They love him or they hate him: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is more notorious across Europe than most of his predecessors. Now he is taking over the EU presidency. This will be interesting.
Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky once formulated the beautiful phrase, “You have no idea how much praise I can handle.” While this may be said for anyone, right now it certainly applies to Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who gets more praise – and more criticism! – for his policies and positions than anyone else in Europe. Kurz is on the verge of becoming both the youngest (31) and – due to his clear and rigid refugee policy – the most famous Austrian politician since Jörg Haider, Kurt Waldheim or Bruno Kreisky. The only question is whom he resembles most, who will he emulate? In Austria, and also in Germany, recent polls show strong support for the chancellor. On July 1, Austria’s Kurz takes over the EU presidency, which puts an even starker spotlight on his notoriety.
A look at his current policies, statements and positions suggests that the next six months will be exciting ones, in which the Union will face some important decisions. It starts with our dear euro and the EU budget, which won’t be finalized until after the EU elections in 2019.
Kurz will speak out against higher contributions to the budget. He feels Austria may face a substantial increase in contributions following a British exit. Kurz wants to avoid that. He will campaign for redefining the dimensions of the EU administration. And yes, that also means shifting power from Brussels to the individual states.
In the Brexit question, Kurz will have a harder time positioning himself: While he very much loves playing the strong man, he would prefer the EU-skeptic Brits in the Union than, say, the left-wing populist-led Greeks. That could play straight into British hands. When it comes down to the refugee question – I could also write down to the Balkan route – Kurz aims to advance his most important topic: security. It’s not without reason that the motto of Austria’s EU Presidency is “Protecting Europe.”
From what? The answer is easy and difficult at the same time: From another flood of refugees, from terrorism, from a new financial crisis and perhaps from changes that go too far. It is clear that Kurz wants to put a stop to uncontrolled immigration – both symbolically and legislatively. His opponent was Angela Merkel, who has begun listening more closely to Kurz, after the Bavarian CSU and even factions of the CDU have begun contradicting her openly. After all, the Austrian chancellor has excellent relations with her opponents.
All of this means that Austria’s EU presidency, of all things, will become a decisive factor in German domestic politics: Will Merkel move? Or will she be moved?