Kurz, who was already acting party leader since the former head Reinhold Mitterlehner stepped down in May, received 98.7 percent of the votes at a party convention in Linz. The delegates also approved changes to the party statute, which put more power in the party leader’s hands.
Austrians head to the polls on October 15 to elect a new parliament, which then picks the chancellor. The current grand coalition between the Social Democratic party of Chancellor Christian Kern and the People’s Party collapsed in May.
Kurz changed his party’s color from black to cyan, and with his own popularity ratings significantly exceeding the People’s Party’s, he has announced plans to campaign under a new name, the “Sebastian Kurz list.” This would also allow candidates from other parties to support him — a strategy that was used by Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche movement to gain power in France’s presidential and parliamentary elections this spring.
Only 30 and often described as the “Wunderkind” of Austrian politics, Kurz is shifting his party further to the right by promising to reduce social benefits for immigrants and to stop migration from Africa and the Middle East. He has also pledged to cut taxes and regulations, saying the state must be “slimmed down” and spend its money more effectively.
“Let’s stop sugarcoating things and say how they really are,” Kurz said at the convention, warning that Austria was at risk of falling back in comparison to other European countries, as both social spending and taxes were too high. “There are few countries in the world where the difference between gross and net salary is as high as in Austria,” he said.
On migration, Kurz argued that Europe had to learn from the experience of the 2015 refugee crisis, which only calmed down after the Balkan migration route was closed. “We know what needs to be done,” he said, as he vowed to increase the fight against human traffickers and stop alternative ways to illegally immigrate into the EU. “The Mediterranean Sea route must be closed, better today than tomorrow.”
Kurz also demanded a better integration of immigrants. “A society can only work if we have common basic values,” he told his fellow party members.
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