Sebastian Kurz is poised to become the world’s youngest government leader — for the second time

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Seven months on, however, Kurz has reemerged and reinvented himself. Whereas in 2017 he was criticized for undermining European values with his embrace of the far right, he is now being hailed as the leader of a liberal-conservative political experiment that could be repeated elsewhere on the continent.Once inaugurated, Kurz would replace 34-year-old Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin as the world’s youngest head of government. She has held that title since Dec. 10.And under Kurz’s new coalition government, ministries previously controlled by the far-right Freedom Party could be directed by the environmentalist Greens for the first time. A vice chancellor who cast doubts on climate change science could be replaced by a staunch climate action advocate.Amid surging concerns over climate change, coalitions between environment-focused parties and conservative parties are becoming increasingly likely elsewhere, too. Some Europeans hope that such partnerships could help bridge Europe’s generational divide between smaller, liberal parties, which are predominantly backed by younger voters, and conservative blocs with an overwhelmingly older support base.In neighboring Germany — where a grand coalition between the Social Democrats and the conservatives has faced growing criticism — commentators have already framed Austria’s new coalition agreement as a testing ground for a similar coalition option in Berlin.Austria’s recent political shifts have also raised doubts about far-right parties’ ability to govern, despite their efforts to position themselves as serious government alternatives. Italy’s coalition between the Five Star Movement and the far-right League broke apart in August, ending Western Europe’s first fully populist government this century after 14 months. The breakup came only three months after Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the far-right Freedom Party had resigned following the leak of secretly recorded footage of a boozy night on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza.In the videos, Strache promised government contracts in exchange for political donations from a woman posing as a member of a Russian oligarch family.The videos — first published by German weekly Der Spiegel and the daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung — appeared to confirm critics’ concerns over the far right’s susceptibility to corruption and its close ties to Russia.Those concerns had mounted as the party gained support in the polls in the wake of Europe’s 2015 refugee influx. Anti-migration sentiments boosted the popularity of then-party leader Strache, who was once predominantly known for his ties to right-wing extremist circles. In 1989, for instance, he was detained at a rally of a group that described itself as a successor to Hitler’s youth organization.Almost three decades later, Kurz granted Strache’s party control over Austria’s Interior Ministry, which oversees investigations into far-right extremism, among other issues.The ministry’s Freedom Party leadership would go on to order raids on the country’s own domestic intelligence service. The raids were later ruled in court to have been largely illegal, and they prompted concerns across Europe that information shared with Austrian officials may fall into the hands of the Kremlin.“There were many situations that were hard for me to put up with,” Kurz said last year after his coalition with the far right dissolved.In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel similarly weighed in on the breakup at the time, saying Europe needed to “stand up decisively” to right-wing populists.To some of his supporters, it is now Kurz who may receive the credit for leading the way in heeding Merkel’s advice.To his critics, though, the motivation behind his recent shift appears to be the same as the one that helped Austria’s far right gain power: opportunism.



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