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Sebastian Kurz (German pronunciation: [zeˈbastˌi̯a:n ˈkʊrt͡s]; born 27 August 1986) is Chancellor of Austria since December 2017 and Chairman of the Austrian People's Party since May 2017.

Sebastian Kurz
Sebastian Kurz (2018-02-28) (cropped).jpg
Chancellor of Austria
Assumed office
18 December 2017
PresidentAlexander Van der Bellen
DeputyHeinz-Christian Strache
Preceded byChristian Kern
Chairman of the People's Party
Assumed office
15 May 2017
Preceded byReinhold Mitterlehner
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
16 December 2013 – 18 December 2017
ChancellorWerner Faymann
Christian Kern
Preceded byMichael Spindelegger
Succeeded byKarin Kneissl
Chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
In office
1 January 2017 – 18 December 2017
Secretary GeneralLamberto Zannier
Thomas Greminger
Preceded byFrank-Walter Steinmeier
Succeeded byKarin Kneissl
State Secretary of the Interior for Integration
In office
21 April 2011 – 16 December 2013
ChancellorWerner Faymann
MinisterJohanna Mikl-Leitner
Member of the National Council
In office
09 November 2017 – 22 January 2018
Nominated byHimself
AffiliationPeople's Party
In office
29 October 2013 – 16 December 2013
Nominated byMichael Spindelegger
AffiliationPeople's Party
Personal details
Born (1986-08-27) 27 August 1986 (age 32)
Meidling, Vienna, Austria
Political partyPeople's Party (2009–present)
Domestic partnerSusanne Thier[1]
Parents
  • Elisabeth Kurz
  • Josef Kurz
ResidenceMeidling, Vienna[2]
EducationGRG 12 Erlgasse (Matura)[3]
Signature
Website
Military service
Allegiance Austria
Branch/service Bundesheer
Years of serviceOctober 2004 – June 2005[4]
Stationed atMaria-Theresien-Kaserne

Kurz was born and raised in Meidling, Vienna. He obtained his Matura in 2004 at the GRG 12 Erlgasse and subsequently completed mandatory military service in 2005. Following the same year, Kurz attended the faculty of law (Juridicum) at the University of Vienna and dropped out before graduating. Kurz joined politics when he entered the Young People's Party (JVP) in 2003. He assumed his first political office in 2008 as chairman of the JVP for Vienna. One year later, Kurz became the JVP's federal chairman.

In 2010, Kurz became a member of the Viennese state and city legislature. Following a reshuffle of the First Faymann government in 2011, he became state secretary for integration in the Ministry of the Interior. In 2013, Kurz shortly served as a member of the National Council. After the 2013 legislative election, Kurz was appointed Foreign Minister and became the youngest person to ever hold this position in Austrian history.

After the resignation of Vice-Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner as chairman of the People's Party in May 2017, Kurz was appointed his successor. Mitterlehner's withdrawal from all political posts triggered the end of the Kern government and thus led to the early 2017 legislative election, in which Kurz participated as the top candidate of his party, gaining tremendous popularity with his core topics of immigration and social politics. Ultimately, his party, under the campaign alias "Sebastian Kurz List – the new People's Party", achieved the first place in the election, receiving 31.5% of the vote.

As leader of the largest party after the election, Kurz was charged with the formation of a new government by President Van der Bellen and subsequently formed a coalition with the Freedom Party. Kurz was sworn in as chancellor on 18 December 2017 alongside his new government. During his chancellorship, Kurz enabled the 12 hour workday, initiated a fusion of all Austrian social insurances, enacted the "Family Bonus Plus", abolished the smoking ban, prohibited full face veils in the public, amended family subsidy for European foreigners, installed the monitoring compact, established compulsory German language classes and rejected the Global Compact for Migration. As chancellor, Kurz has frequently been described as publicly restrained.

His style of governing is regarded as active and expeditious by supporters, but uncooperative and hasty by opponents. His popular support increased during his chancellorship. In addition, Kurz is the youngest currently serving head of government in the world.

