Christian Kern

Christian Kern (Austrian German pronunciation: [ˈkrɪstja:n ˈkɛrn]; born 4 January 1966) is an Austrian businessman and former politician who served as Chancellor of Austria from 17 May 2016 to 18 December 2017 and chairman of the Social Democratic Party from 25 June 2016 to 25 September 2018.

Christian Kern
Chancellor of Austria
In office
17 May 2016  18 December 2017
PresidentHeinz Fischer
Alexander Van der Bellen
Vice ChancellorReinhold Mitterlehner
Wolfgang Brandstetter
Preceded byWerner Faymann
Succeeded bySebastian Kurz
Chair of the Social Democratic Party
In office
25 June 2016  25 September 2018
Preceded byWerner Faymann
Succeeded byPamela Rendi-Wagner
Leader of the Social Democratic Party in the National Council
In office
9 November 2017  25 September 2018
DeputyAndreas Schieder
Preceded byAndreas Schieder
Succeeded byPamela Rendi-Wagner
Personal details
Christian Kern

(1966-01-04) 4 January 1966 (age 55)
Vienna, Austria
Political partySocial Democratic Party
Karin Wessely
(m. 1985; div. 1988)

Eveline Steinberger
Children3 sons (with Wessely)
1 daughter (with Steinberger)
Alma materUniversity of Vienna
  • Politician
  • businessman

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 presidential election, the governing Social Democrats nominated Kern for the office of chancellor.

Kern was sworn in as Chancellor of Austria on 17 May 2016, vowing to continue the "Grand coalition" with the 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.

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 education at the Management Zentrum St. Gallen.


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

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] At the time, observers expected 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 The 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]

In October 2017's snap general election, Kern's SPÖ got defeated by Sebastian Kurz' ÖVP. Kurz decided to form a coalition with the FPÖ. From December 2017 Kern was leader of the opposition.

Resignation from politics

In September 2018, Kern announced that he would resign as national party leader and instead run as top candidate for the Austrian Social Democrats in the European Parliament elections.[21] However, he announced to resign from politics completely in October 2018. His successor as party leader is Pamela Rendi-Wagner and Andreas Schieder was presented as top candidate in the EU Parliament elections.

Other activities

Corporate boards

Non-profit organizations

  • European China Business Council, President (since 2019)[23]
  • FK Austria Wien, member of the board of trustees[24]
  • Konzerthaus Vienna, member of the board of trustees[25]
  • Rechtskomitee LAMBDA (RKL), member of the board of trustees
  • Business Forum of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, member of the political advisory board (since 2018)[26]

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.[27] With his second wife, Eveline Steinberger, he has a daughter.[2]


  1. "Christian Kern: no more normal service". The Local. 13 May 2016. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  2. Luise Ungerboeck (10 March 2010). "Kopf des Tages: Christian Kern". Der Standard (in German). Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  3. "CER Chairman Christian Kern to become new Austrian Chancellor | CER:Home". Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  4. "Repressed Years – the Austrian Railways and National Socialism between 1938 and 1945" (Press release). Agentur Milli Segal. Archived from the original on 11 June 2015. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  5. "The Suppressed Years Railway and National Socialism in Austria 1938 – 1945" (PDF). ÖBB. 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2016.[permanent dead link]
  6. "Torberg-Medaille für Christian Kern" (in German). ÖBB. Archived from the original on 12 May 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  7. Ralph Atkins (17 May 2016). "New Austrian leader warns mainstream parties may 'disappear'". Financial Times. Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  8. Rosemarie Schwaiger (2 August 2014). "ÖBB-Chef Christian Kern hat Chancen, Nachfolger von Kanzler Faymann zu werden". profil (in German). Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  9. Eva Linsinger (16 September 2015). "Christian Kern: Kanzler der Herzen". profil (in German). Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  10. Eric Frey (11 May 2016). "Kanzlernachfolge: Lieber Zeiler als Kern". Der Standard (in German). Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  11. "SPÖ legt sich offenbar fest" (in German). ORF. 12 May 2016. Retrieved 12 May 2016.
  12. Cynthia Kroet (12 May 2016). "Christian Kern named as new Austrian Chancellor". Politico. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  13. Oliver Pink (12 May 2016). "Christian Kern: Ein Pragmatiker mit Linksdrall". Die Presse (in German). Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  14. "Wehsely als Ministerin wäre "Kampfansage"" (in German). ORF. 13 May 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  15. "Wehsely sagt Kern ab". Österreich (in German). 16 May 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  16. "Muna Duzdar: Faymann-Kritikerin sitzt nun im Kanzleramt". Die Presse (in German). 17 May 2016. Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  17. Samuel Laster (24 May 2016). "Austria's election, Jews and Israel". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  18. Shadia Nasralla and Francois Murphy (6 April 2017), Austrian Social Democrats move toward ending ban on far-right alliances Reuters.
  19. "Germany and Austria warn US over expanded Russia sanctions". Politico. 15 June 2017.
  20. "Germany, Austria Slam US Sanctions Against Russia". U.S. News. 15 June 2017.
  21. Kirsti Knolle (18 September 2018), Austrian center-left ex-chancellor Kern to run for European Parliament Reuters.
  22. Ex-Kanzler Kern hat nun einen Aufsichtsjob in Russland Die Presse, 16 July 2019.
  23. Ex-Kanzler Kern nun Europa-Präsident von China-Unternehmerverein Kurier, September 20, 2019.
  24. Board of Trustees FK Austria Wien.
  25. Board of Trustees Konzerthaus Vienna.
  26. Bernd Westphal wird neuer Beirats-Vorsitzender beim Wirtschaftsforum der SPD Business Forum of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, press release of 7 June 2018.
  27. "Ex-Frau hofft auf Christian Kern". Niederösterreichische Nachrichten (in German). 11 May 2016. Retrieved 12 May 2016.