Whether one resides in Europe or the United States, it’s undeniable not to feel the undercurrent of a movement eschewing the once steady, politically conservative candidates in favor of young, politically polarized ones. In the States, the president isn’t exactly a fresh face, but his message of guerilla gamesmanship on Washington from the outside certainly resonates with a younger generation empowered by the digital age. On the left, the adoption of socialist candidates like Ocasio-Cortez is a staggering indictment of the Democratic status quo.
In Europe, the face of the youthful movement towards alternative political ideologies and agendas is Sebastian Kurz, the 31-year-old chancellor of Austria and chairman of the conservative center-right party. Kurz is the quick-witted, silver-tongued and energetic manifestation of the policies the Central and Eastern European nations have come to adopt in the face of EU mandates regarding immigration, economic policy, and the role of sovereignty within the virtually borderless continent.
Western European nations have long dictated the policy that Eastern Europeans must live under. Naturally, those Eastern Europeans have been quicker to turn to border security, nationalist-first policies, and a standoffish tone with EU bureaucrats than nations like Austria, which toe the line between Western and Eastern Europe. The Visegrad Group – consisting of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic – has served as the earliest blueprint of collective unity against what they perceive as overbearing, unreasonable EU oversight.
Now, with Kurz thoroughly entrenched in power in Austria, a nation which has played a significant role in the course of European history, some believe that we are seeing, in the likes of Kurz, the blueprint for a future of Europe where the policies of the recent past are ardently rejected.
Italians and Germans have taken to the voting booths, endorsing more conservative, nation-first parties who are essentially built upon the platform of EU opposition. The Lega Nord and Christian Social Union, respectively, reinforce the notion that Kurz-like leadership is in demand during this period which can only be considered an ideological crossroads. In fact, Kurz was vocal in support of both parties, proclaiming that the three nations – under the right leadership – could form an “axis of the willing” to reform scattershot migration practices and policies. This kind of openness to cooperation defies the often-peddled perception that conservative, populist governments in Europe are closed-minded and isolationist by definition.
Kurz has, fittingly, taken his post as leader of the European Council, thanks to the rotating leadership model. While the EU creators likely didn’t anticipate a scenario where the top post could fall to a leader like Kurz at such a critical juncture in European history, it has. And, unsurprisingly, Kurz has made the protection of European borders the priority. Because the Eurozone agreement makes the interior borders virtually non-existent, this means securing the Mediterranean coasts in Italy, Spain, and Greece.
The young Austrian leader has also been instrumental in facilitating a measure of unity between EU-loyal centrists and the emergent populists. By brokering agreements on the establishment of new “controlled” centers for housing and processing asylum seekers on a voluntary basis within Europe, Kurz once again displayed his desire and capability to shape the future of not only Austria, but Europe.
Kurz’s initiative and effectiveness have gone a long way in garnering praise from President Trump, his German neighbors, and other populist parties across Europe. It’s not so much Kurz’s policies that are most important, though they play a large role in his role as Chancellor. It’s his willingness to effectively convert the will of his own people into action that has been so lacking in Europe for so long. This is the primary reason why the future of Europe is one hard to project without Sebastian Kurz as a central figure.
Really, all that’s left is for Western Europe to turn the pages on governments that have failed to defend the people from immigration policies and ignored pleas for independence from the EU. The English outlet The Sun and others have reported that British PM Theresa May ‘told Ministers she couldn’t alter her Brexit plan – as she’d “cleared it” with Angela Merkel.’ Brexiters were already at wit’s end, with high-profile Cabinet members including Boris Johnson recently resigning and accusing May of sandbagging the process on the way out of the door. This indictment of leadership coming from within government is a significant optical turn for the nation.
But, with England’s General Election not set to occur until 2022 and no clear populist candidates on the forefront, it’s one of the unlikeliest nations to take a Kurz-like turn in government. The same goes for Spain and France, where President Emmanuel Macron has solid support, and has earned much of it.
2022 is a ways away, however, and there is still time for counter movements to arise. Regardless, Sebastian Kurz and his populist allies appear to represent where the future of Europe is headed, and if nations like England don’t eventually mirror the populist movement, they could find themselves in a small minority amongst an EU trending towards the re-establishment of national sovereignty and real, established borders.