Contents

Personal lifeEdit

AncestryEdit

Kurz was born in Vienna, the only child[5] of Roman Catholic parents Josef and Elisabeth Kurz. His father is an engineer and his mother is a grammar school teacher.[6] His maternal grandmother, Magdalena Müller – born 1928, Temerin, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (today Vojvodina, Serbia) – is a Danube Swabian who fled from the city and settled in Zogelsdorf (today in Austria) during World War II after the Yugoslav Partisans and the Red Army started to occupy the territory that was then part of the Kingdom of Hungary.[7][8][9]

Early life and educationEdit

He was brought up in the Meidling district, where he still lives. He took his Matura qualification in 2004,[10] completed compulsory military service, and then began studying law at the University of Vienna[11][12] in 2005 but later dropped out to focus on his political career.[13][14]

Private lifeEdit

Kurz is in a relationship with economics teacher Susanne Thier since their common school time.[15]

Political careerEdit

Youth branchEdit

Kurz had been a member of the Young People's Party (JVP) since 2003 and was sponsored by Markus Figl.[16][17][18] From 2008 to 2012 he was chairman of the JVP in Vienna.[19] In 2009, he was elected federal chairman of the JVP with 99 percent of the delegates vote, In 2012 he was re-elected with 100 percent of the vote.[20] In 2017, he handed over the post of federal chair to lawyer Stefan Schnöll.[21] From 2009 to 2016 he also served as deputy chairperson of the People's Party in Vienna.[22] As chairman of the JVP in Vienna, he lead the youth campaign for the 2010 Viennese state election, which had the slogan "Schwarz macht geil" ("Black makes hot"), in addition he let a "Geilomobil" drive through Vienna.[23][24][25]

From 2010 to 2011, he was a member of the Gemeinderat and Landtag of Vienna, where he focused on generational fairness and ensuring pensions, before being nominated as State Secretary for Integration of the Ministry of the Interior in June 2011 following a reshuffle of the first Faymann cabinet.[26][27] After the 2013 Austrian legislative election, in which he had won the most direct votes of any member in the election, he shortly served as a Member of the National Council.[28] On 16 December 2013 Kurz tenure as MP ended and he was sworn in as the youngest foreign minister in Austrian history by President Heinz Fischer (at the age of 27).[29]

State SecretaryEdit

Kurz saw the inclusion of religions and the dialogue with religious communities as important for integration. In the first months in his capacity as State Secretary, Kurz proposed several changes, such as a second mandatory kindergarten year for children with language deficits.[30] In 2011, the joint campaign "ZUSAMMEN:ÖSTERREICH" (TOGETHER:AUSTRIA) was created by the Integration State Secretariat, alongside with the Austrian Integration Fund and the Ministry of Education. The campaign had the propose to promote the recognition of immigrants with the Austrian landscape and culture and convey values such as religious freedom and democracy. So-called "integration ambassadors" were sent to schools to discuss migrants' identification with Austria.[31]

As Integration State Secretary, Kurz received an annual budget of 15 million euro as of 2011. This was increased to 100 million euros by 2017. The budget increase mainly occurred due to a large-scale expansion of German language courses together with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection.[32]

In 2013, Kurz participated in the creation of an amendment bill to the Citizenship Act.[33][34]

Foreign MinisterEdit

 
Kurz with Ivo Josipović at his first foreign visit as minister.

