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Austria's Chancellor : What does Sebastian Kurz stand for?

Before the start of the hike, three women in dirndls approach. You want to give the Chancellor a present. Although they seem to make a perfect photo motif, Sebastian Kurz casts them off. His instinct seems to tell him: Something is wrong here.

On this Sunday morning in July, Austria's Federal Chancellor invited to the hiking day. More than 1000 people came, local ÖVP politicians, supporters, fans and the curious. Kurz made it less than two hundred meters uphill with a jagged step, then hectic breaks out, photographers and cameramen stumble backwards up the slope.

The three women in dirndls suddenly reappeared next to Sebastian Kurz, lift their aprons, all lenses pointed at them. A crossed out 12 comes to light, a protest against the 12-hour day, the controversial extension of the maximum working hours that the Austrian government whipped through parliament in July. Briefly ’security guards push the activists aside, but their mission has been fulfilled: the staging has got a stain.

For Kurz, it is the second of three PR appointments on the Schneeberg, the highest mountain in the Vienna Alps, an hour's drive from the capital. Sun, selfies, small talk and beautiful pictures - that's how it was planned. The incident is a foretaste of what awaits the Federal Chancellor when the summer break in Austria's politics ends in early September. His lightning rise to the youngest head of government in Europe and the most prominent opponent Angela Merkel has raised expectations of him at the height of the Alps, after the storm on the summit he is now faced with the troubles of the plain.

Total renovation of the republic

Also because the 31-year-old made a lot of promises. “A Europe that protects”, for example, the official motto for the Austrian Council Presidency in the second half of the year. For Kurz, this means above all: close external borders, away from Angela Merkel's quota regulation, towards asylum centers outside the EU.

He asserts that he wants to build bridges for a strong Europe. After Brexit, however, he would like to reduce his country's EU contribution. In the matter of migration, he relies on an alliance with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Italy's Vice and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Horst Seehofer. What is true will be revealed no later than September 20, when Kurz invites you to the informal EU summit in Salzburg on the subject of migration and security.

On Thursday, Kurz is traveling to Germany, at the invitation of the Thuringian CDU parliamentary group, he will give a lecture to 3000 guests at their annual reception. In the run-up, among others, the youth associations of the Greens, SPD and Left have called for protest actions. In the joint circular, the CDU is referred to as a “strict right-wing party”, in short as “Baby Hitler”, who pursues a “misanthropic, racist policy”. The CDU parliamentary group called this "an unbelievable linguistic lapse" and called on the state chairmen of the three governing parties to apologize. The AfD filed a criminal complaint.

Kurz announced to the Austrians nothing less than a total renovation of their republic. Reform projects that no government has dared to undertake for decades. To do this, he has to grind some foundations of the political landscape. And expect bitter resistance. Even from within our own ranks.

Uphill, Austria

On the Schneeberg, apart from the annoying dirndl protest, this day is Kurz-Land, you can recognize it by the turquoise, which in Austria stands for the Chancellor like purple for Milka. Anyone who approaches the valley station in the morning will see it everywhere, on the helpers' t-shirts with the imprint "Bergauf, Österreich", the motto of the PR tour, on the inflatable start gate on the slope and on baseball caps.

While people are waiting for Kurz, some turquoise-colored free shoelaces thread their way into their shoes, a little film is shown on the video screen, a kind of best-of from a year of "movement", as Kurz calls himself and his group of supporters according to the manual of modern political marketing .

“At that time we decided to open the ÖVP,” Kurz says in the clip, a euphemism for what really happened in May 2017: submission. And a masterful staging. The conservative ÖVP was in the polls at the time, party leader Reinhold Mitterlehner threw down in exasperation, not without briefly slipping the role of the royal killer.

The designated successor appears surprised in television interviews, but is well prepared, as shown by secret strategy papers from 2016 that emerge later: Under the title “Project Federal Party Chairman”, Kurz and his team carefully planned the change of power. The young hopeful sets conditions, he wants to run as a quasi-independent "List Short - The New People's Party" in elections, with full right to intervene in the personnel in the countries. A boldness.

But the party ranks give him the keys. The popular Kurz, then foreign minister, is her only chance to win the next elections. The new boss exchanged the black door signs in the headquarters in Vienna's Lichtenfelsgasse for turquoise ones, filled the most important posts with his loyal followers and entered the election campaign with a win-win situation: without the black mustache that the party had from the years of hated grand coalition, but with a powerful machine behind it. A major factor in the December election victory.

Reputation as a snob

Kurz appears on the hiking day in a short-sleeved shirt and long black trekking pants, to the disappointment of party friend Johanna Mikl-Leitner. The governor of Lower Austria is something like the landlady on this day and would have liked to see the Chancellor in the Krachledernen: “So schiach san di Wadln net.” The 54-year-old was socialized in the old ÖVP, as the foster daughter of Erwin Pröll, the Prototypes of the almighty father who doesn't care who is Chancellor in Vienna under him.

Without the provincial governors, that is an unwritten law in Austria, nothing works. Above all, not what Kurz intends to do: a federalism reform with more powers for the federal government. Especially the ÖVP governors of the "western axis" Tyrol - Salzburg - Vorarlberg grumble loudly about the attack on their autonomy. Cross shots, for which Kurz has one of his notorious phrases ready: "The voters have given us an order, and we will fulfill what we have promised."

Hiking partner Johanna Mikl-Leitner has been the Chancellor's supporter since, as Interior Minister, she took this 24-year-old upstart under her wing in 2011, who suddenly became State Secretary, to the amazement of the republic.

Anyone who knew Kurz at all at the time probably thought he was a snitch who one commentator suspected was born “with a golden spoon in his mouth”. In the Vienna election campaign in 2010, he leaned back on a black “Hummer” SUV - the so-called “Geilomobil” - and gossiped about the “hot politics of the ÖVP”.

Kurz was born in 1986 into a middle-class family in Vienna-Meidling, the father an engineer, the mother a teacher, a youth without rebellion. Since his days as foreign minister, he has always been flying economy class so as not to waste taxpayers' money, as he says. After his debut at the glamorous Vienna Opera Ball, he treats himself to a nightcap at the Würschtl stand, very close to the people. Including a nice photo for Instagram.

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