Kurz wins election, hard times ahead for EU unity

Sebastian Kurz

ROME- Austrian Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, won the Austrian election, making the soon-to-be chancellor the youngest world leader. Far from being a youthful regeneration of the classically right wing Austrian political scene, Kurz has supported policies that are considered dangerous by some Italian politicians.

 Kurz, leader of the centre-right People's Party, defeated the Social Democrat party in the race which makes a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party likely. The freedom party is led by Heinz-Christian Strache, a politician who has previously expressed Nazi and Anti-Semitic inclinations. In recent years, Strache has attempted to undo the damaging effect of these associations by making trips to Israel and stating that there is a shared enemy in extremist Islam.

 Kurz has expressed little sympathy for migrants or Islamic residents in his own country. He stated previously that his reason for endorsing policies against the burka is that “we want Austrian-style Islam, not one controlled by other states,” this may echo secular policies in France and other countries, yet Kurz is proposing a governmental intervention in the practices of personal religion, not the broad separation between religion and the public sphere that is more commonly associated with such policies.

 Kurz entered the international spotlight with comments concerning immigration. "Rescue in the Mediterranean Sea cannot mean a ticket to the heart of Europe because - as long as rescue at sea leads to people being able to come to Austria, Germany or Sweden - more and more will set out."

 Kurz, instead, wishes for boats set to land in Mediterranean countries to “be returned immediately, ideally to their country of origin”or, presumably if they are at risk of sinking, to be taken to an offshore island where they will have no hope of acquiring EU citizenship and will, of their own accord, return to their countries.

 Kurz has openly criticised Italian Foreign Minister, Angelino Alfano, for supporting the rescue of migrants at sea, saying "I have told him that there are enough illegal immigrants to enter the Italian mainland from Lampedusa. There is currently cooperation between the forces in Brenner police, but if Italy continues to bring migrants north, then we will close our borders." Alfano responded by saying that Kurz’s policies were influenced by the upcoming election. Totò Martello, Mayor of Lampedusa, responded less diplomatically when he said that such statements would be expected of a “Nazi-kin.”

 While Kurz’s desire to create a border between southern and northern European states in order to prevent migration is unlikely, his statements surely indicate Austria’s perspective on immigration and his perception of Austria as a member state in the European Union. 

kvh