Austrian Chancellor who resigned after seven weeks given old job by new leader
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Alexander Schallenberg, who resigned yesterday, was renamed Austria’s Foreign Minister by new Chancellor Karl Nehammer. Previously, ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had resigned from all offices. Mr Nehammer, a 49-year-old former soldier, has been the enforcer of outgoing party leader Sebastian Kurz’s hard line on immigration.
Mr Schallenberg, a career diplomat and close ally of Mr Kurz’s, was thrust into the role in October when Mr Kurz quit at the behest of their coalition partner, the Greens, because he has been placed under criminal investigation on suspicion of corruption offences. Kurz denies wrongdoing.
Having remained leader of his People’s Party (OVP), Mr Kurz stunned much of the OVP on Thursday by saying he was leaving politics.
That prompted Mr Schallenberg and Mr Kurz’s closest ally, Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel, who is under investigation in another corruption case, to say they too would resign.
Kurz and Bluemel, who also denies wrongdoing, said their newborn children had motivated their decisions.
Mr Nehammer named party official Magnus Brunner to be the next finance minister to succeed Bluemel.
Since Kurz was placed under investigation most polls show his party has lost a lead of at least 10 percentage points over its nearest rivals, the opposition Social Democrats. They are now neck and neck.
Kurz, who made a hard line on immigration his hallmark and first became chancellor in 2017 by going into coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, has been the dominant and most polarising figure of Austrian politics for years.
Neither the OVP nor the Greens have an obvious interest in a snap election as polls suggest both would lose seats, but tensions between them are such that few analysts expect their government to survive until the end of this parliament in 2023.
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Mr Nehammer is a former professional soldier with the rank of lieutenant and has been a party official for many years.
Among other things, he stands for a tough stance against illegal migration and radical Islamist waves.
One of his main projects as interior minister was the restructuring of the protection of the constitution, which had come under fire several times in the past few years and which also revealed deficiencies in the run-up to the terrorist attack on November 2, 2020.
Responsibility, solidarity and freedom would be among the central fundamental values of his policy, said Nehammer in an initial statement.
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He said: “To be there for one another, to stand up for one another, to take care of one another, that applies especially in the corona pandemic.”
According to experts, the 49-year-old was part of the extended, but not the closest, circle of friends of Kurz.
Political scientist Thomas Hofer said: “In contrast to Kurz, he also has intact connections to the Social Democrats.”
The relationship with the green coalition partner is also sustainable, despite some friction.
Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen still has to formally swear in Nehammer as Chancellor.
His role as party leader has yet to be confirmed by a party congress.
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg
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