Advertisement

Profile: Austria's ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the one-time 'Wunderkind'

Author thumbnail
AFP/The Local - [email protected]
Profile: Austria's ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the one-time 'Wunderkind'
Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (C) and Vice-Chancellor Werner Kogler (R) and Tourism minister Elisabeth Koestinger (L) arrive before their lunch in the garden of Schweizerhouse (Swiss house) restaurant at Prater amusement park in Vienna, Austria on May 19, 2021. - With Covid-19 certificates in hand, Austrians on May 19, 2021 could once again file into restaurants and cafes after more than six months of restrictions due to the lockdown amid the pamndemic. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

"Whizz-kid" was just one of the monikers given to Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz when in 2017 he became the world's youngest democratically elected leader aged 31. Four years later, as he announces his departure from politics, here's a look at his rise and fall.

Advertisement

It's been an eventful four years for Kurz, including two governments - one with the far-right and then one with the Greens - and a major corruption scandal that led him to resign from the top job in October before announcing he was fully stepping back from politics on December 2nd. 

Along with nine others, he still faces claims that government money was used in a corrupt deal to ensure positive media coverage between 2016 and 2018. He has always denied these allegations and vowed to clear his name.

Advertisement

'Saint Sebastian'

Growing up in Vienna as the only child of a secretary and a teacher, Kurz became active in the ÖVP at the age of 16.

Having dropped out of his law studies to focus on politics, he first entered government in 2011 as secretary for integration, and then as foreign minister two years later, aged 27.

Full of praise for Hungary's populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Kurz claimed credit for closing the Balkan migrant trail in 2016.

Surfing a wave of feeling against traditional figures in politics, Kurz wrested control of the ÖVP in 2017 and transformed it into the "Liste Kurz", a movement centred on his own image.

READ MORE: Just how much trouble is Sebastian Kurz in? 

He swiftly axed the ÖVP's coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ), prompting snap elections in which his campaign propelled him to the top job.

The youth and dynamism his supporters credit him with are also at the fore of an official biography whose sycophantic tone was widely mocked on social media.

Passages describing how Kurz "uttered his first words at the age of 12 months" and lauding his "bravery" as an adolescent prompted critics to dismiss it as a hagiography of "St Sebastian".

READ ALSO: Who's who in Austrian politics?

'Political stunt'

Kurz has stunned observers time and again. His coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) collapsed in 2019 when his junior partner became engulfed in a corruption scandal.

In the aftermath, Kurz himself became the first chancellor in Austria's post-war history to be removed in a no-confidence vote in parliament. 

But in snap elections later that year, Kurz once again led his party to top polls, even managing to expand his support base, picking up unhappy FPÖ voters.

Advertisement

In order to have the necessary majority to govern, he then formed a coalition with the Greens in January 2020 - a first at a national level.

But Kurz maintained fighting immigration as one of his core promises, which caused frequent frictions with his new partners.

READ ALSO: How the Kurz corruption scandal exposes Austria’s press freedom problems

Sudden resignation

It was the Greens who finally increased the pressure on Kurz in autumn 2021. Vice Chancellor and Greens leader Werner Kogler on Friday asked the ÖVP to name another chancellor, saying Kurz was "no longer fit for office".

Earlier this year, the Greens had stood by the chancellor's side when prosecutors announced they were investigating Kurz for giving false testimony to a parliamentary committee in a different case

In the past, some have accused Kurz of being a "mini-dictator" and running the ÖVP as a "one-man show".

While some of his admirers have made parallels with the similarly youthful French President Emmanuel Macron, his detractors see him more as a budding Orban.

Kurz's boycott of the UN migration pact, welfare cuts for asylum seekers and a raft of other anti-migration measures have made him as divisive a figure as his Hungarian counterpart.

At the same time, he has been careful to present himself as pro-European and avoid any slips of the tongue -- at least publicly, until a raft of compromising messages were leaked from investigation files in recent months - some of which led to the allegations against him.

On December 2nd, the former 'Whizz Kid' shocked some observers with the announcement he was leaving politics.

He described the last few months as “an incredibly tense time” and a “rollercoaster of emotions”. He said the recent birth of his son made him realise he no longer wanted to be in politics. In reference to the allegations against him, Kurz described himself as “neither a saint nor a criminal” but maintained that the corruption claims are false.

More

Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also