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Geopolitics

The Flash Rise Of Sebastian Kurz, Austria's Emmanuel Macron

Sebastian Kurz in Vienna on Oct. 15
Sebastian Kurz in Vienna on Oct. 15
Klaus Geiger

BERLIN — Sebastian Kurz was faster than Emmanuel Macron. Following the rapid rise of this year's other young political superstar, Kurz's victory Sunday in Austria"s parliamentary election was even more stunning — and swift. He needed only five months to pull off three unbelievable feats: to rebuild the washed-out Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) into a one-man political machine, to break the spell on a seemingly unstoppable far-right, and to become the most powerful man in Austria. His French counterpart needed six months to do the same.

At 31, Europe's youngest foreign minister is now set to become Austria's new Chancellor — and Europe's youngest head of government ever.

Unlike Macron, Kurz did not found a new political movement. He instead built his new party from within the old. Before him, the Austrian People's Party's share of the electorate had sunk to 20% — behind the Social Democrats and the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO). But once Austria's most popular politician took over the party's leadership this past spring, the ÖVP immediately shot up in the polls, rising above 30%.

It bested the far-right rivals, which had appeared to be en route to capturing the chancellorship ever since the migrant crisis began two years ago. That too was reminiscent of this past spring's win by Macron, who fended off far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

The same year that the ÖVP came to power in 1986, after two decades of being the opposition, Sebastian Kurz was born into Vienna's working-class district of Meidling, where he still lives today. At 19, he began studying law but never finished. At 23, he became the chairman of the ÖVP's youth branch, where he first made a name for himself by traveling the country during an election campaign in a black Hummer, his so-called "Geil-o-mobil," accompanied by scantily-clad women. In German, geil is a slang term for "cool," though it literally means "horny."

But since then, he has largely played it straight — and accelerated, soon becoming the state secretary for integration, focusing on the issues of Islam, majority culture, and identity, before getting the foreign minister's job at the age of 27. Kurz has strategically positioned himself left of the far-right, offering an alternative to populist nationalism but also a strict stance on unfettered immigration and political Islam. Like Macron, Kurz's positions place the political left and right against him. In particular, he has angered the far-right by stealing their thunder on issues like migration and security.

This leaves Sebastian Kurz to be the Macron of the East.

Kurz has aggressively taken up these subjects and staked out a unique position in Europe's current debate, balancing hardline conservative views with a firm commitment to the EU. Like Macron, Kurz could offer an opportunity for all of Europe. With the support of the French and the Austrians, Germany is in a stronger negotiating position in the EU. Macron could reform the eurozone and shrink the gap in southern Europe by providing a stable foundation for the euro — without radical austerity and transferring debts to other countries.

This leaves Sebastian Kurz to be the Macron of the East, and the Macron of migration. He could help integrate those eastern European countries that have historically been close to Austria and that more recently have been bogged down by the refugee crisis. Now that these dashing newcomers have each won their first term, it's time for them to start working with Angela Merkel, who just won her fourth.

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Society

Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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