Conservative Wunderkind Loses His Shine

Sebastian Kurz
Sebastian Kurz leaves an Austrian People’s Party meeting in Vienna, May 14, 2017 (ÖVP/Jakob Glaser)

Sebastian Kurz was the future once. Conservative Christian democrats in Germany longed for a man like him to succeed the middle-of-the-road Angela Merkel. Time magazine declared him one of the ten most promising young world leaders.

Four years later, Kurz is the subject of a criminal investigation, for lying under oath. His People’s Party is down in the polls. Kurz projected an image of renewal, but he merely swapped one network of cronies for another (his own) without changing the way politics is done in Austria.

In my latest for Wynia’s Week, a Dutch opinion blog, I argue there is a better way. Both Austria’s Christian democrats and Bavaria’s were challenged by the nationalist right during the European migrant crisis. Both lurched to the right in a bid to outflank the competition. But whereas Bavaria’s Christian Social Union soon reversed itself, realizing that voters could smell their desperation and didn’t like it, Austria’s People’s Party is stuck with the high-on-flash, low-on-substance Kurz.

Click here to read the whole thing (in Dutch).

Kurzism Doesn’t Travel Well

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, French Republican party leader Laurent Wauquiez and Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier attend a meeting of European conservative party leaders in Salzburg, September 19, 2018
Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, French Republican party leader Laurent Wauquiez and Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier attend a meeting of European conservative party leaders in Salzburg, September 19, 2018 (EPP)

The Financial Times wonders if Austria’s Sebastian Kurz is the savior of Europe’s center-right or an enabler of the far right.

His supporters, including the liberal-minded former prime minister of Finland, Alexander Stubb, see the Austrian as the antidote to Orbanism:

He talks about an open world, internationalism and is pro-European. But he is pragmatic about solving issues. And one of the big issues is immigration.

Critics argue that by taking a hard line on immigration, Kurz is legitimizing the far right. “You don’t fight fire with kerosene,” according to former chancellor and former Social Democratic Party leader Christian Kern. Read more “Kurzism Doesn’t Travel Well”

Other Conservatives Should Be Wary of Imitating Kurz

Austrian People's Party leader Sebastian Kurz meets with other conservative party leaders in Brussels, June 22
Austrian People’s Party leader Sebastian Kurz meets with other conservative party leaders in Brussels, June 22 (EPP)

Sebastian Kurz’ success may not be a template for other conservative party leaders.

The young Christian democrat defeated the far right in Austria this weekend by moving his People’s Party to the right on identity issues and immigration.

But Austria is more right-wing than most countries in Europe and its Freedom Party still achieved an almost historic result on Sunday. Read more “Other Conservatives Should Be Wary of Imitating Kurz”

Other Conservatives Should Be Wary of Imitating Kurz and May

Sebastian Kurz is seen leaving an Austrian People's Party meeting in Vienna, May 14
Sebastian Kurz leaves an Austrian People’s Party meeting in Vienna, May 14 (ÖVP/Jakob Glaser)

Center-right parties in Western Europe are responding to competition from the nativist right in radically different ways.

Whereas Dutch prime minister and liberal party leader Mark Rutte argued against the “pessimism” of the nationalist Freedom Party in the March election and won, conservative leaders in Austria and the United Kingdom have chosen to appease reactionary voters. Read more “Other Conservatives Should Be Wary of Imitating Kurz and May”