Sebastian Kurz nominated Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg as his replacement as Austria’s chancellor after he resigned because of a corruption scandal. So far, it looks like Schallenberg will follow in Kurz’s footsteps. This also means that there probably won’t be much change in Hungarian-Austrian relations.
Schallenberg has already been sworn in by Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen as the new chancellor. Van der Bellen said the work of the government would continue following Kurz’s resignation.
Kurz and Orbán: a good political relationship
Kurz and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had a good relationship in the past. A good example of this is that not so long ago, Kurz called for “more fairness” for Hungary and Poland in the debates on the rule of law in the European Union. He has been criticized for such statements. In this case, the Social Democratic Party of Austria’s spokesperson for European Affairs, Jörg Leichtfried, has criticized him for “taking the side of the authoritarian regimes in Hungary and Poland” and for “playing down” the deterioration of press freedom, democracy, and LGBT rights in these countries.
Despite the good relations, it was Kurz who had meetings with George Soros, who is very much disliked by the Orbán administration, so Austria could take in the Central European University (CEU) which was previously in Budapest and is now in Vienna. Still, it can be said that the two governments’ relationship has always been smooth.
Schallenberg and Orbán
Last year, Schallenberg gave an interview to Profil in which he also talked about Hungary and Orbán as well. He said he did not “agree with every statement and every position of Orbán,” but he also thought that “we have to coordinate very closely with Hungary, if only because it is our neighboring country. That doesn’t mean that we agree on everything and anything. But I will say quite openly:
Some of what is said about Hungary in the European public sphere is exaggerated.”
“Just think of the emergency legislation that Orbán introduced,” he said, adding that “Half of Europe cried out! We took a close look at it. My experts in international law were of the opinion that there was nothing wrong with the substance of it, it all depended on how it was applied. In the end, the EU Commission also came to the conclusion that there was no reason for infringement proceedings. We Austrians in particular, should be able to take a more differentiated and deeper look at a neighboring country like Hungary than others do.”
FactAlexander Schallenberg was a career diplomat who became a mentor to Kurz when the latter became Foreign Minister. Kurz appointed him as the director of strategic foreign policy planning and head of the European department. Schallenberg joined the cabinet as Foreign Minister in 2019. After Kurz announced his pending resignation on October 9, 2021, Schallenberg was nominated by the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) to replace him in the post of Chancellor of Austria. The Schallenberg administration was sworn in on October 11, 2021.
He was also asked if he thinks “…Orbán and his policy of eliminating free media sounds like absolute downplaying?” He answered that he does not see it that way. “The EU is conducting an Article 7 procedure against Hungary, and that must be continued,” Schallenberg said. He added that “We have to be very careful not to reinforce a development that I see as the greatest danger in the EU: the two-class society. The same law with the same wording would not be a problem in a state other than Hungary.”
However, he did not go further than saying that he shares “the view that it is right that there is an Article 7 procedure in the case of Hungary,” not giving a straight answer, and the journalist asked if it was because of his position as foreign minister. Schallenberg said “Of course. Forgive me, that may not be satisfactory, but that’s how I do politics. I have chosen this kind of politics. There are colleagues who do it differently.”
Whether he will change “how he does politics,” now that he is Chancellor or not remains to be seen. It seems that Schallenberg criticizes Hungary even more so than Kurz ever did. He even said in the same interview that he did “cry wolf” in the case of Hungary but doesn’t do it publicly. But, as one can see, this doesn’t mean that he didn’t also express it when he agreed with the Hungarian government’s politics.
However, if Schallenberg will indeed follow in Kurz’s footsteps and work closely with him, as he said before, the answer will likely be “no.” TIME even said that the new leader will “rule under predecessor Kurz’s gaze.” This will most probably mean that the relationship between the leaders of Hungary and Austria, and thereby the relationship between the countries, will not change.
A gesture from the side of the Hungarian government was made recently when Orbán congratulated the new Chancellor on his position. According to the government’s website “the Hungarian Prime Minister wrote he is pleased that in the person of his Austrian counterpart he will have the opportunity to cooperate with a politician who is committed to the future of Europe and shows respect for Hungary at the same time.”
Featured image via Balázs Szecsődi/Prime Minister’s Press Office/MTI