January 3, 2020 / 3:40 PM / 22 days ago

Factbox: Key ministers in Austria's incoming coalition government

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s conservative People’s Party (OVP) led by Sebastian Kurz has struck a coalition deal with the Greens, paving the way for Kurz’s return to power and the left-wing Greens to enter into government for the first time.

FILE PHOTO: Head of People's Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz delivers a statement in Vienna, Austria January 2, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

Below are profiles of some key incoming ministers and the challenges they face, pending approval by a Greens party meeting on Saturday.

CHANCELLOR - SEBASTIAN KURZ

Kurz, 33, catapulted his party ahead of the far right the moment he became its leader in 2017, after adopting an almost identically hard line on immigration in the wake of Europe’s migration crisis. He then brought the far right into government, infuriating many leftists, including Greens voters.

He emerged largely unscathed from a video sting scandal in May that felled the far right’s leader and prompted parliament to sack Kurz’s government. Many opposition figures said that Kurz should share the blame for bringing such a scandal-prone party to power, but he still went on to gain voters and win the Sept. 29 parliamentary election.

As head of the new government he plans to focus on core themes that appeal to both his base and disillusioned former far-right voters. He has pledged to keep a balanced budget, cut corporate and income taxes, fight illegal immigration and “political Islam”.

VICE CHANCELLOR - WERNER KOGLER (GREENS)

An entertaining speaker who prefers shirtsleeves and a snug leather jacket to a suit, Kogler surprised many observers by revealing little about the coalition talks, apparently embracing Kurz’s famed and infamous “message control”.

The 58-year-old economist has been careful not to appear too keen to work with Kurz, a man reviled by many of the Greens’ core voters, while steering the resurgent party towards its first stint in power since it was founded in 1986.

Whether he can continue that balancing act for five years is likely to depend on whether he can show tangible results obtained in exchange for going into government with Kurz.

FINANCE - GERNOT BLUEMEL (OVP)

The 38-year-old OVP leader in Vienna is often described as Kurz’s best friend in politics.

During the coalition with the far right, he served as government coordinator, the main conduit for policy discussions between ruling parties - a behind-the-scenes role that suited the astute politician who lacks Kurz’s assurance on camera.

He holds an MBA from the Vienna University of Economics and Business but has little experience of finance and follows two recent predecessors in the post who were former chief executives.

INTERIOR - KARL NEHAMMER (OVP)

A soldier turned communications adviser, Nehammer, 47, shot up through the party’s ranks in recent years to become its chairman. A Kurz loyalist, Nehammer has handled sensitive issues such as what the party said was a hacking attack on its servers this year.

The Interior Ministry became a battleground in the last coalition government, when it was headed by far-right hardliner Herbert Kickl, whom Kurz forced out as their coalition collapsed.

Nehammer’s task will be to provide a safe pair of hands as the ministry must now appear beyond reproach and implement law-and-order policies that appeal to former far-right voters.

ENVIRONMENT, INFRASTRUCTURE - LEONORE GEWESSLER (GREENS)

At the Greens’ closing election rally, Gewessler, 42, appeared still wearing climbing gear after unfurling a banner from a crane over parliament saying “Comeback climate change”, referring to the issue’s newfound prominence.

The former chief of an environmental NGO will need that combativeness as head of a sprawling ministry at the heart of the Greens’ agenda - not least to convince her activist former colleagues that she is doing as much as possible.

FOREIGN - ALEXANDER SCHALLENBERG (OVP)

A diplomat who was made foreign minister in the provisional government that was set up in June following the collapse of Kurz’s coalition with the far right, he retains the post.

He has made few waves and is likely to remain discreet. The veteran of European Union diplomacy will, however, not oversee European affairs - that responsibility is going to a minister working directly under Kurz.

Slideshow (4 Images)

JUSTICE - ALMA ZADIC (GREENS)

A trained lawyer, the 35-year-old was born in Bosnia and fled the war there to move to Vienna with her parents at the age of 10. She has championed a more open immigration policy, including a recent ban on deporting asylum seekers while they are in apprenticeships.

Her defence of such “super-integrated” immigrants is at odds with Kurz’s rhetoric, which often depicts immigration as a threat and a burden. The issue is likely to be a source of friction within the coalition.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Susan Fenton

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