17 Oct 2017

Who is Sebastian Kurz?

The 31 year old now has very high chances of becoming Austria's next chancellor and thus the youngest head of state in Europe. But who is this man?

Julia Sahlender
Julia Sahlender Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Who is Sebastian Kurz? - NewsMavens
Sebastian Kurz. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

Austrian legislative elections are over and, even though the official results won't be announced until Thursday, one thing is clear: The ÖVP won the election.

The Österreichische Volkspartei (Austrian People's Party) is a Christian democratic and conservative party that has been in power for decades. It's fair to assume that people were actually voting for Sebastian Kurz, the party's leader. The 31-year-old now has very high chances of becoming Austria's next chancellor and thus the youngest head of government in the EU. Who is this man?

Sebastian Kurz started his political career as chairman of the ÖVP's youth branch (the JVP) in Vienna during 2008-2012. During that time he was also a Vienna city councilor. Back then he was sneered at, especially for his Viennese State election campaign in 2010. The slogan he used was Schwarz macht geil, meaning something like "black makes you hot". Back then the ÖVP's color was black and he drove and posed in front of a black SUV.

He dusted himself off and had a pretty fast ride to the top after that. In June 2011 he was appointed state secretary for integration, at the time a newly created position. After the general elections in 2013 he became Austria's foreign minister. At 27 years old he was the youngest foreign minister in the world, which drew a fair amount of international media attention.

When ÖVP acting party leader and Vice-Chancellor of Austria Reinhold Mitterlehner resigned in May 2017, it had already long been speculated that Sebastian Kurz would take over the party. And indeed, though he declined to take over as vice-chancellor, Kurz was appointed party leader and later elected as official chairman of the ÖVP. With this came a lot of changes to the party's statutes. They put more power into the party leader's hands. Delegates seemed happy to accept the changes as the ÖVP was struggling and Kurz's popularity at the time was extremely high.

His campaign for the 2017 election was the icing on the cake for him.

A lot of elements of his campaign resembled US campaigns and were new for Austria. With that and his youth, he managed to make his party look like a "movement" with new ideas, even though the ÖVP has been in government uninterruptedly for 30 years! 

Kurz's opponents kept accusing him of being a phrasemonger without substance and criticized him for leaning more and more towards the right. The public seemed to like it though and the ÖVP came in first in elections on Sunday with 31,5% of the vote.

Should he become the next chancellor he will have to prove himself and will surely be watched closely -- both in Austria and around the world. 

Details from the story:

  • Sebastian Kurz is an Austrian politician. He currently serves as foreign and integration minister in Christian Kern's government. Appointed to the role at 27 he was the youngest foreign minister in Europe.
  • After the 2017 general election, and aged 31, he could become Europe's youngest head of government.
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