Young foreign minister Sebastian Kurz was yesterday nominated as the new head of the People’s Party (ÖVP) in Austria. The conservative party traditionally characterised by complex co-determination rights have promised the newcomer the powers he demanded. Chairman Kurz will in future be responsible for selecting the party’s leaders or the list of candidates for the National Parliament. This sudden change at the head of the ÖVP was brought about by the surprising resignation of the previous party chairman and vice-chancellor Mitterlehner from all his public offices. Mitterlehner stepped down on the back of party infighting and ongoing conflict with the coalition partner SPÖ. The parties‘ different views on how best to tackle the country’s economic challenges have been weighing on their working relationship for years.
The change of leadership at the conservative party represents a further burden for the fragile relationship. It now seems more likely than ever that the governing coalition will come to a premature end. Kurz recently came out in favour of an early election and is expected to be the ÖVP candidate for chancellor if the country does go to the polls. A new election requires the dissolution of the current parliament, which in turn must be voted by a simple majority of MPs. The public are unlikely to be asked to go to the polls before September this year at the earliest. From the perspective of economic policy, these are lost months for Austria.