Austria: Kurz sworn in as chancellor, completing comeback

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New Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz listen during the swearing-in ceremony of the new Austrian government led by a conservative Austrian People’s Party, OEVP, and the Austrian Green party in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

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VIENNA (AP) — Conservative Sebastian Kurz was sworn in Tuesday as Austria’s chancellor, completing a comeback from the collapse of his previous government as the leader of a new and very different coalition, with the Greens.

Kurz, 33, returned to the top job after a seven-month absence. The Cabinet sworn in by President Alexander Van der Bellen is Austria’s first with a female majority and marks the first time that the environmentalist Greens have entered the country’s national government.

The combination of Kurz’s center-right People’s Party and the Greens, traditional adversaries, could set an example for other countries — in particular neighboring Germany, where polls suggest a similar combination could become possible after the next election.

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

Kurz, a precocious 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 and has made a tough line 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. 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 has been run by a non-partisan interim government under Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein.

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

Van der Bellen told the new Cabinet that Austrians “have great expectations of you — the trust that has been carefully rebuilt must be increased further, because our democracy and our institutions live on citizens’ trust.”

The coalition agreement pays tribute to 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 includes many conservative priorities, such as moves to cut Austrians’ tax burden and continuing Kurz’s tough line on migration. The new chancellor has made clear that he still opposes efforts to distribute migrants around Europe.

“We are taking on a lot in the government’s program, from tax relief for working people, through steps toward better environmental protection, to a consistent line in the areas of security and migration,” Kurz said during a handover ceremony at the chancellery. He said it was important for Austria “to help the European Union develop in the right direction.”

Eight of the 15 Cabinet members are women. They include Klaudia Tanner, Austria’s first female defense minister, and Justice Minister Alma Zadic, a Green who is the first Austrian of immigrant background to join the government. Her family fled the conflict Bosnia when she was 10.

Green leader Werner Kogler is now vice chancellor. His party also holds a new “super ministry” overseeing environment, energy and infrastructure, while the key interior, finance and foreign affairs posts went to Kurz’s party.

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Geir Moulson reported from Berlin.

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