Austria rocked by government crisis

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's grip on power has also loosened as a result of the Strache scandal. On Monday Kurz initiated the process of Interior Minister Herbert Kickl's removal from office, to which the FPÖ reacted with the resignation of all its ministers. The opposition has announced that it plans to introduce a motion of no-confidence against Kurz after the European elections - which the FPÖ may now support. What comes next?

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Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

FPÖ voters not the only nationalists

The Frankfurter Rundschau doesn't believe the government's collapse will bring about political change:

“A good quarter of the voting population is on the right, and has been for a long time now. Although they lent their support to Strache's 'freedom' party, their cause is more dear to them than any specific leader. They have been galvanised by the party's slogan 'Austria first', and want nothing better than to bring that home to the people in Brussels and foreigners in Austria. Amid widespread applause, the governing coalition in Vienna has just reduced welfare benefits for all those it thinks don't speak German well enough to below the subsistence minimum. The support for nationalist policies is so solid and widespread that it extends far beyond FPÖ voters - and even the ÖVP chancellor benefits from it on a daily basis.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

No sign of FPÖ imploding

Without the FPÖ Sebastian Kurz will have a hard time finding a new partner, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung explains:

“The chancellor is still very popular with the people, which is no doubt why he quickly opted to hold a snap election. ... But there's no sign of an implosion of the FPÖ from which the ÖVP would benefit. Back then [after the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition collapsed in 2002] the party split up owing to internal squabbling. Today it projects a united and belligerent image. Kurz will have to seek a new majority, but he can't rely on joining forces with a small party like the obvious choice, the conservative-liberal Neos, or the Greens, who would be a difficult partner for reasons of content. That leaves the Social Democrats, to whom Kurz is tied by a deep personal enmity.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Kurz is a calculating power politician

Sebastian Kurz is not acting like a sovereign leader, Der Standard complains:

“Kurz paid no heed to the warnings, and so after not even a year and a half in office he's called for a snap election. He misjudged his partner - now his political enemy - and is trying to make political hay out of it. Kurz is using his appearances as chancellor - at which everyone is waiting for an explanation of the events - for unabashed electioneering and self-praise. Instead of acting like a sovereign leader he's behaving like a barefaced tactician and party politician.”

Ukrayinska Pravda (UA) /

Kurz laughing up his sleeve

The Strache scandal will actually strengthen Chancellor Kurz's position in the early elections, suspects journalist Krystyna Bondareva in Ukrayinska Pravda:

“This is the second time that the Freedom Party's participation in government has become a problem. ... Let us recall that the Freedom Party formed a coalition with the People's Party in 1999, but the ministers of the Freedom Party were very unprofessional in their work back then. And the EU had imposed sanctions on Austria because of the participation of the far right in government. Today the Austrian liberals and the centre-left forces agree that the Freedom Party has now really proven its inability to govern a state. But in the end this scandal and the snap election will help Kurz's People's Party.”

Der Standard (AT) /

A good opportunity

Der Standard agrees that the video comes at a very propitious moment for Kurz:

“The ÖVP has recently been criticised - also by its own voters - for its cooperation with the FPÖ over the party's many right-wing 'excesses'. In order to continue governing the chancellor has already had to accept an international loss of image for himself and the entire country. The video provided the opportunity to get rid of a difficult partner. ... The image that Kurz is trying to project is that only he stands for change. In that way he has returned to the original campaign promise that led many to vote for him in the first place. But not a word has been lost about the fact that Kurz was the one who brought the far-right party into the government and made it acceptable. And not a word about the fact that as prime minister he is to blame for his government's failure.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Kurzism is finished

Conservatives all over Europe should look carefully at what is going on in Vienna now, the Financial Times counters:

“If the affair is devastating for the Freedom party, the junior coalition partner, it is also a severe embarrassment for Sebastian Kurz, Austria's young centre-right chancellor. His setback will resonate across Europe. ... He inspired other young mainstream right leaders, such as Pablo Casado in Spain and Laurent Wauquiez in France. But Mr Casado tried the Kurz approach in last month's Spanish election, with disastrous consequences. Mr Wauquiez has recently taken to emphasising that he is the leader of the right and of the centre. Kurzism as a conservative philosophy, if it ever really existed, is finished.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Whom does the Strache video benefit?

It's unclear just what publishing the video is supposed to achieve, writes Lidové noviny:

“What's fascinating about this case is how quickly the scandal broke on the basis of information that had hardly been verified. It only took two days even though it's completely unclear who's behind the video. ... And as long as the questions of how the video came about, who made it, why, and why it's only been made public now have not been answered, the classic question must be asked: cui bono? The answer could be that publishing is in the interest of fair competition and democracy in the run-up to the EU elections. But video recordings of unknown origin don't really serve that purpose.”

Ria Novosti (RU) /

A targeted attack before the EU elections

Ria Novosti is not surprised that the video wasn't published in 2017, when it was recorded shortly before the elections in Austria:

“It would have definitely sunk the Freedom Party back then. ... But on the key issues that are giving foreign powers a headache (Russian gas and immigration) the Freedom Party and the People's Party agree, which is why it would have made no sense to discredit Strache in order to secure more votes for Kurz. But now, in the run-up to the EU elections 2019, it all makes sense. More than once it has been written that in these elections all Europe's progressives are worried about the Eurosceptics, nationalists and populists securing a major success. And there's something else that is not new: the best way to discredit these 'populists' is to proclaim them 'Putin's puppets'.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

The man without qualities

Corriere della Sera points out Strache's many contradictions:

“He wanted to be a patriot but he was ready to sell his land to a Russian oligarch. He condemned the endemic merger between finance and politics while maintaining that he and his party were pure and incorruptible. But he was just waiting for someone to offer him a bribe. He cast himself as the defender of true democracy. ... But at the same time he dreamed of a Hungarian-style domesticated media. ... He never tired of saying how clever he was, or that he knew all the tricks of the trade. But he was a fool and easy prey for a young Mata Hari even before he had slung back a few glasses of champagne and vodka. That is the tragedy of this man without qualities.”