Austria’s anti-immigration minister to take over as the country’s new prime minister

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The ruling Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) appointed this Friday (3) the country’s interior minister, Karl Nehammer, as the new leader of the party, which should lead him to the position of prime minister of the country.

Conservative and known for being a hardliner on anti-immigration policies, Nehammer, 49, is expected to govern in coalition with the Greens, a right-wing government partner in the Executive since January 2020, and has already announced a ministerial reform. The inauguration date has not yet been set.

Nehammer has accumulated in his curriculum controversy such as the expulsion of immigrant children in the middle of the night and the attempt to send Afghan citizens back to Kabul just as the Taliban were about to seize power in Afghanistan.

In an interview after being named party leader, he said he plans to maintain the current government’s core security issues. “It is important for me, as the new leader of the People’s Party, that we maintain our values, that we say clearly what is needed when it comes to the issue of migration and asylum, when it comes to the issue of security for the people in our country”, he said.

He is expected to take over from Sebastian Kurz, who on Thursday announced his retirement from political life after a meteoric career thwarted by suspicions of corruption — he denies wrongdoing. Kuz, who took over as prime minister at the age of 31, resigned in October after opening an investigation against him but remained in charge of the party. In farewell Thursday, he said he wanted to start “a new chapter” and said he was “exhausted” by the accusations.

Kurz’s resignation as party leader on Thursday split the party and prompted two of his closest allies, Alexander Schallenberg, who took over as interim prime minister in October, and Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel, to say who would also renounce.

Bluemel is under investigation in another corruption case and also denies wrongdoing. He and Kurz said that having newborn children motivated their decisions.

“Kurz initially hoped to return quickly and so his party put Schallenberg, who never had the ambition” to lead the government, says political scientist Thomas Hofer. The situation is “different with Karl Nehammer, who must make his mark and indirectly break away from Kurz’s team” to get new people into the cabinet, he says.

For Julia Partheymuller, a researcher at the University of Vienna, the arrival of the new prime minister “confirms the end of the Kurz era”, who led the country for the first time in 2017 in coalition with the far-right Freedom Party.

Since the investigation against the former prime minister began, most opinion polls show that the ÖVP has lost an advantage of at least 10 percentage points over its closest rivals, the opposition Social Democrats, who now share the opinion preference. public.

Nehammer started his career in the army, where he became a lieutenant, before moving to television, taking a turn in political communication and being elected deputy in 2017. In January 2020, he was appointed interior minister. Experts consider him a loyal leader to his party, but point out that he is not close to Kurz.

He is expected to take charge of Austria at a time when the spike in Covid-19 cases has sent the country back into lockdown to try to ease pressure on hospitals. The politician said that combating the coronavirus will be a priority in his government.

The likely new prime minister has also said that he will work in close consultation with President Alexander Van der Bellen, who oversees transition periods, to appoint all his Conservative ministers as soon as possible. Van der Bellen is unlikely to oppose any of Nehammer’s choices. The Greens said their team will remain unchanged.

Magnus Brunner will be named finance minister, and Schallenberg will return to his former post as foreign minister, Nehammer said.

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