Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced the snap poll for September after a German newspaper published covertly filmed footage featuring his far-right coalition partners offering government contracts to purported Russian businesswoman.
Austria is heading to the polls for the second time in two years in September after a German newspaper leaked a video showing members of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), the government’s junior coalition partner, discussing offering government contracts to a Russian business figure.
The country’s coalition government was formed in October 2017, after elections in which the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (OVP) received 31 percent of the vote and the far-right Freedom Party received 26 percent.
The coalition paved the way for OVP leader, Sebastian Kurz, to become Austria’s youngest ever Chancellor.
Despite criticism from within the party and across Europe, 32-year-old Kurz agreed to join hands with the FPO, a party known for its anti-Muslim sentiments and links to the white nationalist identitarian movement in Austria.
1. What is the latest controversy about?
On Friday May 17, the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, and the weekly newspaper Der Spiegel, published extracts of a six-hour, covertly filmed video purportedly showing FPO Leader Heinz-Christian Strache and Parliamentary Chair Johann Gudenus offering government contracts to a Russian woman who appeared to be interested in investing large amounts of money in Austria.
The woman introduces herself as the niece of a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, German-language newspapers have questioned whether the woman was a plant.
The video was recorded in July 2017 on the Spanish holiday island of Ibiza, weeks before the Austrian parliamentary elections in 2017.
2. What happens in the video?
Only a few excerpts are available so far but in what has been published Strache offers the woman privileged access to contracts should the FPO enter government.
The FPO leader said that the Austrian construction company Strabag would not receive any more orders from the state, if the FPO was elected. Instead, the tenders would be awarded to the Russian woman’s firm at an ‘overprice’.
Other issues discussed, included the prospect of state gambling licenses and Strache talking about his plan to “design” the Austrian media system to be similar to that set up by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
3. What other controversies has the FPO been involved in?
The FPO and its leader Strache have been at the centre of a number of controversies, including for links to the identitarian movement, which calls for a racially pure Europe and a repatriation of all non-white migrants living on the continent.
The group has found itself in hot water recently over reports that it received a large donation from the Christchurch terrorist.
Strache is also accused of verbally attacking journalists, and is criticised for a 2016 agreement with Putin’s United Russia Party, in which they agreed to build “a young generation in the spirit of patriotism and joy of work”.
4. How does Austria’s most popularnewspaper, Kronen, fit into the scandal?
Strache is filmed encouraging the potential businesswoman to invest in the newspaper and the use it as a platform to publish articles sympathetic to the FPO.
The far-right politician believes that by receiving media support from the paper, the FPO will see its popularity jump to around 34 percent of the electorate, which he assumes would be enough to establish a government.
The newspaper has a readership of two million people per day, except on Sunday, when it has as many as 2.5 million readers. As Austria’s population is 8.7 million that means a reach of about 30 percent of the country. With 700,000 sales per day, Krone sells more than the next five Austrian daily newspapers combined.
5. What will happen now?
Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz met with the Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen on Saturday afternoon to announce snap elections and the resignation of Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, who is a member of the far-right FPO.
Strache also resigned from his position as Vice Chancellor, but has insisted on keeping the coalition going.
Elections are set for September this year.