Following the 2013 legislative election, Kurz took over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Michael Spindelegger. In March 2014, his ministry's jurisdiction has been expanded and was additionally vested with matters of integration. Kurz denoted Western Balkans relations to be one of his top priorities, which is why his first foreign visit as minister was in Croatia.[35] Good relationships with Israel has been very important to him "for historical reasons" and for a positive cooperation with the Jewish community in the field of integration.[36]

During a visit in Belgrade on 26 February 2014, he reaffirmed Austria's continued support for the accession of Serbia into the European Union, also because Austrian economical and political interests. Together with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, he talked about the future of Bosnia and Austrian-Serbian relations in a historical context.[37]

In November 2014, he presented the "#stolzdrauf" campaign. Which should encourage people to show what they are proud of in Austria on social networks.[38][39] The campaign however, which was intended to strengthen social cohesion, evolved into a polarized debate.[40] Especially Twitter has been affected of critical and sarcastic comments. Supporters of the campaign have been celebrities such as the former Miss Austria Amina Dagi or the musician Andreas Gabalier. Also involved in the campaign were President Heinz Fischer, the Austrian Airlines, the Jewish Community and the Islamic Religious Community. According to a report of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the left-wing especially opposed folksy Andreas Gabalier, while the right did not want to recognize a headscarf wearer or a "Tschuschn" as "real Austrians". The alt-right Identitarian movement therefore disrupted the press conference on the presentation of the campaign. Also heavily criticized was the amount of money invested in the promotion of the campaign by the Foreign Ministry which amounted to €326,029 and €120,000 in five to six weeks, of which 55% flowed into newspaper advertisement at boulevard or free newspapers.[41][42]

On 25 February 2015, an amendment to the Islam law was passed in the National Council. The amendment adjusted the law of 1912 and banned foreign financing of Islamic associations, the amendment was especially criticised by the Muslim community.[43] It included the right of Muslims for pastoral care in the Armed Forces, detention centers, hospitals and nursing homes.[44] A German translation of the Qur'an, which had been demanded by Kurz, wasn't contained in the amendment.[45]

 
Kurz with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, 4 April 2016

In June 2015, Kurz proposed to adjust the family subsidy for EU citizens working in Austria whose children live in the country of origin to the price level of their country. In addition, immigrants from other EU states should first have paid into the Austrian welfare system for a few years before they would be eligible to request financial aid in Austria. The SPÖ opposed the plans, but stated that the abuse of family subsidy needed to be better controlled. The FPÖ welcomed the proposals. The Greens accused Kurz and his party of "taking over the hate policy of the FPÖ".[46][47]

At the end of June 2015 Kurz presented his plans to close Austrian embassies in Malta, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia until autumn 2018. At the same time, new embassies should be opened in Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Qatar and Singapore. His plans also included another Consulate General in China. He wanted to achieve financial savings through the sale of no longer needed real estate and by merging representative agencies.[48]

Following the City of Vienna's rejection to commission a Ednan Aslan with a research project on Islamic kindergartens in 2014, the Ministry of Integration commissioned Aslan itself. The preliminary study, published at the end of 2015, came to the conclusion that Salafist tendencies were emerging and that the spread of Islamist ideologies was observable. Following this alarming study, the City of Vienna and the Ministry of Integration agreed to conduct a comprehensive scientific study on that matter. In addition, the city of Vienna increasingly started to review these kindergartens. In June 2017, Kurz demanded to close Islamic kindergartens in general, as they had isolated themselves linguistically and culturally from the main society. After Falter had accused the Integration department of the Ministry to have changed "content and not only formatting" of the preliminary study, a tangible controversy emerged. Aslan then pointed out that he supported the published study. A review of the study was initiated by the University of Vienna.[49][50][51][52][53]

In January 2016, Kurz stated in an interview with the daily newspaper Die Welt regarding border security in Austria: "It is understandable that many politicians are afraid of ugly pictures relating to border security. However, we cannot just delegate this duty of ours to Turkey, because we don't want to get our hands dirty. It will not go without ugly pictures." The latter part of the quote was used by the green MEP Michel Reimon as a caption to a photo of the deceased refugee boy Aylan Kurdi and spread on Facebook. Reimon also referred to Kurz as an inhuman cynic. An ÖVP spokesman described it as "despicable that the Greens exploit the death of this little boy for party politics", Aylan was killed at a time "where there was no border security, but a policy of false hopes".[54][55]

