Austria's Kurz to return as world's youngest chancellor

3 min

Vienna (AFP)

Austria's conservative Sebastian Kurz will return to office Tuesday as the world's youngest democratically elected leader heading an unlikely coalition with the Greens after his previous far-right alliance collapsed.

Vowing to "protect the climate and the borders", the 33-year-old will become chancellor of a government -- termed as "exotic" and "unlikely" by Austrian media -- that marks the first time the Greens rule in the small Alpine country.

Kurz's People's Party (OeVP) and the Greens agreed last week to govern together after the last administration with the far-right fell apart in a corruption scandal, and both the OeVP and the ecologist party made key gains in September snap polls.

The alliance aims to please both sides by pushing for Austria to be carbon neutral by 2040 and also continuing its strict anti-immigration measures.

Some observers think the alliance could become a possible model for other European countries if it succeeds as nations across the continent grapple with populist sentiments but also climate change.

- 'Best of both worlds' -

Kurz -- whose conservative OeVP has been in government for more than three decades -- has defended the undertaking as combining "the best of both worlds".

The OeVP has 10 ministers in the new coalition, while the Greens have four with its party chief Werner Kogler, 58, taking on the vice-chancellor post.

Among the ministers being sworn in Tuesday more than half are women, including the defence minister, and many are in their 30s and 40s.

A Greens politician and former activist will head an enlarged environment ministry, which includes traffic, energy and technology as well.

The Greens have also nominated an openly lesbian party veteran to hold the culture portfolio, while a Greens legal expert of Bosnian origins, who arrived in Austria as refugee as a child, will head the justice ministry.

- No 'love marriage' -

But for all that's new, it's not a "love marriage", according to analyst Johannes Huber.

"As he (Kurz) says at every opportunity, they are very different parties", which have always been rivals rather than allies on a national level until now, Huber told AFP.

And their detractors are many, besides some from their own ranks.

Far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) -- the third strongest party in parliament after the OeVP and the Social Democrats (SPOe) -- was quick to denounce Kurz's "swing to the left" and the "dangerous experiment" out of which "nothing good" can come for the country of 8.8 million people.

The SPOe too criticised the new government's programme, saying social questions hadn't been addressed well enough.

Kurz first became the world's youngest chancellor in a government with the FPOe from December 2017 until May last year, driving a hard line against immigration and brushing off a steady stream of racist and anti-Semitic incidents involving his far-right colleagues.

But then the FPOe leader and vice-chancellor became engulfed in a graft scandal, leading to the collapse of the coalition and snap elections were called.

Disappointed FPOe supporters dealt the party a setback in the polls, many shifting their votes to the OeVP which gained 37.5 percent, an increase from 2017.

The Greens, who failed to get into parliament in shock results in 2017, garnered 13.8 percent as climate change replaced immigration as a top voter concern.

Party officials have said they have had to make "painful" compromises to reach the agreement with the powerful conservatives.

"The Greens are very pragmatic... It is important for the party to take responsibility on a national level," Huber said.

Kurz for his part has promised Austrians a stable government to lead the country for the next five years.