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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.

[*Italian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."

🇸🇩💥  IN OTHER NEWS

Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