Sebastian Kurz

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Sebastian Kurz

THE SHAPE-SHIFTER

DOER #8 — AUSTRIA

Illustration by W.Flemming for POLITICO

If anyone encapsulates the contradictions and unpredictability of the Continent’s topsy-turvy politics, it’s Sebastian Kurz. The once and likely future Austrian chancellor stormed into office in late 2017 by breaking all the rules. Too young, too inexperienced, went the refrain; he didn’t even have a university degree. Whatever he lacked in formal education he made up for in social media savvy. Kurz was one of the first European politicians to build his persona around Facebook and Twitter. He was also one of the first to try to govern with the far right.

That experiment collapsed when Kurz’s coalition partner was caught on video offering public contracts to a woman he believed was the niece of a Russian oligarch. In the snap election that followed, his center-right People’s Party won nearly 40 percent of the vote, leaving the rest of the field in its dust.

Now Europe’s creaking establishment is once again eyeing Vienna, after Kurz embraced the zeitgeist and declared his preference for working with the Greens. The fate of that partnership aside, the mere fact that Kurz would try to swap the far right for the Greens in the space of a few months speaks volumes about the incoherence of European politics in an age marked by populism, fear and larger-than-life political personalities.

Check out the full POLITICO 28 Class of 2020, and read the Letter from the Editors for an explanation of the thinking behind the ranking.

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