Monday, January 17

In Austria, a new chancellor to turn the page Kurz

Austria will soon have a new chancellor, two months after changing: the conservatives on Friday appointed Interior Minister Karl Nehammer as head of the party and in the chancellery, drawing a line on the Kurz era.

“I am extremely grateful, it is an honor and a privilege that I did not expect,” Nehammer told reporters in Vienna.

This 49-year-old politician announced on the occasion a vast cabinet reshuffle adopted “in consensus” with environmentalists, to whom the right has been allied to govern since January 2020.

“Our goal is now to quickly start discussions with the president” Alexander Van der Bellen, who will be responsible for validating the next government, said the new leader.

The date of the investiture has not yet been set.

After a lightning rise, Sebastian Kurz was forced to resign in October following the opening of an investigation against him for corruption. But he had kept the leadership of the party until the announcement, Thursday, of his withdrawal from political life.

Alexander Schallenberg, who provided the interim in the Chancellery, will find his portfolio in Foreign Affairs.

– A soldier at the helm –

“We are witnessing the end of a process that began in October,” comments political scientist Thomas Hofer. “Mr. Kurz initially hoped to return quickly and it is for this reason that the party had put in place Mr. Schallenberg, who never had the ambition” to lead the government.

The situation is “different with Karl Nehammer, who must make his place and indirectly break with the Kurz team” by putting in place “new faces”, he continues.

His arrival “confirms the end of the Kurz era” within the party, abounds Julia Partheymüller, of the University of Vienna.

Born in Vienna in 1972, with a three-day beard and graying temples, Karl Nehammer first made a career in the army, where he was appointed lieutenant.

The son-in-law of a star television presenter, he then branched out into political communication, before being elected deputy in 2017 and then appointed minister in January 2020.

As such, he had to manage the first Islamist attack in Austria, which killed four people in November of the same year.

Considered by commentators as “loyal” to his training, married with two children, he joined the government without being close to Sebastian Kurz.

Uncompromising on the issue of the right to asylum, he was criticized by NGOs for having deported children in the middle of the night and wanted to send Afghans back to Kabul while the Taliban were at the gates of power.

– Quest for stability –

By announcing his departure Thursday, Sebastian Kurz explained that he wanted to start “a new chapter”, saying he was “worn out” by the recent accusations by the prosecution which had turned into a political scandal.

In October, several places including the Chancellery and the Ministry of Finance were raided as part of an investigation into suspicions of embezzlement of public funds between 2016 and 2018.

This alleged hijacking was intended to finance the publication of falsified polls and laudatory media coverage of Sebastian Kurz.

Since these revelations, the ÖVP, in power since 1987, has lost its first place in the polls: it has been overtaken by the Social Democratic Party. He is even followed by the extreme right.

If some are calling for new elections, “the conservatives and their environmental allies insist on a necessary return to stability”, while the Austrians say they are tired of repeated crises, according to Partheymüller.

Indeed, Karl Nehammer will become the fifth chancellor since 2016: Sebastian Kurz then broke the alliance with the left, before allying with the extreme right.

Then the nationalists had already been swept away by a corruption scandal and a government of experts had been set up, before Mr. Kurz returned in early 2020 accompanied by the Greens.

To complicate matters, Austria is currently re-confined due to a virulent wave of coronavirus and a vaccination rate below the European Union average.

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