After the most recent coalition government collapsed, Austria held a snap election on October 15. The election resulted in a new government led by the outgoing foreign minister Sebastian Kurz and the center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), which received 31.6 percent of the vote. The center-left Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) earned 26.9 percent, while the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) trailed slightly with 26.0 percent.
At age 31, Sebastian Kurz is in a position to become Europe’s youngest leader and the world’s second-youngest head of government (three years older than Kim Jong-Un). While he and his party favor Euroscepticism, lower taxes, and a hard line against immigration, the future of Austria under an ÖVP-controlled government remains uncertain.
The majority party in the coalition prior to the vote was the SPÖ, led by Chancellor Christian Kern. Prior to the election, he, along with other members of the party, expressed deep concerns, fearing the success of right-wing and nationalist elements and the loss of moderate voices.
Asked to form a new government, Sebastian Kurz and his party will have to choose between one of two basic political paths. He could decide to form a government with the SPÖ, a traditional coalition partner for the ÖVP. The other, perhaps more likely option is that Kurz turns instead to the FPÖ.
The primary interest of this election is not the ÖVP’s victory. The real concern for mainstream Austrian politicians and for European politics as a whole is the possibility of forming a coalition with the FPÖ, along with its newfound kingmaking power.
Espousing anti-EU sentiments in the past, recently the FPÖ dropped its advocacy for an EU exit. Kurz has actually flaunted pro-EU stances, supporting Emmanuel Macrón’s general ideals and pledging solidarity with Germany. However this starkly contrasts with the fact that Kurz would like to greatly ease the sanctions on Russia and has been known to support undemocratic strongmen in the Balkans.
In terms of immigration, Kurz continues to walk a careful line between advocating for the integration of migrants through learning German and landing jobs, while also denouncing radical Islam, defending the ban on face-covering veils, and insisting on the difficulty of integration from places with “different systems.”
Upon victory, Kurz declared that he would bring about “real change” to Austria. Regardless of his decision, it is difficult to analyze the potential impacts of the election due to the uncertainties of Kurz’s beliefs and the convictions of the political right in Austria. It is yet to be seen what sort of change this will entail.