Austrian Minister of Health Wolfgang Mückstein stepped down from his post after holding office for less than a year. He announced his decision in a press conference on Thursday, March 3rd, citing personal reasons. In doing so, he follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, Rudolf Anschober, who held office for 15 months before resigning.
“I am no longer able to give it my all,” Mückstein said, “I’ve reached my personal limit and therefore hereby announce my resignation.” The 47-year-old also hinted at suffering from having received threats and “not being able to leave the apartment without personal security.”
Looking back at his time in office, Mückstein felt satisfaction about his achievements. “We are almost exactly two years into the pandemic, during one of which the management of it was in my hands,” the member of the Green Party noted. “My first and foremost goal was to protect human lives and to prevent an exhaustion of the health sector, both of which we achieved.”
On the downside, the leaving minister noted, not much else outside COVID control was achieved. Plans to strengthen the care sector overall haven’t materialized. And, despite his efforts to manage the pandemic, Mückstein’s decision to ease up on almost all COVID restrictions has garnered criticism from experts, a fact he admitted in his announcement. “Not everybody agreed with my decisions, some might have wished for more or less.” In his speech Mückstein thanked specifically Chancellor Karl Nehammer of the ÖVP, with whom he shared a “pragmatic and fact–based approach.”
Mückstein will be followed by fellow Green politician Johannes Rauch, who up until now acted as the state councilor for environment for Vorarlberg. According to reports, Rauch wasn’t entirely keen to take this position, but agreed as a personal favor to Walter Kogler, the head of the Austrian Green Party.
Members of the opposition criticized the move. Pamela Rendi–Wagner of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) wondered how helpful it is to Austria, when “within two crises another member of the government throws in the towel,” claiming that “this is the opposite of stability.” The head of the liberal NEOS, Beate Meinl–Reisinger, considered it “unfortunate that we’re heading into our third Minister of Health within this pandemic.”
Herbert Kickl, leader of the right-wing FPÖ, said it was apparent that this wasn’t Mückstein’s own decision, but an action accorded by the whole government. He accused Mückstein of contributing to the divide of society caused by the topic of mandatory vaccination.
Members of Austria’s political administration have been changing frequently since the swearing in of Austria’s conservative Green government in early 2020. Not only is Mückstein the second minister of health to resign, but Karl Nehammer is its third chancellor in two years, causing many to wonder about the legitimacy of Austrian leadership, in place by appointment and not through election. Criticism is especially leveraged at the introduction of mandatory vaccination by an interim chancellor who resigned before the fallout of his decision became apparent.