|Chancellor of Austria|
|Assumed office |
7 January 2020
|President||Alexander Van der Bellen|
|Preceded by||Brigitte Bierlein|
18 December 2017 – 28 May 2019
|President||Alexander Van der Bellen|
|Preceded by||Christian Kern|
|Succeeded by||Brigitte Bierlein|
|Chairman of the People's Party|
|Assumed office |
15 May 2017
|Preceded by||Reinhold Mitterlehner|
|Minister of Foreign Affairs|
16 December 2013 – 18 December 2017
|Preceded by||Michael Spindelegger|
|Succeeded by||Karin Kneissl|
|Chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe|
1 January 2017 – 18 December 2017
|Secretary General||Lamberto Zannier|
|Preceded by||Frank-Walter Steinmeier|
|Succeeded by||Karin Kneissl|
|Born||27 August 1986|
Meidling, Vienna, Austria
|Political party||People's Party (2009–present)|
|Domestic partner||Susanne Thier|
|Education||GRG 12 Erlgasse (Matura)|
|Years of service||October 2004 – June 2005|
Sebastian Kurz (German pronunciation: [zeˈbastˌi̯a:n ˈkʊrt͡s]; born 27 August 1986) is the chancellor of Austria since January 2020, previously holding this position from December 2017 to May 2019. In addition, Kurz has been the chairman of the Austrian People's Party since May 2017.
Kurz was born and raised in Meidling, Vienna. He acquired his Matura in 2004 at the GRG 12 Erlgasse and subsequently completed mandatory military service in 2005. Following the same year, Kurz attended the faculty of law (Juridicum) at the University of Vienna, but voluntarily left before graduating to focus on his political career. Kurz entered politics when he joined the Young People's Party (JVP) in 2003. Five years later he assumed his first political office there as chairman of the JVP for Vienna.
In 2010, Kurz successfully ran for the Viennese State Diet and thereby obtained his first governmental post. Following a reshuffle of the First Faymann cabinet in 2011, Kurz was nominated and appointed state secretary of the Interior Ministry for social integration. After the 2013 legislative election, Kurz became foreign minister of Austria and retained this position until 2017.
Following the resignation of Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner as chairman of the People's Party (ÖVP) in May 2017, Kurz was named his successor. Mitterlehner's withdrawal from politics led to the end of the Kern cabinet and triggered a legislative snap election in 2017; in which Kurz participated as the top candidate of his party, gaining tremendous popularity with his core topics of immigration and social politics. Ultimately, he and his party achieved the first place in the election, receiving 31.5% of the vote.
As leader of the largest party after the election, Kurz was charged with the formation of a new cabinet by President Alexander Van der Bellen and subsequently formed a coalition with the Freedom Party (FPÖ). Kurz was sworn in as chancellor on 18 December 2017 alongside his new cabinet. During his chancellorship, Kurz passed many changes and reforms but suffered multiple scandals. Following the Ibiza affair and the end of the ÖVP–FPÖ majority coalition, Kurz was dismissed by the National Council through a motion of no confidence passed by the SPÖ, FPÖ and JETZT in May 2019. President Van der Bellen replaced him with Brigitte Bierlein the next month.
His style of governing is regarded as active and expeditious by supporters, but uncooperative and hasty by opponents. During most of his incumbency, Kurz was the youngest head of government in the world.
After his party won the 2019 legislative snap election, Kurz was again tasked with the formation of a new cabinet, his party entered into coalition negotiations with the Green Party in November. At the end of December it was reported that negotiations concluded successfully. He was again sworn in as chancellor on 7 January 2020.
- 1 Personal life
- 2 Political career
- 3 First chancellorship
- 4 Second chancellorship
- 5 Public profile
- 6 Political stances
- 7 Other activities
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Kurz was born in Vienna, the only child of Roman Catholic parents Josef and Elisabeth Kurz (née Döller). His father is an engineer and his mother is a grammar school teacher. Kurz' maternal grandmother Magdalena Müller – born 1928 in Temerin, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (today Vojvodina, Serbia) – is a Danube Swabian who fled from the city and settled in Zogelsdorf (today in Austria) during World War II, after the Yugoslav Partisans and the Red Army started to occupy the territory that was then part of the Kingdom of Hungary.
Early life and education
Kurz was brought up in Meidling, the 12th district of Vienna, where he still lives. He obtained his Maturazeugnis in 2004, completed compulsory military service in 2005, and began studying law at the University of Vienna the same year, but later dropped out to focus on his political career.
