
However, for some in Europe and Austria, Kurz is not the concern – -the FPÖ is. If Kurz and the ÖVP form ranks with the FPÖ they are bringing one of Europe’s oldest far-right parties into power. The FPÖ has a history of anti-semitism down to its former-Nazi founders and its current day leader Heinz-Christian Strache who in his youth had Neo-Nazi ties. Where Kurz received congratulations from Merkel, Strache received congratulations from Le Penne. With a right-wing coalition the hope for Europe’s centrists and leftists is that the ÖVP can bring the FPÖ more to center.
In the recent election the FPÖ moved a little closer to center, dropping its anti-EU and EU exit rhetoric. Heinz-Christian Strache and other leaders also tried to push away from old Nazi influences, much as Le Pen tried to do with her party in France. It is possible that the FPÖ could move closer to center under an ÖVP push. Yet, the ÖVP also moved to the right under Kurz to the point that Strache accused him of stealing the FPÖ’s platform. A coalition could mean the FPÖ moves the ÖVP to the right.
Austria’s young soon-to-be Chancellor has much to prove. In a Europe divided by differing political ideologies, what he proves could matter more than ever.