On the one hand, there is increasing concern about extended adolescence and purposeless in youth around the world; an inability to settle down and take on real commitment and responsibility at the same age as previous generations did. On the other, national leaders seem to be getting younger. And, at 31, Austria is on course to have the youngest of them all.
Sebastian Kurz won the country's general election with over 30 percent of the vote and the Austrian tabloids have dubbed him wunderwuzzi or “wonderkid”. A coalition government comprised of his conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far-right FPÖ is considered the most likely outcome. He will technically become a ‘millennial’ head of state (the generation born between 1982 and 2002).
Kurz became leader of the party in May this year and was previously also appointed Europe’s youngest ever foreign minister in 2013, at the age of 27. In that role he hosted talks between Iran, the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and the UK on the nuclear deal. In 2015, the landmark agreement was signed in Vienna.
His ideas are generally conservative ones. He has campaigned on stricter border controls and a toughened stance towards the growth of Islam within Austria, policies which have proved popular. For instance, he introduced laws preventing foreign organisations from financially supporting Austrian mosques. He also supports classically conservative positions such as lowering taxes for companies and opposing gay marriage.
Kurtz has told his supporters:
“We want to establish a new culture in politics. And we want to change the country for the better.”
Like many of his generation, he is not married nor does he yet have any children. Though he is in a relationship with 30 year old Suzanne Their who he met when he was 18, and the pair have reportedly talked about eventually getting married and having children.
He has been compared to similarly young leaders elected in 2017 in New Zealand, Ireland and France: Jacinda Ardern (37), Leo Varadkar (38), and Emmanuel Macron (39).
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that people can achieve things on the world stage in their thirties – after all Alexander the Great is one of the most influential leaders in history, yet he died at the age of 32. Some youth at least seem to feel they might be better represented:
“He has the most potential to change something,” said 16-year-old Austrian voter Jessica Kriftner. “Everyone my age is for him.”
Perhaps that is the case in Austria. But with the range of policies represented by the aforementioned young national leaders, the international voice of today's youthful leaders is far from uniform. Though none apart from Macron (who is unconventially married to a 64 year old) are married and none yet have children, something which would surely be beneficial to their collective life experience.