Austria elects youngest European leader, right-wing gets boost

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz is poised to become Europe’s youngest leader, as the far-right gains ground in the Austrian parliament. 

At age 31, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz is poised to become the first millennial to lead a European country following his party’s victory in a national election Sunday.

While no party won a majority, the telegenic Kurz is most likely to be sworn in as Austria’s next chancellor — and Europe’s youngest leader — after the tough coalition government negotiations that lie ahead.

Near-final results from Sunday’s balloting put his People’s Party comfortably in first place, with 31.4 percent of the vote. The right-wing Freedom Party came in second with 27.4 percent. The center-left Social Democratic Party of Austria, which now governs in coalition with People’s Party, got 26.7 percent.

The Freedom Party of Austria is led by Heinz-Christian Strache, the political heir of Jörg Haider, the former head of the Freedom Party who was infamous for his anti-Semitism and pro-Nazi opinions. When the party joined the Austrian government in 2000, Israel recalled its ambassador in a diplomatic crisis that continued until 2003.

Strache has visited Israel on invitation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Becoming head of government would be the next leap in a political career that started eight years ago when Kurz, then studying law, was elected chairman of his party’s youth branch.

Read  European Union backs off from calling Iranian Revolutionary Guards a 'terror group'

Smart and articulate, he eventually caught the eye of People’s Party elders. He was appointed state secretary for integration, overseeing government efforts to make immigrants into Austrians, in 2011.

After a Social Democratic-People’s Party coalition was formed four years ago, Kurz, then 27, became Austria’s foreign minister — the youngest top diplomat in Europe.

Noting that his center-right party had triumphed over the rival Social Democrats only twice since the end of World War II, Kurz called Sunday’s election a “historic victory.”

Kurtz visited Israel in May 2016 as Austria’s foreign minister and met with Netanyahu. According to an Israeli statement, Netanyahu stressed the importance of direct negotiations with the Palestinians and noted the threat of radical Islam and its implications for Israel and Europe alike.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff