Austria’s rising star rallies leaders opposing EU immigration policies

by WorldTribune Staff, June 27, 2018

“For years, if you wanted to call Europe, you had to call (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel. Now there’s been a change,” said Austrian parliament member Reinhold Lopatka.

Spearheading that drive for change in Europe’s leadership hierarchy is Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. / Reuters

The 31-year-old Kurz has made halting Europe’s immigration crisis his top priority.

Johannes Vetter, who ran the center-left Social Democrats’ campaign against Kurz last fall, said the Austrian leader is “like Donald Trump in a slim-fit suit.”

A Washington Post profile of Kurz noted that, in the next few weeks, “he is trying to seal off Europe from asylum seekers arriving by sea, orchestrate a summit between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and, critics say, undermine Germany’s Angela Merkel, the most consequential European leader of the past decade.”

Trump’s ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, has referred to Kurz as “a rock star.”

Vetter called Kurz “the rock star of the new right,” adding that, “unless there’s an earthquake, for the next nine years we have no doubt who will be the chancellor.”

Kurz has found allies in the new populist government in Italy, which has blocked migrant rescue ships from making landfall, and within the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian branch of Merkel’s conservative coalition, the Post report said.

Cengiz Gunay, deputy director of the Austrian Institute for International Affairs, said of Kurz: “You don’t do what he’s doing if you don’t want to be part of the conflict. It looks like he’s interfering in German politics.”

Many Germans see it that way as well.

“There seems to be a new kind of cross-border coalition between politicians, but also media outlets and individuals, who have decided to push Chancellor Merkel out of her position,” a senior German official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Post. “Chancellor Kurz comes across as one of the biggest forces behind this plan.”

While Kurz’s allies deny he is trying to meddle in Germany or that he wants Merkel ousted, “there is little question that he is, at the very least, using Merkel’s vulnerability to gain leverage in a battle for European influence,” the Post noted.

On June 26, Austria carried out border patrol training exercises to prove it could block asylum seekers from entering the country.

Kurz told the German tabloid Bild that the border measures would kick in if German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the CSU limits access to Germany – a move Kurz described as welcome because it “could trigger a domino effect which will deter illegal migration.”

Kurz said the migration issue will also be at the center of his agenda when Austria takes over the rotating European Union presidency on July 1.

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