Brigitte Bierlein, Austria's first woman chancellor, dies at 74

FILE - Austria's Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein, center, arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Brigitte Bierlein, a former head of Austria’s Constitutional Court who became the country’s first female chancellor in an interim government after the previous administration collapsed in a scandal in 2019, has died. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

BERLIN (AP) — Brigitte Bierlein, the former head of Austria’s Constitutional Court who became the country’s first female chancellor in an interim government in 2019, has died. She was 74.

Her death on Monday was announced by Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who wrote that “for future generations, she will remain a shining example of self-determination, equal rights and breaking through glass ceilings.” He said that Austria lost one of its most distinguished legal experts.

Austria’s Constitutional Court said she passed away after a short, serious illness.

Bierlein sat on the court first as vice-president and then as president from February 2018 until her appointment as chancellor on June 3, 2019.

She was named interim leader after then-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz lost a confidence vote following the collapse of the governing coalition between his right-wing People’s Party and the far-right Freedom Party.

It followed the publication of a video showing Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache appearing to offer lucrative government contracts to a purported Russian investor.

When Bierlein was sworn in as chancellor, she appealed to the country’s youth, and particularly young women, to help make a “strong, livable and tolerant Austria.”

“Our land, our democracy needs all of you, your creative strength and your belief in Austria,” she said. “Your engagement is irreplaceable for the health of our republic and all of Europe.”

Bierlein led Austria from June 2019 to January 2020. She headed a cabinet of civil servants that was often referred to in public as a government of experts. After the newly elected government took up its work in early 2020, she effectively ended her public career, Austrian news agency APA said.

The Constitutional Court said in a statement that in addition to her professional duties, Bierlein was active for decades in the public prosecutor’s office and on an independent victim protection commission against abuse and violence. She was also known as a lover of theater and arts.

The Viennese native had no children, APA reported, often telling Austrian media that she could not have imagined combining a job and children. Her partner of many years, judge Ernest Maurer, died in 2021, the agency reported.

Nehammer praised Bierlein’s commitment and love for Austria.

“She took on responsibility at a difficult time out of love for the republic and her homeland Austria,” he wrote on X. “Our country owes her a great debt of gratitude.”