 
Kurz with Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, 20 March 2017

In February 2016, Kurz attended the Western Balkans Conference in Vienna, as representative for Austria, alongside with Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner. The conference was heavily criticized by the EU, but the resulting blockade of the Balkan route was soon officially recognized by the EU.[56]

The recognition and assessment law presented by the Ministry of Integration was approved in July 2016. In order to facilitate the recognition of qualifications acquired abroad and the transfer of educational certificates.[57]

During commemorations and military parades for the end of World War II, Kurz visited Belarus on 5 May 2015, followed by a visit in Moscow where he met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He described the annexation of the Crimea and the support of the Eastern Ukrainian separatists as "contrary to international law". A softening of EU sanctions would not be possible without prior local improvements of the situation and without the implementation of the Minsk II agreement. But peace could only be achieved "with and not against Russia". In June 2016, he stated to support the proposals previously made by then-German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to gradually withdraw sanctions in return for steps completed by Russia regarding the Minsk agreement.[58][59]

In November 2016, Kurz expressed his thanks, as a representative of the European People's Party, in a campaign appearance of the Macedonian sister party VMRO-DPMNE for supporting the closure of the Western Balkans route. Which was later criticized as an indirect campaigning aid.[60]

In regards to the refugee crisis, the Ministry of Integration introduced values and orientation courses in all states.[61]

In March 2017, Kurz criticized rescue actions by aid organizations as "NGO insanity", as these would result in more refugees dying in the Mediterranean Sea rather than less. Kurz repeatedly demanded that refugees rescued in the Mediterranean Sea should no longer be taken to mainland Italy, but returned to refugee centers outside of Europe, as according to the Australian refugee model. His purposes were supported by the EU border agency Frontex, but opposed by aid organizations.[62]

In March 2017, the Integration Act was passed in the Council of Ministers and subsequently enacted by the National Council in May 2017. It contains the right to attend German language courses, obliges participation in language and value courses and prohibits the distribution of expenditures of the Quran in public spaces by Salafists. A ban on full obfuscation in public spaces was regulated in the Anti-Face Veiling Act. The Integration Act was supplemented by an integration year law in accordance with the government's draft. The obligatory charitable work of beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, persons entitled to asylum and asylum seekers with good chances of recognition was regulated in the Integration Year Law and is referred to as "work training that is in the interest of the common good". The charitable work can take up to twelve months and is carried out by community service organizations. Participants of the integration year also receive an "integration card" that serves as a kind of certificate.[63][64][65]

In May 2017, the integration ambassador criticized Kurz's policy. According to a survey conducted by the immigrant magazine Bum Media, two thirds of the ambassadors for integration do not agree with the policy or individual aspects of the policy (especially the headscarf ban in the public). The same medium stated that of the 350 Integration ambassadors cited by the Foreign Ministry, only 68 were on the website.[66][67]

In Kurz's tenure as Foreign Minister, it was agreed to increase the funds for bilateral development cooperation from about 75 to about 150 million by 2021.[68]

The EU–Turkey agreement on the refugee crisis agreed in March, was described as necessary by Kurz. However, he advocated leaving Turkey as few tasks as possible, such as returning refugees. To safeguard the Schengen border of the EU, Greece should be given more responsibility. He understands that many politicians are afraid of "ugly pictures" regarding border security. But it could not be that the EU would delegate this task to Turkey because they did not want to "get their hands dirty". Kurz said it will not go without "ugly pictures".

At the end of 2016, it was announced that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had canceled funding for the Südwind Magazine, which had been published monthly since 1979, for the association Südwind Entwicklungspolitik. This move caused criticism from various parties, as it endangered the survival of the magazine. The publisher representative of the Südwind magazine considered the cessation of funding "politically stupid." An Internet petition against the rejection of the funding was then launched.[69][70][71]

Kurz held his annual speeches as Foreign Minister before the United Nations General Assembly, respectively the UN Security Council, and participated in the review conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In addition, he also expressed his support for denuclearisation and the protection of persecuted Christians.[72][73][74][75]

 
Kurz with Sergey Lavrov at the OSCE summit in Mauerbach.

