Meet Sebastian Kurz, the World's Youngest Prime Minister

PER_Sebastian Kurz
Heinz-Peter Bader/REUTERS

Updated | At just 31 years old, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is the world’s youngest prime minister. In his previous job as foreign minister, he brokered a deal with his country’s Balkan neighbors to stem the flow of refugees by sealing off Europe’s southern borders, and he ordered stringent controls on “political Islam” funded from abroad. Though he calls himself a passionate pro-European, Kurz was appointed chancellor in December after sealing a controversial electoral pact with the far-right Austrian Freedom Party, which has been accused of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. He spoke to Newsweek about immigration, Islam and the future of Europe.

What do you think needs to be reformed in the European Union?

The Europe Union should stay focused on the big questions instead of losing itself in smaller issues which can be much better solved by nation-states or regions. The EU should above all focus on a strong cooperation on foreign affairs, defense and in securing its external borders.

Is the migrant crisis over?

No, it isn’t over, only the numbers have decreased, and this is positive. But we still have to work hard to forge a new asylum system and secure our external borders. We, not the smugglers, have to decide who is allowed to come to Europe. It should be clear: Those who try to enter illegally in the EU should be rescued at sea and sent back where they came from and not get a ticket to the EU.

Do you think that the refugee crisis was one of the main causes of Brexit?

Of course. The pictures which came out of Austria and Europe during the crisis showed an EU incapable of controlling its external borders. This scared many British citizens who voted for Brexit.

You are leading a Christian Democratic party, but your views on migration appear a long way from those expressed by the present pope.

I think that in the past two years many who were in favor of an open-door policy have now changed their mind. Because they had realized that this policy is not working. If we really want to help people, then we have to invest more in development in the countries of origin.

Austria currently has an 8 percent Muslim population. Is that a problem?

The most important question is how to integrate [them] into our society. To be honest with you, the success of integration always depends on the numbers. The higher the number of people to integrate, the more difficult it is for a country. Unfortunately, the number which arrived to Austria in the last few years has been much too high.

You are in coalition with the Austrian Freedom Party [Fpö], which has a friendly relationship with Vladimir Putin’s party in Russia. How will that affect policy?

We are sure that peace in Europe will always be possible with Russia and not against Russia. We want to be helpful in finding solutions for the Ukraine crisis. But we also have a clear position on the sanctions. These will continue as long as there will not be progress on the ground in eastern Ukraine.

Your party has a pact with the extreme right. Why is such a coalition possible in Austria but remains a kind of taboo in Germany and France?

The Fpö has already been twice part of the federal government, and it is in a coalition government in one federal state of Austria…with the socialist left. I hope that our government will be judged only by its actions. Obviously, we have a special historical responsibility to fight anti-Semitism in Austria and Europe. We have also to fight newly imported anti-Semitism coming from the Middle East.

What you think about relations between Europe and Turkey?

We do not see Turkey as a member state of the European Union, neither now nor in the future. We need to find other ways to cooperate with Turkey as our neighbor. I think that recent developments in Turkey are quite negative and the EU should not look the other way when human rights are violated.

How does it feel to be so young and have such a responsibility?

I hope that people will judge my government more by its actions than by the age of the prime minister.

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly stated that the Fpö is in coalition governments in two federal states of Austria with the socialist left. It is only in a coalition government with the socialist left in one.