Kurz had been a member of the Young People's Party (JVP) since 2003 and was sponsored by Markus Figl. From 2008 to 2012, he was chairman of the JVP for Vienna. During his chairmanship, he led the youth campaign of the People's Party in the 2010 Viennese state election and coined the campaign's controversial electoral slogan "Black Makes Horny".[a] While campaigning, he commissioned that a black-painted car termed the "Geilomobil" ("horny automobile") be driven through Vienna. In 2009, Kurz was elected federal chairman of the JVP at a party convention, where he received 99 percent of the vote; five years later he was reelected with 100 percent of the vote. In 2017, he handed over the office of federal chair to Austrian attorney Stefan Schnöll. From 2009 to 2016, Kurz additionally served as a deputy chair of the People's Party in Vienna. From 2010 to 2011, he was a member of the Viennese State and Municipality Diet, where he focused on equality for all generations and ensuring fair pensions, before being nominated as state secretary of the Interior Ministry for integration in June 2011, ensuing a reshuffle of the first Faymann cabinet. Following the 2013 Austrian legislative election – in which he had won the most direct votes of any candidate – he briefly served as a member of the National Council. In December 2013, Kurz resigned his parliamentary seat to become the country's youngest foreign minister at the age of 27.
Kurz considered a healthy and continued dialogue between government and the religious communities to be a pivotal part for social integration. During the first months in his new capacity as state secretary of the Interior for integration, Kurz suggested several changes, such as a second mandatory kindergarten year for children with insufficient language skills. In 2011, the Integration State Secretariat co-founded a campaign called "Zusammen:Österreich" ("Together:Austria") along with the Austrian Integration Fund and the Ministry of Education. The campaign sought to familiarise immigrants with the Austrian landscape and culture as well as to convey values such as religious freedom and democracy. The campaign sent so-called "integration ambassadors" to schools, so to discuss the identification of migrants with the Republic of Austria.
As state secretary, Kurz received an annual budget of fifteen million euros as of 2011. The budget was raised to 100 million euros by 2017. The increase primarily occurred due to a large-scale buildup of German language courses.
Following the 2013 legislative election, Kurz took over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Michael Spindelegger. In March 2014, his ministry's jurisdiction has been expanded and was additionally vested with matters of integration. Kurz denoted Western Balkans relations to be one of his top priorities, which is why his first foreign visit as minister was in Croatia. Good relations with Israel has been very important to him "for historical reasons" and for a positive cooperation with the Jewish community in the field of integration.
During a visit in Belgrade on 26 February 2014, he reaffirmed Austria's continued support for the accession of Serbia into the European Union, also because Austrian economical and political interests. Together with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, he talked about the future of Bosnia and Austrian-Serbian relations in a historical context.
In November 2014, he presented the "#stolzdrauf" campaign, which should have encouraged people to show what they are proud of in Austria on social networks. The campaign was intended to strengthen social cohesion, but evolved into a polarized debate. Especially Twitter has been affected of critical and sarcastic comments. Supporters of the campaign have been celebrities such as the former Miss Austria Amina Dagi or the musician Andreas Gabalier. Also involved in the campaign were President Heinz Fischer, the Austrian Airlines, the Jewish Community and the Islamic Religious Community. According to a report of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the left-wing especially opposed folksy Andreas Gabalier while the right did not want to recognize a headscarf wearer or a Tschuschn as real Austrians. The alt-right identitarian movement therefore disrupted the press conference on the presentation of the campaign. Also heavily criticized was the amount of money invested in the promotion of the campaign by the Foreign Ministry which amounted to €326,029 and €120,000 in five to six weeks, of which 55% flowed into newspaper advertisement at boulevard or free newspapers.
On 25 February 2015, an amendment to the Islam law was passed in the National Council. The amendment adjusted the law of 1912 and banned foreign financing of Islamic associations and was especially criticised by the Muslim community. It included the right of Muslims for pastoral care in the Armed Forces, detention centers, hospitals and nursing homes. A German translation of the Qur'an which had been demanded by Kurz was not contained in the amendment.
In June 2015, Kurz proposed to adjust the family subsidy for EU citizens working in Austria whose children live in the country of origin to the price level of their country. In addition, immigrants from other EU states should first have paid into the Austrian welfare system for a few years before they would be eligible to request financial aid in Austria. The SPÖ opposed the plans, but stated that the abuse of family subsidy needed to be better controlled. The FPÖ welcomed the proposals. The Greens accused Kurz and his party of "taking over the hate policy of the FPÖ".
At the end of June 2015 Kurz presented his plans to close Austrian embassies in Malta, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia until autumn 2018. At the same time, new embassies should be opened in Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Qatar and Singapore. His plans also included another Consulate General in China. He wanted to achieve financial savings through the sale of no longer needed real estate and by merging representative agencies.
Following the City of Vienna's rejection to commission Ednan Aslan with a research project on Islamic kindergartens in 2014, the Ministry of Integration commissioned Aslan himself. The preliminary study, published at the end of 2015, came to the conclusion that Salafist tendencies were emerging and that the spread of Islamist ideologies was observable. Following this alarming study, the City of Vienna and the Ministry of Integration agreed to conduct a comprehensive scientific study on that matter. In addition, the city of Vienna increasingly started to review these kindergartens. In June 2017, Kurz demanded to close Islamic kindergartens in general, as they had isolated themselves linguistically and culturally from the main society. After Falter had accused the Integration department of the Ministry to have changed "content and not only formatting" of the preliminary study, a tangible controversy emerged. Aslan then pointed out that he supported the published study. A review of the study was initiated by the University of Vienna.
In January 2016, Kurz stated in an interview with the daily newspaper Die Welt regarding border security in Austria: "It is understandable that many politicians are afraid of ugly pictures relating to border security. However, we cannot just delegate this duty of ours to Turkey, because we don't want to get our hands dirty. It will not go without ugly pictures". The latter part of the quote was used by the green MEP Michel Reimon as a caption to a photo of the deceased refugee boy Aylan Kurdi and spread on Facebook. Reimon also referred to Kurz as an inhuman cynic. An ÖVP spokesman described it as "despicable that the Greens exploit the death of this little boy for party politics", Aylan was killed at a time "where there was no border security, but a policy of false hopes".
In February 2016, Kurz attended the Western Balkans Conference in Vienna, as representative for Austria, alongside with Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner. The conference was heavily criticized by the EU, but the resulting blockade of the Balkan route was soon officially recognized by the EU.
The recognition and assessment law presented by the Ministry of Integration was approved in July 2016. In order to facilitate the recognition of qualifications acquired abroad and the transfer of educational certificates.
During commemorations and military parades for the end of World War II, Kurz visited Belarus on 5 May 2015, followed by a visit in Moscow where he met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He described the annexation of the Crimea and the support of the Eastern Ukrainian separatists as "contrary to international law". A softening of EU sanctions would not be possible without prior local improvements of the situation and without the implementation of the Minsk II agreement and that peace could only be achieved "with and not against Russia". In June 2016, he stated to support the proposals previously made by then-German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to gradually withdraw sanctions in return for steps completed by Russia regarding the Minsk agreement.
In May 2016, Kurz visited Israel and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The trip marked 60 years of diplomatic relations between Austria and Israel. Netanyahu and Kurz signed a working holiday visa agreement as well as a memorandum of understanding on education and cultural issues.
In November 2016, Kurz expressed his thanks as a representative of the European People's Party in a campaign appearance of the Macedonian sister party VMRO-DPMNE for supporting the closure of the Western Balkans route, which was later criticized as an indirect campaigning aid. In regards to the refugee crisis, the Ministry of Integration introduced values and orientation courses in all states.
In March 2017, Kurz criticized rescue actions by aid organizations as "NGO insanity", as these would result in more refugees dying in the Mediterranean Sea rather than less. Kurz repeatedly demanded that refugees rescued in the Mediterranean Sea should no longer be taken to mainland Italy, but returned to refugee centers outside of Europe, as according to the Australian refugee model. His purposes were supported by the EU border agency Frontex, but opposed by aid organizations.
In March 2017, the Integration Act was passed in the Council of Ministers and subsequently enacted by the National Council in May 2017. It contains the right to attend German language courses, obliges participation in language and value courses and prohibits the distribution of expenditures of the Quran in public spaces by Salafists. A ban on full obfuscation in public spaces was regulated in the Anti-Face Veiling Act. The Integration Act was supplemented by an integration year law in accordance with the cabinet's draft. The obligatory charitable work of beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, persons entitled to asylum and asylum seekers with good chances of recognition was regulated in the Integration Year Law and is referred to as "work training that is in the interest of the common good". The charitable work can take up to twelve months and is carried out by community service organizations. Participants of the integration year also receive an "integration card" that serves as a kind of certificate.
In May 2017, the integration ambassador criticized Kurz's policy. According to a survey conducted by the immigrant magazine Bum Media, two thirds of the ambassadors for integration do not agree with the policy or individual aspects of the policy (especially the headscarf ban in the public). The same medium stated that of the 350 Integration ambassadors cited by the Foreign Ministry, only 68 were on the website.
In Kurz's tenure as Foreign Minister, it was agreed to increase the funds for bilateral development cooperation from about 75 to about 150 million by 2021.
The EU–Turkey agreement on the refugee crisis agreed in March, was described as necessary by Kurz. However, he advocated leaving Turkey as few tasks as possible such as returning refugees. To safeguard the Schengen border of the EU, Greece should be given more responsibility. He understands that many politicians are afraid of "ugly pictures" regarding border security, but it could not be that the EU would delegate this task to Turkey because they did not want to "get their hands dirty". Kurz said it will not go without "ugly pictures".
At the end of 2016, it was announced that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had canceled funding for the Südwind Magazine, which had been published monthly since 1979, for the association Südwind Entwicklungspolitik. This move caused criticism from various parties, as it endangered the survival of the magazine. The publisher representative of the Südwind magazine considered the cessation of funding "politically stupid". An Internet petition against the rejection of the funding was then launched.
Kurz held his annual speeches as Foreign Minister before the United Nations General Assembly, respectively the UN Security Council, and participated in the review conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In addition, he also expressed his support for denuclearisation and the protection of persecuted Christians.
As Austrian Foreign Minister, Kurz assumed the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in January 2017 for one year. In the first days of his new capacity he visited the disputed eastern Ukraine. In regards of EU sanctions against Russia, he proposed an "act-on-act system". A gradual lifting of sanctions in exchange for progress in the Ukraine conflict could trigger a "positive momentum". While the OSCE considered it to be a success that the OSCE observation mission in eastern Ukraine could be extended, there was also criticism on the agenda-setting of his incumbency, which according to Christian Nünlist, was partly based on his personal domestic political interests for Austria. As OSCE Chairperson, Kurz invited to an OSCE Summit in Mauerbach on 11 July 2017.
