Since the corruption investigations against the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) came to light, events have been tumultuous. While the ÖVP has united behind party leader and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the opposition has called for his resignation.
The Greens have so far kept a low profile, and Kurz himself plans to issue a statement this afternoon. Meanwhile, the ÖVP government members announced that they only want to govern with Kurz.
Conversation With the President
Before his appointment with Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen on Thursday at 16:00, Kurz again insisted on the presumption of innocence and rejected the allegations of corruption as false. He said he would defend himself with “all democratic and legal means.”
Kurz is thus holding on to his office despite the corruption investigations against himself and his closest associates and wants to continue the coalition with the Greens. But “if the Greens no longer want to continue the cooperation and seek other majorities in parliament, that has to be accepted. We stand ready to continue the cooperation,” Kurz said. He spoke in favor of stable conditions in the country. The ÖVP will continue to do everything for this, he said.
A joint statement from ÖVP government members said, “ÖVP participation in this federal government will be exclusively with Sebastian Kurz at the helm.” It was only through Kurz’s leadership and tireless efforts that it was possible to “maintain such seamless and excellently coordinated cooperation across departmental boundaries.”
Greens Doubt Kurz’s Ability to Act
The Greens did not yet announce any concrete steps, but on Thursday questioned the chancellor’s ability to act. Green Party leader Werner Kogler and club leader Sigrid Maurer are inviting the heads of the parliamentary parties to talks, the statement said. A meeting with Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen has also been arranged. In addition, a special session of the National Council is to take place on Tuesday.
Van der Bellen asked the leaders of all parties to come to the presidential chancellery for talks – the press is waiting in front of it.
“Ensuring stability and order”
With the corruption investigations, “a new dimension has been reached. The impression is devastating, the facts must be fully clarified,” Kogler stressed: “We can not go back to business as usual, the ability of the Chancellor to act is questioned against this background.”
He continued, “We must ensure stability and order. We have a joint responsibility for our country. We must jointly ensure stability and clarification, and that is why I would like to discuss the further course of action across party lines,” Kogler opined.
Almost identical in wording, Klubobfrau Sigrid Maurer expressed herself before the start of the presidium of the National Council in the afternoon. She said in response to a question from journalists that the end of the coalition was by no means certain. But, “we can’t just go back to business as usual.” The accusations against Kurz would weigh heavily. She did not want to anticipate the talks with the Federal President and other club leaders.
Continuation of Coalition Open
As a denunciation of the Turkish-Green coalition or a new election announcement one did not want to understand the statements in the green government team. The Greens leave thus with the statement possible consequences and thus also the continuance of the coalition open.
According to a report in the Kurier, the Greens have grave doubts about further cooperation with the short-lived Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). According to insiders, the Greens would accept a reshuffle of the government.
Justice Minister Zadic: Events Shake Foundations of Democracy
Thursday at noon, Justice Minister Alma Zadic (Greens) said she stood “protectively in front of the prosecution,” as she told Ö1’s midday journal. She condemned the attacks on the judiciary. She said she sees it as her task to ensure independent investigative work. “The public prosecutor’s offices in Austria are, of course, legally obliged to investigate every suspicion,” Zadic said.
Anyone who feels the house searches were unjustified can “of course” lodge a complaint against them. “And everyone is entitled to do that, after all we live in a constitutional state. But it must be said again: The events are also shaking the foundations of our democracy, and we can’t just go about business as usual now.”
Opposition Demands Kurz Resignation
The opposition parties SPÖ, FPÖ and NEOS on Thursday again demanded the resignation of the chancellor. According to NEOS leader Beate Meinl-Reisinger, Austria needs a “new start.” To this end, they want to introduce a motion of no confidence “either together or alone.” However, new elections would not necessarily be necessary. There should also be talks with the Greens, Meinl-Reisinger said.
FPÖ leader Herbert Kickl finds Kurz “unacceptable as chancellor.” Talks with the Greens will not be closed in principle – but the Greens must clarify their own position, Kickl demanded in a statement on Thursday.
SPÖ leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner asked in a press conference what still had to happen before he resigned from office: “He can no longer carry out his office without damaging Austria.” In the turquoise ÖVP, she said, all decency had been lost.
Resentment in the Federal States, ÖVP behind Kurz
Likewise, resentment is stirring in the provinces. The heads of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) at the state level, however, demonstratively backed Kurz.
Backing also came from the ÖVP sub-organizations. Kurz is being burdened “with ever new, contrived accusations,” complained Ingrid Korosec, president of the ÖVP Seniors’ Association, on behalf of the alliances in a statement. At present the goal is obviously pursued to overthrow a successful Federal Chancellor legitimized by elections.
Kurz: “I will of course remain chancellor”
Earlier, Kurz had said Wednesday evening in ZIB2 on the question of whether the Greens would remain in the coalition: “I can not imagine anything else with the best will in the world.” He would “of course” remain chancellor.
In the ZIB2 interview, Kurz generally cast doubt on the accusations of the public prosecutor’s office, which led to raids on Wednesday, even in Kurz’s closest environment. He stressed that all the accusations – based, among other things, on the analysis of text messages from ex-ÖBAG boss and ex-secretary general in the Ministry of Finance, Thomas Schmid – would be directed against employees of the Ministry of Finance at the time.
Now it should first be examined whether these accusations are true at all, said Kurz, who himself said that he did not assume so.
Even if it should turn out that for ÖVP party purposes surveys were paid for with money from the Ministry of Finance and coverage was bought from the tabloid Österreich in exchange for advertisements, there was “no indication” that he, Kurz, had controlled this. He had been foreign minister in 2016, Kurz said – and neither party leader nor chancellor.
Kurz: “No SMS That Incriminates Me”
Kurz rejected the fact that the public prosecutor’s office in the search warrant in fact suspects Kurz of having instigated these acts. He emphasized several times that there was no text message from him in the documents that would incriminate him. When asked whether he knew of any quid pro quo, such as Schmid refers to in a text message, Kurz initially answered evasively. After insisting several times, Kurz said he could, of course, answer no.
Kurz rejected investigators’ suspicions that he had incited former ministerial colleague Sophie Karmasin to change questions for polls. He had certainly talked to her sometimes about polls, but that was quite normal, all the more so as she was running a second-generation polling institute.
Chancellor Is “Very Relaxed” About Investigations
Kurz, who – not for the first time – referred to the very high corresponding expenditures of the SPÖ-led city of Vienna in matters of advertising deals of politics with tabloid media, generally admitted a certain difficulty with these deals. Initiatives and several parties such as NEOS have been calling for years for a fundamental reform of media subsidies and an end to or at least transparency in advertising deals. However, Kurz said he could rule out “one thousand percent” ever having made or received a bogus bill or otherwise having been involved in it.
Kurz also denied that the 2016 polls had been manipulated. On the one hand, he said, other polls had produced similar results, and on the other, the ÖVP had subsequently won both elections, with opinion polls proving to be quite accurate in the process. And the fact that he had been informed about opinion polls in chats was “not relevant under criminal law.”
In conclusion, Kurz emphasized once again that none of the text messages incriminated him. He is therefore “very relaxed about the investigations.” And Kurz said he “does not understand why I should be responsible for any wrongdoing.” For the above-mentioned defendants, the presumption of innocence applies.