Why Austria’s youngest chancellor was stripped of immunity

And how the charges against him influenced the position of the right in Europe The deprivation of the former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of parliamentary immunity opens the way for an investigation into the corruption case. The acquittal may not be enough to resume the political career of the Austrian

Sebastian Kurz

Why Kurz supported the removal of immunity

The lower house of parliament & mdash; National Council of Austria & mdash; on Thursday, November 18, she unanimously voted to remove parliamentary immunity from ex-chancellor of the country Sebastian Kurz, who currently heads the faction of the Austrian People's Party and remains its leader. Kurz himself supported the decision, which gives the Austrian Prosecutor's Office for Economic and Corruption Crimes to complete the investigation into the politician, and asked his party members to vote in his favor. The ex-chancellor in the course of the entire case denies the charges against him and believes that the lifting of his immunity will contribute to the speedy completion of the process begun against him.

Earlier, on October 9, 35-year-old Kurz had to resign as head of government, thus avoiding a vote of no confidence due to allegations of corruption. He held the post of chancellor since 2017, having headed the cabinet of ministers four years ago, he became the youngest head of government not only in the history of Austria, but also in the world (at that time).

According to investigators, Kurz and his closest associates are involved not only in corruption, but also in the abuse of trust. They are charged with bribing the Austrian newspaper & Ouml; sterreich, which published articles and opinion polls that positively affect the image of Kurz and his party, as well as bribery and abuse of office between 2016 and 2018. Federal Treasury funds were used to fund polls on behalf of a political party and its top official, these polls were exclusively motivated by party politics, and sometimes they were manipulated, the New York Times quoted a statement from the accusatory side. The results of the polls were published in the media owned by Ouml; sterreich Media Group, “ without advertising, '' the prosecutor's office said. Prosecutors said that in exchange for favorable coverage, they suspect that the “ payments were made to the media conglomerate. ''

It is also about the fact that, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria (Kurz held this post from 2013 to 2017), he worked to undermine the credibility of the leader of his own party, which was then Reinhold Mitterlehner, in order to take his place. The accusations are based, among other things, on 500-page correspondence in the chat rooms and messengers of Kurz with his confidants. According to the publication Der Spiegel, which has partially familiarized itself with the content of these correspondences, their publication could cause serious political damage to Kurz, as it shows his disdain not only towards representatives of the opposition, but also towards his own party members.

For Kurz, the current scandal is the second in his political career. So, at the end of May 2019, for the first time in post-war Austrian history, a vote of no confidence was passed against him against the backdrop of a scandal dubbed the Ibiza Gate. Then a video from 2017 was released, in which Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and the leader of the Freedom Party Johann Gudenus discussed in Ibiza with a woman who introduced herself as the niece of the Russian oligarch, the possibility of broad coverage of their activities in a positive manner in exchange for government contracts. Despite the widespread resonance from this event, Kurz and his party then managed to win again in early parliamentary elections and head the government in September 2019.

How the scandal affected the position of the conservatives in Austria

This time, Kurz's chances of regaining the top post are not so high, the Der Standart newspaper notes. The newspaper believes that the main risk for the politician is that the investigation may drag on for an indefinite period. The ex-chancellor, accustomed to being in the spotlight, has now gone into the shadows and is trying to refrain from public speaking and comments. This situation is unlikely to suit an ambitious politician and can push him to reckless actions, the newspaper writes. Nevertheless, even finding himself “ in the background '', Kurz did not move away from running the country and continues to play a leading role in making important decisions, the newspaper notes. Bloomberg even compares the current situation with the Russian period of 2008 – 2012, when Dmitry Medvedev was president, and prime minister & mdash; Vladimir Putin. 'New Medvedev' in this case could be Alexander Schallenberg, the loyalist to whom Kurz handed over his position.

Der Spiegel, in turn, writes about serious reputational costs and the loss of popularity of both the chancellor and his party amid a corruption scandal. According to the newspaper, previously convinced supporters of Kurz within the party are trying to distance themselves from him, and a vacuum is created around the politician. While he still has support in Vienna, things are different outside the capital, including at the level of the heads of the federal states representing his party. Kurz becomes an asset that they want to get rid of. This is also facilitated by a strong drop in the popularity of both the politician himself and his party. The downward trend in popularity emerged even against the background of the country's inconsistent policy in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and was finally consolidated after Kurz was charged with corruption. As of the end of October, the popularity rating of the Austrian People's Party did not exceed 23%. The popularity of the ex-chancellor showed a negative result at all. For example, the number one politician in the country, whose rating in the most successful moments could reach 77%, now faces 60% negative reviews.

How the position of the right-wing was shaken in Europe

The corruption scandal, in the center of which was Kurz, causes significant damage to the European People's Party & mdash; the largest faction in the European Parliament, Politico notes. According to the newspaper, Kurtz was a 'rising star' of this party, and its fall, which coincided with the end of the era of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, leaves the center-right not only without reliable support, but also without a role model. With the likely coming to power in Germany of liberals led by the Social Democratic Party, Slovenian Ljubljana will become the westernmost conservative capital of Europe, and the EPP itself, whose founders included ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi, will lose its influence.

The Washington Post notes that the crisis of the conservatives is spreading not only in the structures of the EU, but also in the countries of the union. As an example, the newspaper cites the defeat of the Christian Democratic and Christian Unions bloc in the elections in Germany in September and the subsequent internal party crisis, and also recalls the recent decision of the French court to issue a second conviction in the Sarkozy case for embezzlement of funds during the election campaign. His party was never able to recover from the first verdict, the newspaper reminds. “ Perhaps this is the end of the big popular parties '', & mdash; quoted by Peter Hayek, political analyst at Public Opinion Strategies in Vienna. “ Since the 1970s and 1980s, voters have distanced themselves from these traditional parties for a long time, '' & mdash; the expert recalled, noting that the personalities of Kurz and Merkel helped smooth this trend.

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