Political profiles – Sebastian Kurz: Future leader of Europe?

Mengtao Zhao is in his second year studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics with a focus on global energy industry, the Middle East, and East Asia. He previously received education in China and the United States. Mengtao has extensive internship experiences at public, legal, private, and academic sectors and he is currently a legal intern at a prestigious law firm. He is also a remote intern at AEK Intelligence and a regional editor at KCL Dialogue magazine. 

 

Sebastian Kurz, born in 1986, attended the faculty of law at the University of Vienna after finishing the mandatory military training. Before completing the degree, his political enthusiasm made him leave university and join the Young People’s Party in 2003. He became the chairman of JVP for Vienna five years later. In 2010, Kurz won a seat at the Viennese State Diet and was appointed state secretary of the Interior Ministry by the first government of Werner Faymann in 2011. In 2013, he became the youngest foreign minister in Europe at the age of 27.

After being named the chairman of the People’s Party in May 2017, he campaigned for the legislative snap election in the same year and received tremendous popularity with his policies on immigration and social politics. Sebastian Kurz was invited to form a new cabinet by President Alexander Van der Bellen of Austria, marking his ultimate success in transferring from a law student to the Chancellor of Austria in less than a decade.

His achievement is never just a coincidence or pure luck. He has a youthful and energetic image, and his popularity among younger generations made him an invaluable asset of the old People’s Party after suffering several defeats. He is also a talented communicator and skilful user of social media. Besides having outstanding personal charisma, his decisive policies on immigration and pro-Europe attitude rewarded him with eyes-catching victory when the whole Europe was haunted by failures and chaos.

As Austria’s foreign minister in 2015, he stood out for his relatively hard-line attitude on illegal immigration, holding the belief that it would undermine the solidarity and values of Europe, while German chancellor Angela Merkel was welcoming refugees from Syria and elsewhere flowing into the continent.

He carefully and successfully maintained good relationships with three major powers in the world – the United States, China, and Russia – which not only brought Austria enormous economic opportunities but also made him a rising star in the international arena.

In 2018, Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz led a historic large-scale delegation, including three ministers and many business leaders, and they spent almost a week in China. Kurz claimed the visit was a success and that contracts of 1.5 billion dollars in total were secured. In April 2019, Kurz attended the Belt and Road Forum, his second visit to China since he took office 16 months ago, and held discussions with the Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, as well as Jack Ma of Alibaba Group.

Throughout history, Austria has acted as a channel connecting Russia and the United States. International relations analysts comment that “the Russian leader has spotted a chance to drive a wedge between the EU and the US.” Russian President Vladimir Putin joined Sebastian Kurz for the fourth time in St Petersburg in October 2018, and they signed a deal to extend long-term contracts of gas supplies to Austria by 2040, amid economic sanctions against Russia imposed by the US and EU.

His diplomatic accomplishments attracted attention from the US top leadership. Foreign Policy described that Trump assembled virtually the entire national leadership in the meeting with Kurz, from the vice president and secretary of state to the national security advisor and the secretary of energy. The US leaders were sending a clear sign that Kurz had proved his potential as a key leader in the future European politics.

Sebastian Kurz swore in as Chancellor again on 7 January 2020, returning to the frontline after the collapse of his previous government. We should be expecting him to play a more active role on both European and international platforms.

References:
Vytiska, H. (2018) Kurz: Austrian EU Presidency to focus on China [online].
Available from: https://www.euractiv.com/section/future-eu/interview/austrian-eu-presidency-to-focus-on-china/
(Accessed 20 November 2019).

Rough, P. (2019) Donald Trump Is Watching Sebastian Kurz [online].
Available from: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/03/09/donald-trump-is-watching-sebastian-kurz/ (Accessed 20 November 2019).

Hall, B. (2019) Sebastian Kurz: saviour of Europe's mainstream or friend of the far-right? [online].
Available from: https://www.ft.com/content/9396664c-044d-11e9-9d01-cd4d49afbbe3
(Accessed 20 November 2019).

Groendahl, B. (2019) [online].
Available from: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-18/austria-s-kurz-goes-to-belt-and-road-forum-but-won-t-sign-accord
(Accessed 20 November 2019).

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the People's Republic of China (2019) Li Keqiang Hold Talks with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria [online].
Available from:https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1659769.shtml (Accessed 20 November 2019).

Gady, F.-S. (2018) The Future of Europe, for Better or Worse, Is Sebastian Kurz [online].
Available from: https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/07/09/the-future-of-europe-for-better-or-worse-is-sebastian-kurz/
(Accessed 20 November 2019).

Siebenhaar, H.-P. (2018) Close and Cozy: Putin visits his best buddy in the EU: Austria's Sebastian Kurz [online].
Available from: https://www.handelsblatt.com/today/politics/close-and-cozy-putin-visits-his-best-buddy-in-the-eu-austrias-sebastian-kurz/23582332.html?ticket=ST-16413208-7gEfJtgja0guMSeHlCG3-ap6
(Accessed 21 November 2019).

EUOBSERVER (2018) Kurz signs gas deals with Putin in St Petersburg [online]. Available from: https://euobserver.com/tickers/143018
(Accessed 21 November 2019).

Image credits: https://www.kyivpost.com/world/financial-times-austrias-sebastian-kurz-leans-towards-tougher-line-migrants.html

 

 

 

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