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Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz  (ANSA)

Austria's chancellor sworn in again after scandal

Conservative Sebastian Kurz was sworn in Tuesday as Austria's chancellor after controversy over alleged corruption. The move meant a comeback from the collapse of his previous government.

By Stefan J. Bos

Kurz and Austria's new conservative-green coalition ministers entered the Presidency building in Vienna, the capital, for a somewhat historic swearing-in ceremony. It marked the moment that the world's youngest democratically elected leader returned at the head of an unlikely coalition.

Kurz, 33, returned to the top job as Austria's chancellor after a seven-month absence. But the conservative politician will lead a new and very different coalition, with the leftist Greens.

And the Cabinet sworn in by President Alexander Van der Bellen is Austria's first with a female majority. It also marks the first time that the environmentalist Greens have entered the country's national government.

Analysts say that the mixture of Kurz's center-right People's Party and the Greens, traditional adversaries, could set an example for other countries. 

It could send a message to neighboring Germany, where polls suggest a similar combination may become possible after the next election.

Reclaiming the title

Kurz reclaims the title of the world's youngest serving head of government from Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin who is 34 and took office last month.

Kurz, seen as a political talent who became foreign minister at 27, played a leading role in all but shutting down the Balkan route used by many migrants to Europe in 2016. He has made a hardline on migration, a hallmark of his party.

He first became chancellor at 31 in late 2017, leading a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party. But in May, a video showing then-Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache offering favors to a purported Russian investor prompted Kurz to pull the plug.

Parliament then ousted Kurz in a no-confidence vote. In recent months, Austria was led by a non-partisan interim government under Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein.

The Freedom Party scandal prompted a snap election in September, from which the Kurz's People's Party and the Greens emerged as the big winners.

Great expectations

However, Austrian President Van der Bellen told the new Cabinet that Austrians "have great expectations of you." And he added that the trust that was "carefully rebuilt" must increase further because "Austria's democracy and its institutions live on citizens' trust."

The coalition agreement includes Green pledges such as action against climate change —including a target of "climate neutrality" by 2040 — and of improved government and administrative transparency.

But it also has conservative priorities, such as moves to cut Austrians' tax burden and continuing Kurz's tough line on migration. 

And the new chancellor has made clear that he still opposes efforts to distribute migrants fleeing war, persecution, and poverty around Europe.

07 January 2020, 17:22