On Monday October 7, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen gave ÖVP leader Sebastian Kurz the mandate to form a government. But so far, he hasn’t let anyone see what’s on his mind. Clearly, no option is perfect. SPÖ leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner and Kurz are less than best friends; the Greens’ election program overlaps only by some 20% with the Turquois; the NEOS’ 8% isn’t enough by itself to deliver a coalition majority; and the FPÖ seems uninterested in any further cooperation, absorbed as it is with internal party disputes. Still, eventually, Kurz will have to choose, if he doesn’t want a minority government. Let’s look at the options:
Pamela Rendi-Wagner | The Doctor
Dr. Pamela Rendi-Wagner grew up in the 10th district, with her mother who was a single parent. After completing high school, Rendi-Wagner studied medicine in Vienna finishing with a doctorate, followed a master’s degree in England, followed in Austria by a superior qualification – Habilitation – on “Prevention through vaccinations” in 2008. She continued to work internationally as a scientist in the fields of infection epidemiology and travel medicine and also taught as a professor at the universities of Vienna and Tel-Aviv.
In 2017, Rendi-Wagner was appointed Minister of Health by President Van der Bellen, following the death of Health Minister Sabine Oberhauser in Christian Kern’s government. Since November 9, 2017, she has been a member of the Austrian National Council and since November, 2018, also SPÖ party leader, which hasn’t been in easy so far.
In May, a foto from a TV video interview with Armin Wolf went viral, which showed Rendi-Wagner almost completely in the dark at the front of her party. The media saw this as a metaphor for the poor results in the EU election where the SPÖ got 23,9%.
After the national parliament election, Rendi-Wagner famously said “We are going into the right direction”, which seemed to be a questionable statement after the SPÖ had just lost 6%. At the end of September, Tyrolean SPÖ state party leader Georg Dornauer caused a stir because he claimed that FPÖ voters would not vote for a woman with a double name, which presented Rendi-Wagner as a candidate not suitable for bringing back voters from the Freedom Party. Dr. Rendi-Wagner is married to politician and former Austrian Ambassador to Israel Michael Rendi, with whom she has two daughters.
So far, Rendi-Wagner has stood her ground, saying on “ORF Report” that she now wants to “radically” restructure the party. The first conversation with Sebastian Kurz regarding coalition negotiations she described as a “friendly exchange”, with “the most important topics discussed [only] on the surface.”
Norbert Hofer | The Quiet One
Norbert Hofer was born in 1971, in the same year as Pamela Rendi-Wagner, but grew up South of the capital, in Pinkafeld, Burgenland.
After finishing high school, Hofer graduated from the Höhere Technische Lehranstalt (Higher Technical Institute) Eisenstadt in 1990 with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. He then joined the army (Bundesheer) and afterwards worked as an interior design consultant, a technical illustrator and a flight technician.
While his FPÖ colleague Herbert Kickl has the reputation of being the “hatchet man”, Norbert Hofer always appears moderate. He smiles a lot and seems to keep his calm even as the FPÖ faces internal divisions and severe image problems. But Hofer is no stranger to hardship: His sister died of cancer at the age of 16, and he himself was severely injured in a paragliding accident in 2003, that damaged his spine, leaving him with a limp and the occasional need for a cane.
From 1996 to 2007, Hofer was party secretary of the FPÖ Burgenland, later press spokesman of a FPÖ Landesrat (Regional Council) and FPÖ club director in the regional parliament. From 2004 to 2009 he was also Bezirksparteiobmann (District Party Chairman) in Eisenstadt. In 2005, after Jörg Haider had split off to found the BZÖ, he joined the FPÖ’s governing board and became one of the deputies of the new Party Chairman Heinz-Christian Strache, joining the National Council in 2006.
In 2016, he ran against Alexander Van der Bellen in the run-off election for the Federal President, losing by six few percentage points. In 2017, he became the third President of the National Council (3. Nationalratspräsident) and later Minister of Infrastructure in the ÖVP/FPÖ coalition government.
On 4 June 2019, Hofer was unanimously nominated as the party’s lead candidate for the National Council in Austria in 2019, and as of 14 September, he has been federal party chairman of the FPÖ. Hofer and his wife Verena are the combined parents of four children.
Hofer reported having a “very good conversation” with Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP), admitting they “agreed that there are some challenges for the new government to overcome.” Shortly after the election, the FPÖ said it didn’t have a mandate to reboot a coalition with the People’s Party.
Next week: Werner Kogler & Beate Meinl-Reisinger