Can Kern steer Austria out of the crisis?

Christian Kern has been sworn into office as Austrian Chancellor. Kern, who is chairman designate of the Social Democratic Party, said on Tuesday that the major parties now have a chance to avoid fading into irrelevance. Some commentators believe Kern can succeed while others see him facing an insurmountable list of tasks.

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Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Kern can improve the mood in Austria

Rather than fanning fears of the right-wing FP the new chancellor wants to win over the Austrians with his actions and optimism, the Tages-Anzeiger comments approvingly:

“Kern wants to deprive the right-wing populists of the very thing that is feeding their success: the general mood of disappointment and anger in which the government is perceived as corrupt and incompetent, asylum seekers as criminal and the EU as a bureaucratic monster. Precisely how Kern plans to tackle unemployment, boost the economy and improve the education system he hasn't said. But in his first speech he named the problems clearly, something which so far the government had left to the right-wing populists. And as director of the Austrian railway operator Kern has already proven that he knows how to motivate people, how to create a new narrative and turn a terrible mood into a positive one.”

Kurier (AT) /

Government needs a new team spirit

Whether the new SPÖ chancellor will be able to ensure the survival of the grand coalition depends above all on the reactions of discontented members of the coalition partner ÖVP, Kurier comments:

“Kern's biggest challenge for the maximum two remaining years in government: he must quickly tackle strike on several key fronts. The red-black [socialist-conservative] coalition is characterised by a spirit of conflict, and not congeniality. Even conservative ministers have complained of the lack of team spirit. However in the ÖVP the group that believes in securing more popular support for both parties through joint successes is only one of many factions. The designated SPÖ leader is now making the ÖVP an offer for 'our last chance', to which only those who already have other things planned will say no.”

Delo (SI) /

Mission impossible

Kern will have a hard time reviving the grand coalition while at the same time strengthening the ineffective Social Democratic Party, Delo predicts:

“The search for a balance between the conservative vultures and the social democratic doves in the government will be far easier for the new Social Democratic chancellor than finding a magical formula to bring voters back to the party. As the first round of voting in the presidential election made clear, voters have switched their allegiance to the FPÖ. With cuts in social spending the new head of government won't find it easy to win back those who were once referred to as the working class. This increasingly looks like an impossible task.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Kern's hands tied on refugee issue

Christian Kern won't be able to significantly alter the Austrian government's policy on refugees, Der Standard believes:

“The ÖVP has clearly stated that it won't accept a loosening of the current policy. And party members and voters alike wouldn't appreciate a new surge in refugee numbers. Disavowing the present course would play right into the hands of FPÖ presidential candidate Norbert Hofer in the second round. Right from the start it would put Kern in that place between two stools which cost Faymann his job. ... Naturally Kern could also side with his fellow party members who want open borders for asylum seekers. But that would leave him without a coalition and with no more than a handful of voters. And that is something the experienced tactician will certainly try to avoid.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Austria's government doomed

As far as Der Standard is concerned a successful continuation of the grand coalition is no longer possible:

“After Werner Faymann's sudden departure on a 'Well you sort it out yourselves then' note, the ÖVP is trying to save the last remnants of a wobbly marriage of convenience and secure as much of the furniture and the benefits of the interregnum with SPÖ for itself as possible, at the same time tormenting the latter. … It's clear that the SPÖ isn't willing to put up with the ÖVP behaviour right now. … We can't rely on these two parties reconciling. On the contrary, the long repressed mutual aversion and the deep-seated distrust between these two parties, chained to each other only by the desire to keep their grip on power and determined to drag each other down, is coming to the surface - and meanwhile they don't even realise that they are both doomed.”

Český rozhlas (CZ) /

Germany fears the Austria effect

Germany's politicians are right to be concerned about the government crisis in Austria, the Prague-based public radio broadcaster Český rozhlas believes:

“It is not just the SPD, which has dropped to 20 percent in the polls, that is worried. With its approval ratings lagging at around 30 percent the Christian Democrats aren't doing too well either. … The Social Democrats are grappling with the same kind of leadership problems as their brother party the SPÖ. Like Werner Faymann, SPD chief Sigmar Gabriel had a Waterloo experience at the last party conference. Now rumours are circulating that he may resign. He appealed to his comrades to wake up from their emotional weariness, warning that the loss of trust poses a threat to the future of the Social Democrats. He said the speculation about his resignation was unfounded, but the wheel of politics turns very quickly. Faymann was refuting rumours that he would resign at the same time - only to step down the very next day.”