Already during the chairmanship of Reinhold Mitterlehner, many rumors arouse under the media and the party itself, speculating that it would be more and more likely for Kurz to takeover the party before the 2017 legislative election and to run as the top candidate of his party in that election. In 2014, the daily newspaper Kurier already speculated on a possible top candidacy of Kurz for the next election. On 10 May 2017, Mitterlehner announced his resignation as Minister, Vice-Chancellor and ultimately as party leader. Following Mitterlehner's withdrawal from politics, the party executive board nominated Kurz as the new chairman on 14 May that year. However, he declined to succeed Mitterlehner as Vice-Chancellor. Before his official election to the chairmanship, Kurz posed seven requirements to the executive board which were partially were already agreed upon before his nomination, some were even statutory enshrined. Unofficially assented changes were a request of the chairmen to be granted veto powers against federal nominees of state organisations and to obtain the prerogative to appoint federal nominees at their discretion. The newspaper Falter reported that Kurz had already "pre-felt" if corporate donors would financially support his election campaign before assuming the chairmanship as apparently several millions of Euros have informally already been promised in donations.
On 1 July 2017, Kurz was officially elected chairmen of the ÖVP by the Bundesparteitag (federal party conference) with 98,7 percent of the delegates vote and thereby almost achieved as much as his predecessor Reinhold Mitterlehner, who got 99,1 percent of the vote.
2017 legislative election
In the 2017 legislative election, the Austrian People's Party competed under the alias Sebastian Kurz list – the new People's Party, but retained the abbreviation ÖVP. Besides Kurz other nominees on the federal list (Bundesliste) were Elisabeth Köstinger, Josef Moser, Gaby Schwarz, Efgani Dönmez, Maria Großbauer, Rudolf Taschner, Tanja Graf, Karl Mahrer and Kira Grünberg. The first part of the election program, titled "New Justice & Responsibility" (Neue Gerechtigkeit & Verantwortung), was presented on 4 September 2017 and it promised tax cuts, advocated against assets and inheritance taxes and for a reduction of the minimum income obtained by people without Austrian citizenship. Already in June 2017, Kurz had announced that he would aim for a tax relief in the amount of 12 to 14 billion euros annually, counterbalanced by savings in the bureaucracy and "misguided social services", which would in particular affect child and family subsidy as well as the minimum income received by foreigners.
The second part of the program, presented nine days later, comprised economics, education, research, culture and the environment. It also aimed to replace compulsory school attendance with "compulsory education". Children shall "be able to comprehensively read and know the basics of math", otherwise compulsory school attendance shall be extended up until the age of 18. In addition, there shall be a mandatory second kindergarten year for children with insufficient knowledge of the German language. And contributions to the social security system shall be reduced for people with lower incomes.
On 27 September 2017, Kurz presented the third part of the election program; "Order and Security". Anyone arriving illegally shall be returned to their country of origin. If someones requires protection, they shall be harboured in a Protection Center within a third-party country. It also asked for an improved Punktesystem (scoring system) for legal immigrants. With regards to government reforms, it wished a more clearly defined separation of responsibilities between the federal government and the state and municipality governments. It also called for structural reforms within the EU, the implementation of the security compact and tougher punishments for violence against women and incitements.
On 15 October 2017, Kurz and his party emerged as victorious from the 2017 legislative election, receiving 1,595,526 votes (31.5%) in the popular vote and thus gaining 15 additional seats, and thereby a plurality, in the National Council. As the leader of the party with the most seats after the election, Kurz was charged with the formation of a new cabinet by President Alexander Van der Bellen. Since he did not obtain an absolute majority in parliament, Kurz decided looking out for a coalition partner to ensure one. The search turned out rather quick and the People's Party entered negotiations with the far-right Freedom Party on 25 October. Negotiations concluded successfully on 15 December and the incoming coalition presented its ministers list[b] to the President. Van der Bellen assented and the Kurz cabinet was sworn in on 18 December 2017.
Actions and policies
Family Bonus Plus
On 4 July Chancellor Kurz and his cabinet enacted the "Family Bonus Plus" (Familienbonus Plus). Beginning on 1 January 2019, the bonus will allow for a specific amount to be annually deducted of parents income taxes; maximum €1,500 per child underage (which is €125 per month) and €500 per child over 18 years of age. The bonus only affects parents whose children derive child subsidy (Kinderbeihilfe) from government. The maximum relief amount can be claimed when at least one parent earns a minimum of €1,350 net per month. The minimum relief amount is €250 and can be claimed by every employed single parent, regardless of their monthly income – unemployed parents will receive no bonus.
In addition, the bonus replaces several other child subsidies, such as the "child tax credit" (Kinderfreibetrag) which granted €440 to a single parent and €600 to a couple, and the "reduction of childcare costs" (Absetzbarkeit der Kinderbetreuungskosten) which granted parents €2,300 annually per child under 10 years of age.
