Government Reshuffle: Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) to Become Austria’s Next Chancellor

By Florian Kappelsberger

The carousel keeps on turning as a government reshuffle is announced: After a dramatic week that saw former chancellor Sebastian Kurz officially withdraw from political life and current chancellor Alexander Schallenberg (both ÖVP) tender his resignation, the executive committee of the center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) unanimously designated current Interior Minister Karl Nehammer as the party’s future federal chairman. He is also tapped to succeed Kurz and Schallenberg as Austria’s next chancellor, as confirmed in an impromptu press conference today, December 3. Nehammer will be Austria’s third chancellor within a year, and the fourth within the last three years, including the interim “expert” government of Brigitte Bierlein.

“This is a great honour for me, personally,” Nehammer said today. The incumbent chancellor emphasised the significance of the ÖVP in both local and national politics, announcing that his political course will be both “driven by values” and “looking towards the future.” At the same time, Nehammer clarified that the government would continue its hard line on asylum and migration.

Born in 1972 in Vienna, Karl Nehammer is a lieutenant in Austria’s Federal Army and worked several years as communication coach for army officers and at a number of education institutions. Later, he studied political science in Krems. Nehammer has been active in politics on a national level since 2015 and became minister in 2020.

Government Reshuffle

The designated chancellor presented a reshuffle of ÖVP-held cabinet positions:

  • Short-term chancellor Alexander Schallenberg will return to his former post as Foreign Minister.
  • Magnus Brunner, currently state secretary in the Ministry for Climate Action, will succeed Gernot Blümel as Minister of Finance after the latter announced his withdrawal from politics on December 2.
  • Gerhard Karner will assume Nehammer’s current position as Minister of the Interior.
  • Martin Polaschek, director of the University of Graz, is set to become Minister of Education; current Education Minister Heinz Faßmann will step down.
  • Claudia Plakolm will ascend to the post of State Secretary in the Federal Chancellery.
  • Additionally, Bernhard Bonelli, who is known as a close confidant of former chancellor Kurz and was also named in several of the text messages published during the Beinschab affair, will no longer serve as head of the cabinet; his successor, however, has yet to be named.

Rule of Law

In his first press conference as designated chancellor, Nehammer emphasized the principle of Rechtsstaatlichkeit (rule of law) several times, yet did not mention the successive scandals and criminal investigations that have shaken the government in the last months. Instead, he thanked former chancellor Kurz for his cooperation in the transition of power as well as for what he has achieved for the ÖVP: “I have great respect for the decision of Sebastian Kurz.” He equally extended his thanks to Alexander Schallenberg, who had served as interim chancellor for roughly two months after Kurz’s withdrawal.

Nehammer also said he hopes to consult with Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen as soon as possible so that the new cabinet can start to work. He named the immediate fight against the resurgent COVID pandemic as the number one priority of the incoming government, invoking the principles of solidarity and civic duty in these times of crisis. This, according to him, is “the only way to get the pandemic under control” and to “regain the freedoms that have been curtailed by the ongoing national lockdown.”

In reaction to the government reshuffle, opposition parties have called for snap elections. Yet Nehammer showed himself determined to continue the current chancellorship and government coalition: “It’s a great, tough challenge that I am looking forward to.”