As Austrian Foreign Minister, Kurz assumed the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in January 2017 for one year. In the first days of his new capacity he visited the disputed eastern Ukraine. In regards of EU sanctions against Russia, he proposed an "act-on-act system". A gradual lifting of sanctions in exchange for progress in the Ukraine conflict could trigger a "positive momentum". While the OSCE considered it to be a success that the OSCE observation mission in eastern Ukraine could be extended, there was also criticism on the agenda-setting of his incumbency, which according to Christian Nünlist, was partly based on his personal domestic political interests for Austria. As OSCE Chairperson, Kurz invited to an OSCE Summit in Mauerbach on July 11, 2017.[76][77][78][79]

On 18 December 2017, he handed over the Foreign Ministry to Freedom Party nominee Karin Kneissl.

ÖVP chairmanshipEdit

Kurz was appointed acting party leader of the Austrian People's Party in May 2017, after Reinhold Mitterlehner's withdrawal from politics. He was formally inaugurated chairman by the Bundesparteitag (party conference) in Linz, receiving 98.7 percent of the delegates votes. Shortly after his appointment, Kurz requested the Generalvollmacht for his party, which would allow him to set general party policy, appoint party ministers, and name candidates to stand for elections. His demands were granted by the Executive Board.[80]

 
Sebastian Kurz is speaking as new Chancellor in the upper chamber of the Austrian Parliament

ChancellorshipEdit

This section is a list of notable actions of the Kurz government, which is led and chaired by Sebastian Kurz. Most governments in Austrian history have been coalition governments composed of two parties. Since the Chancellor can't issue directives towards cabinet members, coalition governments of two parties are in practice a co-rule between the leader of the senior and the leader of the junior party, each de facto commanding the ministers of their own party.

Migration and integration policyEdit

Kurz' and his coaltion-parties' main promises during the election campain in 2017 were to stop illegal migration, stop the migration into the social-benefits system, prevent a repetition of the 2015 migrant crisis and to stop the expansion of muslim-parallel societies in Austria.

When Austria hold the rotating EU presidency between July and December 2018 Kurz advocated for a better protection of the EU's external border and suggested that the Frontex border guards should prevent migrant-boats from coming to Europe.[81]

On 31 October 2018 the chancellor stated that Austria will not sign the Global Compact for Migration, because it would reduce Austria's sovereignty and mix up the difference between illegal and legal immigration as well as that between economic and humanitarian immigration.[82]

On 13 March the government announced a new social-benefits rule: from January 2020 it will be mandatory for welfare recipients to speak German at least on level B1 or alternatively English at least on level C1 to get the full benefit; otherwise, it will get cut by 300 Euros.[83] Sebastian Kurz mentioned that the old system was "way too attractive for migrants"[84] – in 2016 48,5 percent of recipients were foreigners.[85]

Social policyEdit

Family Bonus

As of July 4, Chancellor Kurz and his government enacted the Family Bonus Plus (Familienbonus Plus). Starting on 1 January 2019, the bonus will allow for a specific amount to be annually deducted of parents income taxes; maximum €1,500 per child underage (which is €125 per month) and €500 per child of age. The bonus only affects parents whose children obtain child subsidy (Kinderbeihilfe). The maximum relief amount can be acquired, when at least one parent earns a minimum of €1,350 net per month. The minimum relief amount is €250 and can be acquired by every employed single parent, regardless of their monthly income; unemployed parents will receive no bonus.

In addition, the bonus replaces several other child subsidies, such as the child tax credit (Kinderfreibetrag), which granted €440 to a single parent and €600 to a couple, and the childcare costs (Absetzbarkeit der Kinderbetreuungskosten), which granted €2,300 annually per child under 10 years of age.

