Europe

Austria profile - Leaders

  • 17 May 2016
  • From the section Europe

President: Heinz Fischer

Austrian President Heinz Fischer Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption President Heinz Fischer is a former science minister

Heinz Fischer, a centrist politician committed to the welfare state and Austrian neutrality, was elected to the largely ceremonial presidency in April 2004 and again 2010.

In the 2010 poll he warded off a challenge by Barbara Rosenkranz of the anti-foreigner and anti-European Union Freedom.

He has spent most of his life in politics. After graduating with a law degree from the University of Vienna in 1961, he took a position in the Social Democratic Party (SPO), entering parliament as a deputy in 1971 and staying on until 2004.

During this time, he served as science and research minister between 1983 and 1987, before being elected parliamentary president in 1990. He was re-elected three times.

Between 1992 and 2004, he was also a vice-president of the European Socialist Party.

Once in office, he officially renounced any party membership to become independent.

He has expressed doubts over the wisdom of tightening EU sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis, and welcomed his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on a visit to Vienna in June 2014, when Austria was the first European country to host Mr Putin as an official guest after Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Chancellor: Christian Kern

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Christian Kern is the former CEO of the national railways company

Christian Kern was sworn in as federal chancellor and chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPO) on 17 May 2016, following the resignation of Werner Faymann after a string of poor election results.

As CEO of the Austrian Federal Railways (OeBB), Mr Kern oversaw the mass transit of refugees by rail in 2015 and was later named in a lawsuit launched by the Freedom Party against top government officials over their alleged failure to protect Austria's borders against "the influx" of migrants.

Mr Kern's biggest challenge will be whether to abandon his party's 30-year block on cooperating with the eurosceptic and anti-immigrant Freedom Party. He also needs to revitalise the SPO's relationship with its coalition partner the centre-right People's Party (OeVP) and agree on structural reforms to reinvigorate Austria's economy.

He joined the SPO as a young man, climbing the ranks before moving to the Verbund energy firm in 1997 and the national rail company in 2010. He also sits on the board of trustees of FK Austria Wien football club.

From a working class district in Vienna, he was the first in his family to graduate from high school. Dubbed a "pinstripes socialist" by the German broadcaster ARD, he is known for his sartorial style and eloquence.