Europe’s youngest foreign minister is now set to become the world’s youngest leader. On Oct. 15, the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) finished first in the elections, priming its leader, Sebastian Kurz, to become the new Chancellor of Austria.
As a 27 year-old foreign minister, Kurz was involved in talks surrounding the Iran Deal, which was later signed in his home city of Vienna. He has also proven to be a conservative influence in his party, for example, his actions during the ongoing refugee crisis facing Europe. These actions have mimicked xenophobic, anti-Islamic rhetoric.
Kurz has consistently urged Europe to create tighter border controls to discourage refugees from entering. He has also created laws preventing foreign funding of Austrian mosques and argued that Muslims should “only be allowed government-approved German-language Qurans.” Additionally, he has advocated for the “burka ban” that the coalition government plans to implement in coming months.
While Kurz has been likened to the other charismatic, young global leaders of today, such as Emmanuel Macron of France and Justin Trudeau of Canada, his policies and leanings are far more conservative than his counterparts.
His victory is representative of the growing global populist movement. Running on an agenda of “it’s time for something new,” Kurz represents the xenophobic, “bring back the glory days” mentality that other candidates such as Marine Le Pen and President Donald Trump have made their slogans.
Kurz’ campaign promises included ending illegal immigration, slashing unemployment benefits for asylum-seekers and EU workers, reducing government refugee aid, ending tax increases, and generally restoring order and security to Austria. Ending illegal immigration has become his key selling point and he was instrumental in the closing of the Balkan route in 2016 to avoid refugees immigrating into Europe.
Despite having the opportunity to align with either the center-left Social Democrat Party or the far-right Freedom Party, Kurz’ pro-right leanings have already begun to align his party with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). Kurz, tasked by current Chancellor of Austria Christian Kern of the Social Democratic Party with setting up the government, has, not to our surprise, made his decision to form a coalition with the Freedom Party.
As a candidate, Kurz effectively used the traditionally center-right People’s Party to repackage many of the conservative Freedom Party arguments in a more moderate way, thus giving them the advantage he needed to win the election.
“The style is different but the substance is not,” Anton Pelink, professor of nationalism studies at the Central European University, said in an Al Jazeera article on Kurtz’s platform.
The implications of this election are huge. The fear Kurz’ potential impact has instilled in the Muslim community in Austria is intense. Fear of EU sanctions that took place when this government coalition was previously in power between 2000 and 2007, due to the far-right views of the FPÖ, is looming. The fact alone that Kurz won on an anti-Islamic platform does not bode well for the Muslim community and has many worrying about their potential future and ability to maintain their rights.
We should not remain complacent about this worrying global populist, xenophobic trend. It is important to stand up for the protections of the rights of our fellow humans, for we too may be refugees or among the persecuted someday.