Austria’s Peoples Party (ÖVP), which took power on December 13, has named Sebastian Kurz as its new foreign minister. Kurz, who at 27 is the youngest man ever to serve in the position, was already serving as the head of the youth movement of the party and was Secretary of State for Integration. Kurz began his political career in 2008 as a candidate for Parliament, but failed to win seat. The lack of a university degree was no hindrance for the young Kurz to be named to the key position. He will be sworn into office on December 16.
Following his unsuccessful bid for a seat in the parliament, Kurz became director of the youth branch of the ÖVP in 2009. His party is of a Christian Democratic orientation. A year later he entered the city council of Vienna and in 2011 was appointed to the newly created post of Secretary of State for Integration within the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The move brought scorn on the People’s Party since Kurz was still in the midst of university studies. As secretary, Kurz followed a policy of integrating immigrants to Austrian society by requiring their children to speak German before entering school. He also proposed a mandatory attendance of two years in kindergarten to assist acquiring German language skills on the part of immigrant children. Kurz had little involvement in the issue of granting asylum to foreigners, arguing that if they are living in Austria they are presumed to be safe.
In an effort to wrest the immigration issue away from the Freedom Party, Kurz instituted free language classes for Muslim religious leaders, a ‘Welcome Desk’ for immigrants, and a forum for dialogue with Islam. These won him plaudits with liberals and human rights advocates.
Lack of experience
While his work with immigrants has been little criticized by the media, his lack of diplomatic experience and youth have aroused controversy, as has his lack of a university degree.
The new Austrian government will be confirmed by President Heinz Fischer. The government has 12 ministers: six represent the Social Democratic Party and six for the People’s Party. Werner Faymenn of the Social Democratic Party will continue to serve as Chancellor and as party chief. Michael Spindelegger remains as Vice Chancellor, leaving behind a term as Foreign Minister to take up Finance. It was Spindelegger who nominated Kurz.
Since being named to the foreign ministry, Kurz appears to be taking time off from his study of law. His official biography has deleted reference to his status as a student.