VIENNA (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a surge of populist fervor, Austrian voters ousted leftist incumbents from office Sunday and swept a young conservative and his party into power.
The center-right People's Party (OVP) claimed the top spot in the national elections, with 31 percent of the vote. As a result, party leader Sebastian Kurz is advancing to the chancellorship of Austria. At just 31, upon assuming office Kurz will be world's youngest national leader.
After declaring victory, Kurz vowed that it's time for a change in Austria and thanked those for entrusting him to guide the country through the coming transformation, "Many people have placed great hopes in our movement. ... It's time to establish a new political style ... I accept this responsibility with great humility."
The victory is the culmination of a remarkable rise for the young leader. Described as a conservative Roman Catholic, Kurz's views often align with the populist Freedom Party (FPÖ).
In 2011 at age 27, Kurz was appointed state secretary for integration, overseeing government efforts to assimilate immigrants into Austrian society. In 2013, Kurz became the country's foreign minister.
Kurz assumed leadership of the center-right OVP in May 2017 and immediately set about revamping its platform, shifting it to the Right to align more closely with the FPÖ. He severed a long-troubled coalition with the leftist Social Democrats and transformed his party into an "Austria first" movement.
The move tapped into growing unrest among Austrians over migration.
Austria shares certain cultural, historical and religious ties with the group of Catholic central European countries (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic) who reject the European Union's migrant quota scheme. But when the migrant crisis erupted in 2015, Vienna bent to the will of Brussels and Berlin and admitted waves of migrants into the country. In 2015 alone, 90,000 — the equivalent of one percent of the nation's population — poured into Austria from the Middle East and North Africa.
Pushback was not long in coming. Kurz became a vocal critic of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door migrant policy. Unafraid of antagonizing Berlin, he brokered the closure of the Balkan route into Europe in 2016. He also publicly endorsed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's construction of a border fence to prevent migrants from illegally entering his country.
Some analysts foresee Kurz's election will prompt an "earthquake" for the European Union.
Already, government policy is shifting against the former open-door program.
In August, Austria announced it would send soldiers to its southern border to prevent migrants crossing into the country from Italy. On October 1, a ban on full-face veils in public entered into force.
These moves reflect growing concerns over the rise of Islam in Austrian society.
On September 11, 2016, during Mass at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Cdl. Christoph Schönborn hearkened back to the Christian victory over Islamic armies, owing to the intervention of the Blessed Virgin during the Battle of Vienna in 1683.
Posing an ominous question, he asked, "Will there be a third Islamic attempt to conquer Europe?"
Schönborn then warned, "Many Muslims think this and wish this and say that Europe is at its end."
But it was not Islam Schönborn blamed. Europeans, he said, are "in danger of forfeiting our Christian heritage."
"Europe's Christian legacy is in danger because we Europeans have squandered it," the cardinal said. "The opportunity for a Christian renewal of Europe lies in our hands."