Basic income and unemployment insurance
In November 2018, the Kurz cabinet completed drafting major changes to the basic income, unemployment insurance and the emergency aid. While the basic income was initially denoted "minimum grant" (Mindestsicherung), it will be renamed "social aid" (Sozialhilfe). The new statute resulting from the changes, will supersede the "federation-states-agreement on minimum standards of social services" (which expired in 2016) and federalize the basic income through a framework law – which will allow for states to keep their autonomy in making decisions on the basic income, but only within that by the law explicitly defined framework.
The new law will grant recipients of the basic income that are singles a maximum of €863,04 monthly, couples will obtain a maximum of €1.208,26 monthly. Parents will receive €215 for their first child, €129 for their second one and €43 from the third one onward. Citizens of the European Union, the European Economic Area and foreign countries, only are eligible to apply for the basic income after a legally registered stay of five years or when having served as an employer. Immigrants with insufficient German language skills will receive a reduced basic income of only €563 – cabinet argued that the difference of €300 will pay for their German language courses. The full amount of €863 will be acquirable by immigrants when having achieved German level B1 (being able to understand the basics when a standard vocabulary is applied and when it comes to trusted things like work, school or free time) or English level C1 (being able to comprehend a broad spectrum of long and challenging texts and implicit meanings). To retain the basic income an application must be re-submitted every year.
Furthermore, the changes will merge the unemployment insurance (Arbeitslosengeld) with the emergency aid (Notstandshilfe); the merger's result will then be called "unemployment insurance NEW" (Arbeitslosengeld NEU). While the prior unemployment insurance was only claimable for one year by the newly unemployed, the new unemployment insurance expands this tenure up to two years. However, when people's eligibility for the old unemployment insurance expired they could claim the constantly-renewable but less awarding emergency aid. The new unemployment insurance however, eliminated the emergency aid and will thereby cause people to fall directly into the basic income.
The changes passed the Council of Ministers on March 2019 and were subsequently enacted by the National Council. The federal-level framework law is in effect since April 2019, states now have time to implement the law until June 2021.
12 hour work day
On July 2018, the Kurz cabinet passed an amendment to the working time law (Arbeitszeitgesetz) in the National Council, which has commonly been referred to as the "12 hour work day" (12-Stunden-Arbeitstag). Cabinet skipped the common assessment process (Begutachtungsprozess) for the amendment. The average work time in Austria was eight hours per day, the amendment extended the maximum work time of ten hours per day to twelve hours, and the fifty hours work time per week to sixty hours. Chancellor Kurz and his cabinet commented the changes with "legally allowing employees to work more a day on a voluntary basis. In theory, employees could legally decline an employer's request to work longer.
Prior to the amendment it has only been possible to work longer than ten hours per day in certain circumstances and with the explicit assent of the works council. Supporters of these changes have been the Economic Chamber and the Federation of Industries. Opponents on the other side, have been the Social Democratic Party, the Peter Pilz List, the Chamber for Workers and Employees, and the Trade Union Federation. Opponents have raised strong concerns regarding the amendment, doubting that an appliance of the "voluntary basis" is actually possible in practice – since they expect the employer to dismiss a denial of the employee to work longer and threaten them with suspension and discharge.
As of 1 January 2019, all primary (Volksschule) and secondary schools (Hauptschule, Gymnasium) are legally required to establish mandatory German language classes (which deviate from regular classes) for children with a lacking knowledge of the German language – denoted "extraordinary students". Such classes are however, only established when there is a minimum of eight such pupils per school. Extraordinary students are determined by a nationwide test (administered by the principal) when signing up for a school, or when having entered school during a school year and being new to Austria. When tests do conclude an "insufficient" knowledge of the German language, pupils are obliged to attend German language classes for fifteen hours per week in primary schools and twenty hours per week in secondary schools. Extraordinary students will remain in these classes until a maximum tenure of four semesters or when having at least improved their skills to an "inadequate" knowledge of the German language – their language level will be examined every semester through a ministerial test. Such students will attend view joint subjects, such as drawing, music, gymnastics and handicraft, with their original regular class.
The new law replaced a previous act, which allowed pupils to voluntarily attend German language classes for eleven hours per week. Cabinet argued that the previous law was not effective enough and did not achieve the desired results.
The new initiative faced great opposition by schools, their representatives and the opposition parties. Opponents argued that yet alone the Viennese schools would require 500 additional rooms. Furthermore, extraordinary students may face discrimination, many teachers do not have the necessary requirements, costs for the implementation are gigantic and all extraordinary students are in the same class regardless of their age, which prevents them from learning efficiently.
Family subsidy for European foreigners
In October 2018, the Kurz cabinet amended the family subsidy for European foreigners through legislation, the changes will be in effect as of 1 January 2019. The amendment affects foreign citizens of the European Union which work within Austria but whose children reside outside of Austria. The changes adjust family subsidy obtained by these children to the local price level of their country of residence. The amendment especially pertains workers of the social and civil sector, such as nurses.
The European Commission admonished the cabinet of amending family subsidy for European foreigners, since Union Law states that "equal contributions to the system, must be paid out with equal services". The commission considers to sue Austria at the European Court of Justice as soon as the amendment turns into effect.
In April 2018, the coalition enacted the "monitoring compact", officially titled "security compact". The People's Party already attempted to pass such a law in the previous legislative period, but failed since their bill presented before the National Council was rejected by all other parties, including their current and former coalition partner.
The compact allows for authorities to monitor messenger services (such as WhatsApp and Skype) of a person; that has committed a crime punishable with a maximum of ten years imprisonment, or five years when life and sexual integrity are endangered, or is suspected of being a potential terrorist. With the new compact, authorities will be empowered to order telecommunication companies to save a person's data up to one year if they are suspected of committing a specific crime. Should the initial suspicion not be substantiated throughout the investigation, then authorities' directive to store data will turn void and the surveillance target must be informed of their investigation. Furthermore, the optical and acoustic surveillance in the public are also planned to be expanded, therefore authorities will be able to access the video and audio surveillance of government operated or funded organisations (such as public transportation services, airports and railway stations), who are obliged to store recordings for a tenure of four weeks. The "license plate recognition systems" (Kennzeichenerkennungssysteme) are also intended to be advanced, with them being able to detect the driver, license plate, type and color of any car. IMSI-catchers used by the police will be able to localise phones without contacting the respective telecommunication company. Anonymous prepaid cards will no longer be available and only sim cards will remain, which require one to register their identity.
The compact will stand for five years and will be evaluated after three years. Jurists, attorneys, the Constitutional Service and many others, have expressed their strong concerns regarding the compact and have accused it of infringing the very basis of liberty. Both, the Social Democratic Party and the NEOS, have announced to file one-third petitions in Parliament to trigger a lawsuit against the compact before the Constitutional Court – the Social Democratic Party will introduce its petition in the Federal Council, where it already possesses one-thirds of the seats, NEOS will introduce theirs in the National Council and hopes for the support of the Social Democratic Party to derive the remaining votes necessary.
On 19 March 2019, the Kurz cabinet presented the mobile application "Digital Office" for Android and IOS as well as the website "oesterreich.gv.at" – both platforms combine and centralize existing online services of government that allow for citizens to interact with authorities through the internet. While both are generally the same, the mobile app was labeled "more comfortable" by cabinet. The concept for both platform was drafted by Margarete Schramböck, Minister of Digital Affairs, and subsequently developed by her ministry. Digitalizing government services and bureaucracy has been an election promise of Kurz. The services data.gv.at and help.gv.at were merged into the new platforms, although data.gv.at is intended to additional remain as an independent website.
The new platforms currently allow users to:
- register a new, and cancel the current, main residence (Hauptwohnsitz),
- request certificates for newborn children,
- store passport pictures,
- receive an automatic notification when a passport's validity expires,
- request a voting card (Wahlkarte) for an upcoming election.
Additional services are intended to be added that will allow users to:
- request a new passport (June),
- register and cancel side residences (Nebenwohnsitze) (June),
- file a loss report for certificates and other legal documents (June),
- use the digital driving license (December, at the latest beginning 2020).
The digital driving license will for the moment only be usable domestically, since there are no European-wide regulations for such licenses.
EU council presidency
When Austria held the rotating EU presidency from July to December 2018, Kurz advocated for a better protection of the schengen border and suggested that Frontex border guards should prevent migrant-boats from coming to Europe.
Fusion of social insurances
On 13 December 2018 the Kurz cabinet enacted an amendment to the social insurance law. The amendment was intended to reform the organisation and structure of Austria's social insurance system, mainly through fusion and with discharging "redundant functionaries" as well as modernizing workplaces. The cabinet stated that "centralizing the social insurance system will improve services for the insured".
Following insurance organizations will be merged:
- the nine health insurances of Austria's nine states (Gebietskrankenkassen) into the federalized "Austrian Health Insurance" (ÖGK),
- the Social Insurance for the Commercial Economy with the one of the farmers into the Social Insurance for Independents (SVS),
- the Insurance for Railways and Mining with the Insurance for Governmental Officials into the "BVAEB".
The Pension Insurance (PVA) and the Insurance for Occupational Risks (AUVA) will remain untouched. In addition the Association of Austrian Social Insurances (Hauptverband der österreichischen Sozialversicherungsträger), which comprises all social insurance organisations, will be reduced and disempowered when the amendment is in effect.
The project will officially begin in April 2019 with the initiation of a parliamentary transitional committee overseeing the fusion. The committee will be abolished at the end of 2019 and starting 2020 the new organisation and structure will be in full effect.
The opposition (consisting of SPÖ, NEOS and NOW), the chairman of the Association of Austrian Social Insurances and multiple health economists have condemned these changes, saying that "they would not centralize but decentralize and impair a perfectly functioning and effective system and thus be a general worsening for the insured". The fusion will cost government approximately 300 to 400 million Euros.
