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PROFILE: Who is Karl Nehammer, Austria’s new chancellor?

He's got a tough situation on his plate with an unsteady governing coalition and the fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, but who exactly is Austria's newest chancellor?

Karl Nehammer
Austria's Chancellor Karl Nehammer addresses a press conference to anounce that he has been named as Austria's new chancellor during a meeting of Austria's conservative People's Party OeVP in Vienna on December 3, 2021. - Austria's People's Party appointed its new leader on December 3, the day after the departure of Sebastian Kurz, who will be replaced by Interior Minister Karl Nehammer who will become chancellor. (Photo by Joe Klamar / AFP)

Born in Vienna, 49-year-old Nehammer rose to the ranks of senior lieutenant but left the military to work in political communications and pursue a career in the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP).

Rising through the ranks as a “loyal soldier”, he worked in several key positions and secured the support of the party in the ÖVP’s stronghold region of Lower Austria.

In early 2020 he became interior minister and his department came in for some criticism for its response to the jihadist terror attack that hit Vienna in November of that year.

The father of two is married to the daughter of a well-known TV presenter and lauded Austrians for following social distancing rules at the beginning of the pandemic, which he observed on extended walks with Fanny, his Bavarian Mountain Hound.

However, public compliance with repeated lockdowns has waned, and more recently Nehammer has been issuing warnings to those protesting lockdowns and mandatory vaccination to remain within the law.

Austrian commentators are hopeful that Nehammer — the country’s third chancellor in as many months — can end the political turbulence that began with a sweeping corruption investigation that led then-chancellor Sebastian Kurz to step down after a raid on his office in October.

Though one of Kurz’s most trusted enforcers, Nehammer was never part of his inner circle that was engulfed in the recent embezzlement and disinformation scandal.

ANALYSIS: How did Austrian politics get so chaotic?

When Kurz announced that he would fully withdraw from politics and his successor as chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg, offered to vacate his office, conservatives quickly settled on Nehammer as the party’s new leader.

Nehammer seized the opportunity to appoint new interior, finance and education ministers, while reiterating that he would “hold the line” when it comes to the ÖVP’s hardline positions on migration and security.

His time as interior minister was not without controversy. After a jihadist who had previously been convicted for attempting to join the Islamic State killed four people in Vienna last year, Nehammer’s ministry was criticised for failing to watch the man after warnings from neighbouring Slovakia that he had been trying to buy ammunition.

Nehammer himself incensed critics by overseeing the deportation of children born in Austria and insisting that Afghans with no right to remain be repatriated even as the Taliban approached the gates of Kabul.

“If deportations are no longer possible due to the restraints by the European human rights convention, we have to think of alternatives,” he said at the time.

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

His Green coalition partners have been among his loudest critics on migration issues but on a personal level they nevertheless describe him as easy to communicate with — and a more reliable partner than Kurz.

Patrick Moreau, Austria specialist at France’s CNRS institute, says that a Nehammer administration may also lead to “less confrontation” within the EU, after the Alpine nation blocked key decisions under Kurz.

Domestically, Nehammer will have to “win back the trust” of the large number of voters who responded to Kurz’s populist platform but are now being courted by the far-right, according to the Der Standard daily.

By Blaise Gauquelin

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AUSTRIAN CITIZENSHIP

Could presidential criticism lead to Austrian citizenship rule changes?

Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen has hit out at Austria's naturalisation process, saying "the hurdles are too high". But how hard is it to get Austrian citizenship - and will the criticism lead to change?

Could presidential criticism lead to Austrian citizenship rule changes?

Austria’s federal president Alexander Van der Bellen, who is eyeing a second term in office in the autumn elections, has said that the hurdles for citizenship are too high in the alpine country.

“Citizenship is a valuable asset. I think the hurdles for obtaining it are too high.”, he said in an interview with the newspaper Kleine Zeitung.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does Austria’s presidential election work?

Van der Bellen mentioned a case with a German citizen who has lived in Austria for 20 years and cannot obtain dual citizenship: “He can vote neither here nor there. And that is the European Union?”

Austria does not allow for dual citizenship of naturalised citizens except in very few cases (including naturalisation of those who are descendants of Holocaust victims).

This is one of the many hurdles to citizenship in the country.

What makes Austrian citizenship so difficult to get?

Citizenship through naturalisation, meaning you are not the son or daughter of an Austrian citizen, is particularly hard to get.

First of all, the majority of applicants will need to give up any other citizenships they hold. So, a British citizen taking Austrian nationality through marriage or residence time will have to give up their British passport.

READ ALSO: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?

Besides severing that connection to a home country where people might still have many ties, this can lead to difficulties in matters of inheritance and property ownership, for example.

The naturalisation process is also long and expensive in Austria. In Vienna, the application costs €130. If successful, the new Austrian citizen can expect to pay from € 1,100 to € 1,500 just for the award – that doesn’t include costs with documentation, translation, and issuance of documents such as an Austrian passport.

The length of the process varies, but it can take more than a year for citizenship to be awarded.

The requirements will also be different depending on how long the person is legally an Austrian resident and what is their connection to the country.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my children get an Austrian passport if born in Austria?

For example, after 30 years of residence in Austria, you need to prove you are not a danger to the country and that you can support yourself.

You also need to prove German skills and pass a citizenship test.

The minimum amount of time of legal residency after which you can require citizenship is six years for people who fall into specific categories, such as legal and uninterrupted residence in Austria and possession of the citizenship of an EEA state, birth in Austria or German at a B2 level.

Will Austria change its citizenship rules?

It is improbable that there will be any significant changes soon. Despite Van der Bellen’s statements, citizenship laws are not within the federal president’s competence and mostly depend on legislative changes.

The party leading the ruling coalition, ÖVP, is against any changes, claiming that making the process easier would “depreciate” Austrian citizenship.

READ ALSO: ​​Why has naturalisation doubled in 2022 – and who are Austria’s new citizens?

Austria has recently seen a jump in naturalisation numbers, but that can largely be viewed as a one-off phenomenon after changes in the process for descendants of Nazi victims.

While junior partner Greens have been in favour of easing some rules, little is expected to happen with the ÖVP in power. The next parliamentary elections are set for 2024, though. If the SPÖ continues climbing in the polls, an SPÖ-Green coalition could push forward different rules.

Also, if the Red-Green-Yellow ruling coalition in Germany does succeed in easing naturalisation rules in the neighbouring country, Austria could see further pressure for domestic changes.

But that remains to be seen, mainly depending on the 2024 election results.

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