The Fall of Sebastian Kurz?

Media Coverage | June 18, 2019

After a Shocking Scandal, Austria's Conservative Wunderkind Is Down but Not Out

In July 2017, Austria’s then vice chancellor and leader of the right-wing populist Freedom Party (FPÖ), Heinz-Christian Strache, spent a vodka-and–Red Bull–fueled night on the Spanish island of Ibiza with one of his closest political allies, Johann Gudenus, the former deputy mayor of Vienna. Over drinks in a luxury villa, the two men attempted to collude with a woman they believed to be the niece of a Russian oligarch. Their aim was to use Russian money to sway the outcome of Austria’s upcoming parliamentary election. Unfortunately for Strache and Gudenus, the whole thing was secretly recorded on video.

The fallout from IbizaGate, as the scandal quickly became known, has plunged Austria into its biggest political crisis since the end of World War II. On May 17, two German newspapers, the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Der Spiegelpublishedextracts from the six-hour video. They showed Strache offering the Russian woman government contracts and a stake in Austria’s most important tabloid, the Kronen Zeitung, in exchange for her campaign support. Although it is still unclear who was behind the elaborate sting operation, its political consequences were immediate. At the time the videos were released, Strache’s party, the FPÖ, was the junior partner in a coalition government with the center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). Within 24 hours of IbizaGate, he resigned as party leader and deputy head of government. That same day, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the ÖVP called for snap elections and replaced all FPÖ ministers with technocratic caretakers. A mere nine days later, a parliamentary vote of no confidence forced Kurz and his entire government out of office. A new caretaker government, led by Austria’s first female chancellor, Brigitte Bierlein, will be in power until a new coalition government can be formed after elections in September.

Having served a mere 525 days in office, the thirty-two-year-old Kurz has entered the annals of Austrian history as the shortest-serving chancellor of the postwar era and the only head of government ever to be toppled by a no-confidence vote. His ouster was a stunning reversal for a politician whom the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, had only a year ago praised as a “rock star.” Ultimately, the secret to Kurz’s success—his willingness to move the ÖVP to the right while bringing the FPÖ into government—also proved to be his undoing.

Read the full article in Foreign Affairs. 

The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the EastWest Institute