The world’s new youngest leader, Sebastian Kurz, 31, has declared victory in Austria’s snap election held last Sunday. The soon-to-be chancellor is leading his People’s Party to victory with about 31.5% of the vote thus far. The party will be the largest in the National Council, winning 61 of 183 seats.
The “great change” that Kurz is promising Austria is a message resonating with a growing number of Europe’s natives. His platform included a strict immigration policy, paired with slashing taxes and red tape. A proud Eurosceptic, he plans to lessen the EU’s influence in Austria’s affairs and hasn’t been afraid to threaten to cut benefits for all foreigners.
As Europe’s youngest foreign minister, Kurz fought for closing the Balkan migrant trail in 2016 that saw hundreds of thousands of migrants trek into western Europe. During the height of the migrant crisis in 2015, Austria was a gateway into Germany for more than a million Middle Eastern refugees.
The backlash for this EU-enhanced crisis was first felt in Germany when populists punished Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc, handing it’s worst showing since 1949. Now, with a strategy of “putting Austrians first,” Sebastian Kurz will join a growing segment of Europe’s latest experiment with populist governance.
With this shift, Austria joins Poland and Hungary in a challenge against the European Union’s migration authority. In fact, this weekend there is a strong chance the Czech Republic will be added to this bloc if Andrej Babis, the Trump of the Czech Republic, wins the race for prime minister.
If Kurz chooses to build his coalition government with the hard(er)-right Freedom Party, the EU may be forced to reluctantly work with these governments on migration policy rather than impose incendiary policies such as sanctions.
Moreover, the move could not only challenge the EU’s authority on migration, but further legitimize a growing fundamental divide between Europe’s East and West, with the East rejecting the “cosmopolitan views” of the European Union, mainstream parties, and any “meritocratic elites” out of touch with their native nations.