Abuses government money, press influence, incriminating app calls. Following police raids at ministries, the ÖVP party office and the chancellery Wednesday, Austria is amazed by an unprecedented political scandal. The 35 year old Chancellor Sebastian Kurzs lightning career seems to be the result of bribery, political argue and abuse of power.
Austrians already speak of House of Kurz, after all, the comparison with the Machiavellian Frank Underwood from the Netflix series House of Cards insists on itself. With massaged polls, Kurz would first have capitalized his own party leader, and then win Chancellorship. The playbook before that was named Projekt Ballhausplatz, after the official residence of the Austrian head of government.
“Kurz has survived a lot of crises and allegations, but now its going to be very difficult for him,” says Germany correspondent Wouter Zwart. “He himself and the whole cabal around him, who calls himself The Family, is called by name and then. There seems to have been a clear campaign to raise Kurz on the shield.”
Austrian prosecutors happened to come across reports of the popularity campaign in app calls on confiscated phones. The D.A. men tions ten people, including explicitly Kurz himself and his closest associates. “Sebastian Kurz was the pivot, all crimes have been primarily in his best interests,” the prosecutor said.
A political prodigy was Kurz, Zukunftshoffnung from his conservative Volkspartei, who struggled on the right to find an answer to the populist FPÖ. Secretary of State at 24, Foreign Minister three years later and ambitions to become Chancellor in 2017.
“He had the image of a young, handsome politician, as we also met Obama, Trudeau and Macron at the time,” says Zwart. “Without the publicity campaign that he is now being referred to, he might have made it. You might ask yourself: That guy doesnt need that, is it?”
The Family played frisierte polls to tabloid Österreich of media mogul Wolfgang Fellner. “Survey assignment: with SK everything better,” the summary of the plan read.
This was initially polls in which then party leader Mitterlehner was portrayed as a chance less or Kurz as a goldfob. “The ÖVP is tough,” said an analysis by Österreich, for example. “Its waiting for a new chef, Sebastian Kurz.” With the bad ÖVP poll, Kurz was in his minds: “Thank you for Österreich”, he responded to his close collaborator, Thomas Schmid.
When Kurz had pushed his predecessor to the side, the ÖVP just took another jump in the polls. Meanwhile, the surveys were also used to underline the popularity of his views or the lack of confidence in other candidates. According to the prosecutors, a pre-agreed outcome was passed on at least once.
Schmid called the stories in the newspaper “a genius investment”. “And Fellner is a capitalist. Whoever pays determines. Lovely.” The Family even appealed to the publisher if coverage did not go by appointment. “What a brutality, you dont build trust,” they bit him when a story was not published. “Were really savage, mega sauer.”
Schmid also stressed his accomplices that financial commitments should be made to Fellner. In the app, he explained how to play that through his brother: “Helmuth Fellner – for the pennies. Wolfgang Fellner – for content.”
According to the Austrian prosecutors, this was advertising revenue paid by the Ministry of Finance to Österreich for an advertising campaign, which the newspaper strongly denies. In addition, taxpayers would have been used to pay sham bills for the favourable polls. Prosecutors cite an amount of almost one and a half million euros.
According to the prosecutors, Kurz, together with Schmid as a senior employee at the Ministry of Finance, had chosen this construction because he was difficult to finance the polls for his palace revolution within the ÖVP from the party cash.
Political future uncertain
Kurz strongly denies the allegations and refuses to step up despite the growing political pressure. “I will defend myself against these false accusations with all the legal and democratic means I have.” His party also stands square behind him: all his ministers have promised to leave the coalition with the Greens if Kurz has to leave.
Wouter Zwart doubts that that will be sufficient. “Kurz has been accused of something more often and has never been convicted, but it seems only a matter of time now. The prosecutors office and police do not raid ministries and premises of the Prime Minister and his party.if there is not very clear evidence that something went wrong.”
Kurzs fate is now in the hands of his coalition partner. With the entire opposition united against him, it is the question of how many Greens will join the announced vote of no confidence next Tuesday.
Zwart: “It was difficult to build this coalition last year, because the parties are natural opposites. They then found each other in the agreement that the ÖVP was allowed to pursue a strong immigration policy and the Greens had a strong climate agenda. But the Greens also advocated anti-corruption and transparent government. Then you cant sell it anymore to continue supporting this Chancellor.”