Leaders

Christian Kern

Christian Kern

Christian Kern
Christian Kern 2016 (portrait).jpg
 
24th Chancellor of Austria
Incumbent
Assumed office
17 May 2016
President Heinz Fischer
Alexander Van der Bellen
Deputy Reinhold Mitterlehner
Wolfgang Brandstetter
Preceded by Reinhold Mitterlehner (Acting)
Leader of the Social Democratic Party
Incumbent
Assumed office
25 June 2016
Preceded by Michael Häupl (Acting)
 
Personal details
Born (1966-01-04) 4 January 1966 (age 51)
Vienna, Austria
Political party Social Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Karin Wessely (1985–2001)
Eveline Steinberger
Children 3 sons (with Wessely)
1 daughter (with Steinberger)
Alma mater University of Vienna
University of St. Gallen

Christian Kern (Austrian German pronunciation: [ˈkrɪstja:n ˈkɛrn]; born 4 January 1966) is the incumbent Chancellor of Austria and chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ).

A business journalist by profession, the member of Austria’s Social Democratic Party served as spokesman of the SPÖ’s parliamentary group leader in the mid-1990s, before he became a senior manager in Austria’s leading electricity company Verbund AG. In 2010, Kern was appointed CEO of the state-owned Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB), chairing the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) from 2014 onwards. Following the resignation of Werner Faymann amidst the Austrian presidential election, the governing Social Democrats nominated Kern for the country’s highest executive office.

Kern was sworn in as Chancellor of Austria on 17 May 2016, vowing to continue the “Grand coalition” with Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), but promising a “New Deal” that would bring about more jobs by cutting red tape while ensuring ordinary workers receive a share of economic prosperity. Kern criticized the Austrian political elite as being power-obsessed and devoid of a meaningful political agenda about the country’s future.

Contents

  • 1 Early life and education
  • 2 Career
    • 2.1 CEO of the Austrian Federal Railways
    • 2.2 Chancellor of Austria
  • 3 Other activities
  • 4 Personal life

Early life and education

Kern was raised in Simmering, a working-class district of Vienna, as the son of an electrician and a secretary.[1] He studied journalism and communication at the University of Vienna followed by postgraduate studies at the Management Zentrum St. Gallen.

Career

Kern started his career in 1989 as a business journalist writing for the Wirtschaftspressedienst and Austrian business magazine Option. In 1991, he became an assistant of the Federal Chancellery’s undersecretary of state for civil service, Peter Kostelka (de). When Kostelka became chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) parliamentary group in 1994, Kern remained his chief of office and spokesman.

In 1997, Kern moved to the largest Austrian electricity supplier, the Verbund AG, where from 1999 he oversaw marketing and sales. In 2007 he was appointed a senior manager overseeing foreign mergers & acquisitions, investments, and the Austrian high-voltage transmission grid[2]

CEO of the Austrian Federal Railways

Kern 2011 at the opening of the modernized Bahnhofscity Wien West

Kern with Transport Minister Doris Bures at the ground-breaking ceremony of the Semmering-Basistunnel (de)

In 2010, Kern was selected to take over the post as CEO of the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB).[1] He was appointed chairman of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) in 2014.[3] Kern has been a board member of FK Austria Wien since 2009.

In 2012, ÖBB celebrated the 175th anniversary of the Nordbahn, the earliest predecessor company marking the start of rail transport in Austria. Kern inaugurated an exhibition on the company’s complicity with the Third Reich, named “The Suppressed Years – Railway and National Socialism in Austria 1938–1945”. He referred to that period as “the darkest part of our company’s history,” adding that “We are obliged to commemorate and with this documentation we would like to further contribute to coming to terms with the past. No matter how incredible these events may seem to us today, we need to clearly accept these times as part of our ÖBB history.”[4] The exhibition later went on tour and was presented at the European Parliament’s parliamentary building in Brussels.[5] For his extraordinary engagement accounting for the company’s past, in June 2013 the Vienna Israelite Community awarded Kern the Marietta and Friedrich Torberg Medal.[6]