End of term
On 17 May 2019, a political scandal known as the Ibiza affair was made public. The scandal involved Heinz-Christian Strache, Vice Chancellor and Freedom Party chairman, and Johann Gudenus, a Freedom Party deputy chair, asking for highly controversial electoral support from the mysterious woman who claimed to be the niece of Russian oligarch Igor Makarov. The scandal led to widespread political consequences, triggered the end of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition and ultimately resulted in the dismissal of Chancellor Kurz.
A day after the scandal, Strache announced his withdrawal from all political posts, but wished for the Kurz cabinet to remain in office. However, the next day, Chancellor Kurz delivered an official statement about the scandal before a press conference and terminated the coalition with the words "enough is enough". He also stated that he had requested President Alexander Van der Bellen to summon a snap election. The coalition agreement between the two parties was formally cancelled later that day.
The following day, speculations emerged that Kurz planned to propose the dismissal of Interior Minister Herbert Kickl. As a result, all Freedom Party ministers threatened that they would resign if Kurz actually did so. Kickl was already among the most controversial figures of the Freedom Party before the Ibiza affair and would, as interior minister, have headed the investigation into the scandal and therefore have prosecuted the former head of his own party. In addition, Kickl appointed his subordinate Peter Goldgruber the Director General for the Public Security shortly after the scandal was revealed.
On Monday 20 May, Kurz asked President Van der Bellen to dismiss Kickl as Minister of the Interior. Following Kurz’s request, all Freedom Party ministers presented their resignations to the President, as they had announced. Van der Bellen accepted all these requests and formally removed Kickl and the other ministers of his party on 23 May. The vacated ministerial posts were filled by experts.
Due to the end of the coalition and the dismissal of Kickl, Kurz lost his majority in Parliament and soon had to face a motion of no confidence. On 27 May, the Social Democratic Party presented its no-confidence vote against the whole cabinet before Parliament. With the support of JETZT and the Freedom Party, now in opposition, the motion obtained a qualified majority and successfully passed, ousting Kurz and his entire cabinet. It was the first motion of no confidence against a Chancellor and their cabinet to be successful in the history of the republic. The next day, Kurz was officially removed from office by President Van der Bellen, while the rest of his cabinet was immediately reinstated after its removal to serve in a provisional capacity. Finance Minister Hartwig Löger was named as Kurz’s successor.
In September 2019, Kurz won the 2019 legislative election in a landslide, receiving 1,789,417 votes – which makes up 37.5% of the total valid votes cast – and thus a plurality by a wide margin. Consequently, Kurz and his party expanded their majority of seats in the National Council, gaining 9 additional seats. It is thus the second time that the People's Party emerged as soundly victorious under Kurz' leadership in federal legislative elections, with the first time being the 2017 election.
As a result of the election, Kurz was again tasked with the formation of a new cabinet by President Alexander Van der Bellen on 7 October. Throughout October, Kurz held several exploratory meetings with the Social Democratic Party, the Freedom Party, the NEOS, as well as the Green Party which had experienced a grand comeback in the 2019 election, after having dropped out of the National Council following the 2017 election, and excluding the JETZT party which failed to secure a minimum of 4 seats to obtain parliamentary representation. On 11 November, Kurz announced that the People's Party would enter into coalition negotiations with the Green Party.
At the end of December it was reported that coalition negations had concluded successfully. The program for the new cabinet was introduced to the general public on 2 January 2020. The executive board of the People's Party approved the coalition agreement the next day, the Green Party federal congress followed on 4th January.
Kurz was sworn in as chancellor of Austria by President Van der Bellen on 7 January 2020 at eleven o'clock ante meridiem CET, after having taken the oath of office (Amtseid) during the inauguration ceremony (Angelobung) and after having countersigned the swearing-in certificate (Bestallungsurkunde).
Following Kurz's first official visit to Berlin, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung found him "highly eloquent", "succinct" and "everything but sheepish", and even quoted those calling him the "young Metternich". In December 2014, the German Press Agency praised Kurz as one of "seven winners on the political world stage 2014".
Anna von Bayern of the Focus magazine wrote "one truly notices the new self-confidence of the Foreign Ministry, Kurz endowed it with new relevance". Vienna had become a "place of dialogue", first with the Ukraine summit in 2014 and later with the negotiations on the nuclear deal with Iran. In autumn 2015, the Syria discussions began in Vienna.
In March 2016, Franz Schandl described Kurz in an article of Der Freitag newspaper as someone who draws a "friendly face". However, his substantive differences with his right-wing populist competitors were said to be only "marginal".
In 2017, the U.S. magazine Time listed Kurz as one of ten "Next Generation Leaders". The "statesman of the new kind" has found a way to deal with the refugee crisis. The "pragmatic way" worked out and was adopted by other European politicians.
Die Welt described Kurz as a "conservative-liberal, European-minded politician", whose rise to power in many ways resembled that of President Emmanuel Macron. The closure of the Balkan route had been a diplomatic feat.
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung said Kurz embodied "uprising, confidence, dynamism, elegance and determination", while Angela Merkel stood for "stagnation". He was "sovereign, also sympathetic towards critics, and a master of the German language. If Kurz was German, he would be Chancellor, or right before becoming Chancellor".
