Sebastian Kurz walks a ‘skinny crimson line’ in Europe


Merkel, having simply returned from the exhausting debacle of the G7 summit, talked concerning the “Herculean process” of retaining Europe united on immigration, finance and commerce regardless of crumbling relations with US President Donald Trump.

Kurz, however, appeared energized, gearing up as Austria assumes the EU presidency subsequent month.

”Our nationwide focus can be safety, with the aim of ‘a Europe that protects’,” he instructed reporters in a joint press convention. “As a way to assure safety in Europe, we have to strongly confront our protection coverage in Europe. And we’d like an answer to our migration coverage to safe the internal safety of the EU.”

At 31, Kurz is likely one of the youngest world leaders, however he is additionally a seasoned political veteran with greater than seven years of presidency below his belt. He shrewdly turned one among Europe’s greatest crises — the refugee inflow of 2015 — right into a vote-getter on the poll field.

As a insurrection inside Merkel’s authorities over immigration coverage threatens to carry her 13-year rule to an finish, Kurz’s star is on the rise. And that is trigger for celebration for conservatives on the right-wing finish of the spectrum.

US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, an in depth ally of US President Donald Trump, just lately enthused over Kurz in an interview with Breitbart. “Look, I believe Sebastian Kurz is a rock star,” he mentioned. “I am an enormous fan.”

Elected to the chancellorship in October, Kurz arrived in energy simply as Merkel’s grip seemed to be weakening. He appears eager to dismantle not less than a few of what she has constructed and take the continent down a extra hardline path, regardless of insisting frequently on his assist for the European undertaking.

Final yr his get together was the driving power behind a legislation banning full-face Muslim veils in public areas, and final week he announced the expulsion of up to 60 foreign-funded imams and the closure of seven mosques in a crackdown on “political Islam.”

He additionally appears eager to strengthen his nation’s hyperlinks with Russia, assembly with President Vladimir Putin twice since coming to energy in December. The Kremlin has additionally floated Vienna as a venue for a potential summer season assembly between Putin and Trump.

Putin and Kurz enter a hall before a press conference following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow in January.

‘A conservative power to be reckoned with’

Earlier in his profession, Kurz was Austria’s much more liberal minister of integration, a champion of “willkommenskultur” or “welcome tradition” for immigrants. However because the nation’s international minister in 2015, he firmly opposed Merkel’s determination to open Germany’s doorways to tens of 1000’s of refugees who marched via Austria to get there. As an alternative, he closed the borders and put a cap on the variety of asylum seekers allowed to settle in Austria.

It was an indication of a shift to the appropriate, but in addition a shrewd political transfer.

“He noticed that the immigration coverage of Merkel was going to have issues, and he realized that Austria had a strategic place to coordinate Balkan nations and shut the border,” defined Timo Lochocki, a political analyst writing a e book on European political events. “He signaled: I can shut the borders. Even a small nation can affect. That made him a conservative power to be reckoned with.”

Merkel’s determination to permit a whole bunch of 1000’s of refugees to settle in Germany was lauded by many on the time, however it has been politically expensive and offered fodder for the far-right Various for Germany, which received 12.6% of the vote in final yr’s federal election and is now the official opposition get together within the Bundestag.

If she is toppled subsequent week by her personal inside minister — whose hardline “migration masterplan” is opposed by Merkel and is basically an try to win again voters misplaced to the AfD — that can also satirically be traced again to her determination in September 2015.

Austrians protest against the anti-immigrant policies of Sebastian Kurz and his Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache in January.

Kurz’s robust stance, in the meantime, endeared him to Austrian voters who had been on the lookout for a pacesetter to voice their fears about immigration. In consequence, his revamped model of the conservative Individuals’s Social gathering (OVP) handily received probably the most votes in final yr’s election.

However whereas Kurz had sufficient votes to turn into chancellor, he wanted extra seats to manipulate. So, he shaped a controversial coalition with the far-right Freedom Social gathering (FPO), which was based by former Nazi officers. The FPO has extra in widespread with the federal government of Viktor Orban in neighboring Hungary — anti-immigration, pro-Russia and a thorn within the aspect of the European Union.

‘Strolling a skinny crimson line’

That alliance is a energy, because it frees Kurz from having to battle with an rebel far-right get together on each problem, however it is usually “the largest hazard for him as chancellor,” in response to Austrian political analyst Thomas Hofer.

“There have been incidents of anti-Semitic quotes from the FPO, issues mentioned towards (Hungarian Jewish businessman) George Soros, for instance,” Hofer mentioned. “He condemned a few of that on Twitter, referred to as it out, however not in any massive interviews. It is strolling a skinny crimson line for Mr. Kurz.”

To date, Kurz has walked that line by being robust on immigration but in addition adamant in his assist for the EU, seeming to distinguish his get together from different anti-immigration political actions in Italy, Hungary and Poland.

Hungary to debate law that would criminalize helping illegal immigrants

“The Austrian citizens stays pro-European,” Lochocki defined. “It could tilt to the appropriate on immigration, however not on Europe and the EU. Kurz took a strategic stand on immigration however not towards Europe.”

In July, Kurz can be elevated as soon as once more as Austria takes on the rotating EU presidency. Nevertheless it stays unclear which man — the one who closes borders and expels imams or the one who champions European cooperation — will lead Europe via the subsequent months.

Maybe that is as a result of Kurz is completely satisfied to move wherever he sees votes to be received. He excels at recognizing a political alternative, explains Cas Mudde, political scientist on the College of Georgia.

“He is applauded — and criticized — for his capacity to learn the temper and use a political alternative for private revenue, no matter the ideological agenda.”

Atika Shubert reported from Berlin and Judith Vonberg wrote from London.

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