Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has called a snap election following the collapse of his coalition government. Austria’s president Alexander van der Bellen recommended that fresh elections should be held in September. He said: “This new beginning should take place quickly, as quickly as the provisions of the Federal Constitution permit, so I plead for elections in September.”
Why has the Austrian government collapsed?
The Austrian coalition government collapsed over a corruption scandal.
The fresh elections were called by Mr Kurz after secret footage of his deputy emerged.
The video shows Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache talking to an alleged Russian investor and was published by German media on Friday, but it is not known who recorded it.
Mr Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party has been in government with Mr Strache’s far-right Freedom Party.
The meeting with the Russian investor allegedly took place at a villa in Ibiza, Spain in July 2017.
The video shows Mr Strache and Johann Gudenus – also a Freedom Party politician – relaxing on sofas, drinking and talking to a woman who claims to be a wealthy Russian national looking to invest in Austria.
She offered to buy a 50 percent stake in Austria’s Kronen-Zeitung newspaper and switch its editorial position to support the Freedom Party.
In return, Mr Strache said he could award her public contracts, saying he wanted to “build a media landscape like [Victor] Orban”, a reference to Hungary’s prime minister.
He added the Russian’s takeover could boost the party’s support by as much as 34 percent.
Mr Strache said: “If you take over the Kronen Zeitung three weeks before the election and get us into first place, then we can talk about everything.
Following the scandal, Mr Kurz said he would ask the country’s President Alexander Van der Bellen to hold a new vote “as soon as possible”.
He added this was not the first time he had faced difficulties with the Freedom Party.
Mr Kurz said: “Even if I didn’t express myself publicly at the time, there were many situations that I found difficult to swallow. After yesterday’s video, I must say quite honestly: Enough is enough.
“The serious part of this was the attitude towards abuse of power, towards dealing with taxpayers’ money, towards the media in this country.”
Why is Europe worried?
The downfall of Austria’s government came just a week before the European elections.
The collapse is a blow to one of the most anti-immigrant, nationalist parties that have surged across Europe in recent years.
And the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) is now worried far-right ministers could pass information to Russia.
German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported that BfV president Thomas Haldenwang had “expressed his suspicions” to Austrian authorities.
Mr Welt wrote: “The background is the assumption that Austria could misuse and, if necessary, forward to Russia information that it receives from actual partner countries such as Germany.”
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