In the course of the 2015 migrant crisis, Kern organized the transport of hundred thousands of migrants coming from the “Balkan route” across the country. He is considered a supporter of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migration policy.[7] Leading Austrian trade unionist Roman Hebenstreit (de), who is also chairman of the ÖBB’s works council described Kern in 2016 as “the first ÖBB boss to really stand by his workers.”[1]

Chancellor of Austria

Kern with outgoing President Heinz Fischer and Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner at the swearing-in ceremony of his new cabinet members on 18 May 2016

Kern with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, 20 December 2016

Since 2014, Kern was repeatedly named as one of the possible successors for Werner Faymann’s Chancellor post.[8] In 2015, Austrian news magazine profil referred to him as the “Chancellor of hearts” and the Federal Railways he led as “the only state institution that flawlessly worked amidst the refugee crisis.”[9]

Half a year later, when on 9 May 2016 Chancellor Faymann resigned from all his posts, Kern was again named one of the candidates alongside Time Warner manager Gerhard Zeiler and former Siemens manager Brigitte Ederer (de).[10] On a 12 May party session, the Social Democrats agreed on nominating Kern for the country’s highest executive office. He was announced to be appointed the new Chancellor by 17 May, and to be nominated as party chairman at the upcoming party congress on 25 June.[11][12] Kern was sworn into office on 17 May by outgoing President Heinz Fischer.

At his first press conference, Kern called for a change in the style of cooperation within the coalition government, warning the two parties risked otherwise “disappearing from the screen”. He reaffirmed his position that in the refugee crisis, Austria was right not to “leave women and children standing in the rain,” while ensuring order and security.[7]

In spite of his credentials as a manager, Kern’s nomination of members of the party’s left wing, Sonja Wehsely (de) and Jörg Leichtfried as new ministers was interpreted as a turn towards the party’s left.[13] The appointment of Wehsely, who is known for her staunch pro-asylum course during the European migrant crisis, was however considered all too controversial, with political analyst Thomas Hofer referring to it as a declaration of war (“kleine Kampfansage”) against conservative coalition partner ÖVP.[14] Wehsely ultimately declined and decided she would stay city councillor in Vienna.[15] Hofer however expects Kern to follow the centrist examples of German chancellor Gerhard Schröder or Britain’s Tony Blair, combining pro-business policies with a social conscience.[1]

Kern appointed Muna Duzdar, a lawyer and chairwoman of the Palestininian-Austrian Society, as state secretary in the Chancellery, where she will be the first Muslim to hold a government post.[16] The fact that Duzdar, who has previously come out as a sharp critic of Israel, will now be in charge of Jewish community affairs, irritated the Jewish community. According to Jerusalem Post author Samuel Laster, Duzdar’s appointment may however be considered a “signal of openness” for Kern who is “widely regarded as a friend of Israel.”[17]

Soon after taking office, Kern’s government implemented several law-and-order measures, including a ban on Muslim face-covering veils and a tightening of immigration rules.[18]

In June 2017, Kern criticized the draft of new U.S. sanctions against Russia that target EU–Russia energy projects, including Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.[19] In a joint statement Kern and Germany’s foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said that “Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, and not for the United States of America.”[20]

Other activities

  • FK Austria Wien, Member of the Board of Trustees[21]
  • Konzerthaus Vienna, Member of the Board of Trustees[22]
  • Rechtskomitee LAMBDA (RKL), Member of the Board of Trustees

Personal life

In 1985 Kern married Karin Wessely, with whom he has three sons. In 2001, his marriage with Wessely, who is a local SPÖ politician in Mödling, a district capital south of Vienna, ended in divorce. Wessely however supported his nomination as successor to Faymann, and highly praised him as a charismatic personality, who is able to unite the more left-aligned and the more right-aligned factions of their party.[23] With his second wife, Eveline Steinberger, he has a daughter.[2]

1 thought on “Christian Kern

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *