Austria’s top diplomat Alexander Schallenberg took over as chancellor on Monday as the ruling party tries to emerge from a corruption scandal that cost one of Europe’s youngest leaders his job.
Sebastian Kurz, a 35-year-old man who was once celebrated as a “child prodigy,” said Saturday night that he was resigning from the top job after being implicated in a corruption scandal.
Schallenberg, 52, was sworn in by President Alexander Van der Bellen shortly after 1:00 pm (1100 GMT).
Van der Bellen said the government now has a “great responsibility to restore confidence.”
Kurz’s center-right People’s Party (OeVP) and its junior partners in the Green coalition hope to emerge from the scandal and serve the remainder of their term until 2024.
However, the fallout from the events of the past week may continue to resonate.
On Wednesday, prosecutors raided several locations linked to OeVP, including the chancellery and party headquarters, on allegations that between 2016 and 2018 Ministry of Finance resources were used to pay for “partially rigged opinion polls that served an exclusive interest. political-partisan “.
Prosecutors allege that payments were made to a newspaper in exchange for publishing these surveys. The offices of the tabloid Oesterreich were also raided on Wednesday as part of the investigation.
The crimes were allegedly committed to help Kurz, who was already a government minister at the beginning of the period in question, to assume leadership of the OeVP.
While Kurz initially insisted there was no reason for him to resign, and continues to vehemently protest his innocence, he later changed course, saying he was putting the country before his own interests.
But many say Kurz gave in to pressure from the Greens and within his own party.
Critics of Kurz note that he will remain head of the OeVP and will now sit as the leader of his bloc in parliament, an ideal position from which to exert influence as “shadow chancellor.”
Opposition parties say the “Kurz system” will continue unhindered thanks to the presence of ministers loyal to it, as well as high-ranking employees who appear ready to continue in office, some of whom are also suspects in the corruption investigation.
Until now, Schallenberg had served as foreign minister under Kurz and is widely viewed as loyal.
According to press reports, Kurz himself contacted Schallenberg at 3am on Saturday to inform him that he would be his successor.
The latest scandal to hit Kurz adds to a list of corruption allegations against OeVP and several of its prominent figures, including Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel.
Those accusations stemmed from the so-called “Ibiza-gate” affair that in 2019 toppled the first Kurz government, a coalition between the OeVP and the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).
Despite the fact that Kurz prevailed in the autumn 2019 elections and re-entered the government, this time at the head of a coalition with the Greens.
Schallenberg’s replacement as foreign minister is Michael Linhart, the current Austrian ambassador to France.
Schallenberg himself is a divorced father of four children of aristocratic descent and was born in Switzerland as the son of an Austrian diplomat.
He himself joined the Austrian diplomatic service in 1997, and his five languages helped him navigate various positions, including in Brussels.
After returning to Vienna, he became an advisor to successive OeVP foreign ministers, including Kurz, before becoming foreign minister himself in June 2019.
Nicknamed “Schalli,” he has a “reputation for integrity” but also for “the ability to communicate with the media,” according to Austrian political scientist and expert Patrick Moreau.
Schallenberg “owes the most important part of his career” to Kurz, Moreau says, and the two men share political positions such as their anti-immigrant stance.
Since Schallenberg lacks experience in national politics, he will be “led by the Kurz Sherpas,” Moreau says.
They may need all their skills to lead the coalition with the Greens, already weakened before last week’s events by disputes in areas such as refugee policy.