Sebastian Kurz Announces His Retreat From Political Life

Embattled former chancellor says he is stepping back from politics to spend time with his newborn; remains confident the ÖVP will continue to succeed.

Today, former chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced his withdrawal from political life at a press conference in which he reviewed the successes and challenges of his ten-year, meteoric career at the top of Austrian politics, thanked his team, supporters and former coalition partners, and explained why he is stepping back.

Controversy has swirled around former Kurz of late, a man who once seemed to never make a political miscalculation and whose party, the center-right ÖVP, had unequivocally supported his leadership. Now, debate has ensued around who will lead the party – with Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) reportedly tapped to become head of the party, and possibly the next federal chancellor, replacing Alexander Schallenberg.

He hoped that he had helped “move our beautiful Austria a little bit in the right direction,” said Kurz in a press conference. He said he continues to believe that people in Austria should work, should be able to live from that work, that migration should not be allowed to continue “unsteered,” and that the country needs a strong economy to keep delivering prosperity.

Emotional roller coaster

Kurz said he has gone through a “Wechselbad an Gefühlen” (an emotional roller coaster) of late: On the one hand, it’s great to feel that you are doing the right thing, he said. On the other hand, as Chancellor, each day one has to make so many decisions that you know some will be wrong. The media pressure has been intense, he said, and he and his team felt “hunted” at times.

He said that he and his team worked around the clock for the last ten years, which hadn’t left time for “beautiful and important” aspects of life, such as family. “I’m convinced that investing 100 percent of your time is necessary in that kind of role,” he said, “and that one also needs 100% enthusiasm and joy.” In the last few weeks, this appeal changed for him. He said he used to think that politics was a “competition of the best ideas,” but that lately it had become a battle of accusations and counter-accusations, and that even though this was to be expected in a top position, it had been draining and had dampened, to some extent, the “flame” of his enthusiasm.

In reference to recent scandals and allegations of corruption and lying to investigators, Kurz said he wanted to clearly state that he is “neither a saint nor a criminal, but a person.” He added: “I’m looking forward to the day when I can prove in court that the accusations against me are simply false.”

What comes next

Kurz said that the future of the ÖVP will be secured by the country’s young, motivated citizens, and that the party will continue to stand for “hard work, personal responsibility and solidarity.”

In his speech, he listed the incredible moments in his career as minister and then chancellor that he was grateful for, but said all of it was topped by the birth of his son, “a little baby I could look at for hours.” He said he is looking forward to the next chapter of his life and would be spending time with his child and family until revisiting his next professional steps in the new year.

Reactions from other political parties have started coming in on Twitter and on TV, with the far-right FPÖ’s Herbert Kickl celebrating the end of Kurz, the NEOS Beate Meinl-Reisinger wishing Kurz well and others expressing their understanding and support. Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler (Greens) said he had “huge respect” for Kurz’s decision, and that they had worked well together delivering pandemic relief and initiating the eco-social tax reform, that put a price on CO2 for the first time. Kogler wished “the young family” well.

As Kurier reported, Kurz’s resignation from politics will likely lead to a reshuffle within the ÖVP that could see Interior Minister Karl Nehammer become head of party and federal chancellor, and Economics Minister Margarete Schramböck step away from her job. The only certain thing for now is that this story and its fallout promises to dominate local news in the coming days.

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Naomi Hunt
Naomi Hunt is a managing editor at Metropole, with roots in the U.S. and Malaysia that have long been buried under Austrian soil. She previously served as a program manager at the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) and was a Senior Press Freedom Adviser at the International Press Institute (IPI).

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