Eric Frey, writing in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, wrote, with regards to the National Council election in 2017, that the "distrust" of the newspaper's editorial staff towards Sebastian Kurz would weigh heavy. This was because Kurz led a "foreigner election campaign", reducing problems to the topic of immigration, and would play the "strict law guardian". However, Frey also saw some grounds for tendencies supporting Kurz, saying that he was an "effective answer" to populists like "Haider, Strache and Co". Kurz would elaborate the majority opinion that immigration would have to be more strictly regulated, "without hounding and polemics". Kurz was a "natural talent in decision-making" with "high social and analytical capabilities". According to Frey, the crucial question was whether Kurz was liberal and democracy-minded or was a "wannabe Orbán". This question would currently be "unanswerable". A hypothetical Chancellor Kurz would "split the country like no other head of government before".
In addition, parallels were drawn with Haider, until then the most successful federal leader of the right-wing populist FPÖ. The Rheinische Post wrote: "If we look directly at his supporters, Kurz strongly resembles Jörg Haider, the legendary right-wing populist, who about 30 years ago set out to destroy the eternal red-black proportional system – and ultimately failed. What changes Kurz strives for, was not clarified during his election campaign. The only thing truly clear, is that he wants to become Austria's youngest Chancellor. Therefore even calling for the installation of a Richtlinienkompetenz after the German example, in which ministers would be subordinated to the Chancellor".
In June 2018, a commentary of Edward Lucas published by the Financial Times drew parallels with the current political development of Europe and the United States with the situation in the 1930s. Kurz was said to be easily comparable with the Republican U.S. President Donald Trump and the right-wing Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, and Lucas referred to him as the "right-wing Chancellor". Following the commentary's publication, the Embassy of Austria in Washington contacted the author and demanded alteration, since they did not consider the article appropriate; the author changed the paragraphs in question. In December 2018, the word Schweigekanzler (silent Chancellor) became Austria's word of the year for the second time. The jury chose the word because "Kurz avoids reacting to topics which are unpleasant for him, he also avoids commenting on actions and statements by members of the FPÖ, where the general public expects a clarification from the Chancellor".
Spiegel Online ranked Kurz first in its ranking "Who will be important abroad in 2019?" (Wer wird 2019 im Ausland wichtig?). Seen internationally, it said the ÖVP politician had attracted considerable attention since he was "only 32 years old and rules with right-wing populists". Furthermore, the magazine said that "his right-wing populist coalition partner, the FPÖ, has pushed the boundaries of the word. In future, the tone against foreigners, refugees and migrants is likely to intensify further, because Kurz lets his coalition partner say bad things, but remains silent himself. Meanwhile, his popularity remains high". In addition, the announcement at the end of December 2018 of a digital tax as part of tax reforms caused a furore in the international media.
Both the People's Party and the Freedom Party opposed same-sex marriage and rejected several bills proposed by the Social Democratic Party, the NEOS and the Greens that would have legalized it before the court ruling.
Kurz also opposed same-sex marriage and argued that discrimination has already been abolished with the legalisation of registered partnerships, stating: "There already is the opportunity for partnering, there is the possibility for homosexual couples to adopt children [–] therefore, discrimination has already been eliminated".
As foreign minister, Kurz campaigned for dismantling and discarding all nuclear weapons on the globe, clarifying: "Nuclear weapons are not only a permanent threat to all of humanity, but also a heritage of the Cold War, that must be resolutely overcome. A paradigm shift in the international nuclear disarmament efforts is overdue when considering the imminent proliferation of nuclear weapons". In 2014, he organized an international conference regarding nuclear disarmament in Vienna.
In his campaign pledges for the 2017 legislative election, Kurz spoke out against further raising the national debt and for reducing government spending and budget deficits – he intends to realize proposed policies through abolishing the Kalte Progression and by cutting the payroll and income taxes. Kurz opposes any sorts of inheritance, property, and capital taxes. He wishes for cash to be retained as an ordinary payment method.
In Dember 2018, Kurz announced a nationwide digital tax to partly fund a major upcoming tax reform. The digital tax topic has previously been discussed on European level but no agreement came about.
Kurz opposes reducing average and below-average pensions, and supports abolishing the pension privileges. He has advocated for a federalized minimum income of 1500 euros and special regulations for minimum income recipients without citizenship.
Media policy and message control
As chancellor, Kurz instated a strict regulation to manage and oversee the communication of government and the ministries. The concept is intended to exhibit a uniform and almost synchronous appearance of government, of which no cabinet member could stand out through their individual views and stances. Journalists have accused the Kurz cabinet – through rejecting questions and by applying other methods of message control – of efforts to control and otherwise influence the media coverage. Kurz himself reduced his communication to short and often repeated sentences and keywords.
- Austrian Development Agency, Chairman of the Advisory Council on Development Policy
- Austrian Society for China Studies (ÖGCF), member of the Board of Trustees
- General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism, ex-officio member of the Board of Trustees
- European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), member
- The official color of the Austrian People's Party was black.
- A draft determining how top government positions (chancellor, vice chancellor, ministers, and state secretaries) are to be filled. It is submitted to the President for confirmation by the person charged with the cabinet formation.
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