Two days after Sebastian Kurz stepped down, Austria has a new head of government. Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen has sworn in on Monday the 52-year-old former Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg as Chancellor. Schallenberg and Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler want to continue the coalition of the conservative ÖVP and the Greens, which has been in power since January 2020. Despite the recent government crisis, there is a solid foundation for this, they assured.
In a first explanation Schallenberg said he would “naturally” work very closely with Sebastian Kurz. Kurz has left the chancellery, but is still party leader of the ÖVP and will also take over the position of faction leader. Schallenberg continued: “In addition, I consider the allegations in the room to be incorrect and I am convinced that eventually it will turn out to be nothing.” Kurz, who was suspected of corruption, resigned on Saturday night. That was the condition for the Greens to keep the alliance.
The Federal President personally committed Schallenberg and Kogler to ensure that the alliance would cooperate in an objective and constructive manner for the benefit of the Austrians. With the change of chancellor, the government crisis was over, said Van der Bellen. However, this does not mean that everything is perfectly fine. “Because the confidence of the citizens in politics has again been greatly damaged in recent days.” It is up to everyone to bear political responsibility. But it is mainly up to the government to restore this confidence. “We all expect that the government will now work together again and bring something closer together,” says Van der Bellen. Schallenberg has the best conditions for this with his diplomatic skills.
The new and old heads of government have been working together for years. When he was foreign minister shortly before his time as chancellor, Schallenberg advised him as chief strategist. In 2019, Schallenberg became foreign minister in a transitional cabinet and moved to Kurz’s new cabinet in the same position. Schallenberg comes from a former noble family. The son of a diplomat, he grew up in India, Spain and France. He is as strict on migration issues as his predecessor in office.
The new foreign minister will be Michael Linhart, diplomat and former ambassador to France. Linhart was Secretary-General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under then-Minister Sebastian Kurz.
Opposition: The “Short System” remains
The government crisis was caused by investigations by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Corruption. Close colleagues of the Chancellor are suspected of having bought well-intentioned coverage in a media company in order to pave the way for Kurz to the party leadership and the Chancellery from 2016 onwards. Kurz is also listed as a suspect.
As he left, Kurz again emphasized his innocence. He resigned from office out of responsibility for the country. After the coalition of the ÖVP and the Greens came to an end, the chaos of four-party cooperation between the Greens, the SPÖ, the liberal Neos and the right-wing FPÖ loomed. Kurz himself changes from chancery to parliament to the seat of the VP faction leader. He also remains party chairman. The opposition criticized this move because the 35-year-old would remain an extremely influential political figure and the “Kurz system” would be preserved.
The opposition wants to settle the new corruption allegations against the 35-year-old in a commission of inquiry. The spokesperson for the SPÖ and FPÖ announced this on Sunday. An application for this will probably be submitted to the National Council shortly.