BERLIN — With his most recent visit to Vienna, made on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin has now met Austria's 32-year-old Chancellor Sebastian Kurz for the second time this year. Meanwhile, Richard Grenell — U.S. ambassador to Berlin and a Donald Trump confidant — has called Kurz a "rock star" in a recent interview with Breitbart.
There is suddenly an unusually high demand from the world's top powers for access to the head of government of a relatively small country. Kurz is too clever to let himself be taken over by one side or the other. With him in charge, neither is there any deviation from current European Union sanctions against Russia, nor any support for Washington's denunciation of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
But Sebastian Kurz is clearly making the most of the opportunity to open up new lines of dialogue. He often acts in a more clever fashion than Merkel, Macron & Co. Kurz didn't follow other European leaders in the expulsion of Russian diplomats after the Skripal affair. He also sent his ambassador to the inauguration of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
Their disastrous U.S. trips a few weeks ago showed just how weak Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron's influence over Donald Trump is. Both came back looking sheepish. Moscow and Washington, on the other hand, have both taken note that Kurz can become a new leading figure in Europe.
He can become the bridge builder that Europe so desperately lacks.
Two years ago, in the midst of the migrant crisis, Kurz — then Austria's foreign minister — pushed through the closure of the Balkan route against Merkel's fierce resistance, and repeatedly called on the EU to do the same with the Mediterranean route. From the point of view of Putin and Trump, Kurz is assertive and strong-willed when it comes to foreign policy. The American and Russian presidents, instead, see Macron more as someone dabbling in the diplomatic arena, as was recently the case with Libya. Merkel, meanwhile, looks tired.
This is an opportunity for Kurz. He can become the bridge builder that Europe so desperately lacks. And not only can he build bridges from Europe to Washington and Moscow, but also between the often-at-odds EU member states. Crucially, he can also help revive the battered relations between the EU and Poland.
How could Brussels, Paris and Berlin be almost criminally negligent in ignoring Poland, a country of central importance for Europe? Austria's six-month EU presidency, which begins on July 1 with a focus on fighting illegal immigration, is a great opportunity — both for Kurz and for the European Union.