The Social Democratic Party heavily criticised the bonus for "being solely of benefit for well-earning people and completely forgetting the less well-earners and unemployed".[86][87][88][89][90][91]

 
Kurz with Russian President Vladimir Putin, 28 February 2018
 
Kurz with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, 12 June 2018

Fusion of social insurances
On 13 December 2018 the Kurz government enacted an amendment to the social insurance law. The changes shall reform the organisation and structure of Austria's social insurance system, mainly through fusion and with dismissing "redundant" functionaries as well as modernizing workplaces. The government stated that "centralizing the social insurance system will improve services for the insured".

Following insurance organizations will be merged:

  • the nine health insurances of Austria's nine states (Gebietskrankenkassen) into the federal-level Austrian Health Insurance (ÖGK).
  • the Social Insurance for the Commercial Economy with the one of the farmers into the Social Insurance for Independents (SVS).
  • the Insurance for Railways and Mining with the Insurance for Governmental Officials into the "BVAEB".

The Pension Insurance (PVA) and the Insurance for Occupational Risks (AUVA) will remain untouched. In addition the Association of Austrian Social Insurances (Hauptverband der österreichischen Sozialversicherungsträger), which comprises all social insurance organisations, will be reduced and disempowered when the amendment is in effect.

The project will officially begin in April 2019 with the initiation of a parliamentary transitional committee managing and supervising the fusion. The committee will be abolished at the end of 2019 and starting 2020 the new organisation and structure will be in full effect.

The opposition (consisting of SPÖ NEOS and NOW), the chairman of the Association of Austrian Social Insurances and multiple health economists have condemned these changes, saying that "they would not centralize but decentralize and impair a perfectly functioning and effective system and thus be a general worsening for the insured".[92][93][94][95]

Labour policyEdit

12 hours working day
On 1 September, the Kurz government passed an amendment to the working time law (Arbeitszeitgesetzt) in the National Council, which has commonly been referred to as the 12 hours working day (12-Stunden-Arbeitstag). The amendment did not pass through the usual assessment process (Begutachtungsprozess). The average working time in Austria is 8 hours per day, the amendment extended the maximum working time of 10 hours per day to 12 hours and the 50 hours working time per week to 60 hours. Chancellor Kurz and his government commented the changes with "legally allowing employees to work more a day on a voluntary basis". In theory, this means that an employee could technically decline an employer's request to work more.

Prior to the amendment it has only been possible to work longer than 10 hours per day in certain circumstances and always with the explicit approval of the works council. Principal supporters of these changes have been the Economic Chamber and the Federation of Industries. Main opposers on the other side have been the Social Democratic Party, the Peter Pilz List, the Chamber for Workers and Employees, as well as the Trade Union Federation. Opposers have raised strong concerns regarding the amendment, doubting an actual appliance of the "voluntary basis", since they expect the employer to refuse a denial of the employee to work longer and thus dismiss the employee.[96][97][98]

Foreign policyEdit

Family subsidy for European foreigners
In October 2018, the Kurz government amended the family subsidy for European foreigners through legislation, the changes will be in effect as of 1 January 2019. The amendment affects foreign citizens of the European Union which work within Austria but whose children reside outside of Austria. The changes adjust family subsidy obtained by these children to the local price level of their country of residence. The amendment especially pertains workers of the social and civil sector, such as nurses.

The European Commission admonished the government of amending family subsidy for European foreigners, since Union Law states that "equal contributions to the system, must be awarded with equal services". The Commission considers to sue Austria at the European Court of Justice as soon as the amendment turns into effect.[99][100][101]

Other activitiesEdit

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Michael Spindelegger
Minister for Foreign Affairs
2013–2017
Succeeded by
Karin Kneissl
Preceded by
Christian Kern
Chancellor of Austria
2017–present
Incumbent
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
2017
Succeeded by
Karin Kneissl
Party political offices
Preceded by
Reinhold Mitterlehner
Chair of the Austrian People's Party
2017–present
Incumbent