Far-Right Freedom Party, Vienna, Kurtz discussed on FT World Weekly

FT World Weekly


The financial times, as new headquarters in Bracken house, I'm getting in Rachman, and today, we're discussing Austria, where the governing coalition has just collapsed after the far-right Freedom Party were discredited by a sting operation by journalists apparently that showed them apparently open to corruption and to Russian influence. Joining me to discuss on. This is European editor, Ben who'll here in the studio in London. And on the line from Vienna. Our correspondent there Sam Jones Ben festival. It's a slightly convoluted tale. Can you describe what happened? Yes. So Hunterston star who was deputy chancellor of Austria and leader of the far-right Freedom Party was filmed in a covert recording in a Spanish villa discussing illicit party donations in return for government contracts with a wealthy, Russian or woman proposing to be the niece of Russian oligarch. This video was filmed in two thousand seventeen. Before the parliamentary elections, so before he took power, and that doesn't seem to be any evidence that he ever followed through on these discussions, but it was clearly to bigger political scandal for him or for Sebastian Kurz, the chancellor, to ignore and was forced to resign as party leader. And as vice chancellor, so Sam you're in Vienna. I mean did this threaten the actual government itself? While is chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is a sort of wonder kin of European politics, only thirty two years old and much praised in some circles up until now. How's he coping yet? It precipitated a full-on government crisis as soon as they moved to get rid of stock. He resigned there was then this question over the future of the rest of the year ministers in the cabinet of which, there are four and among the ministries, they control our defense, and the ministry of the interior, being particularly sensitive ones given the revelations in this video and so- Kurtz made clear eventually on some. Sunday that he would like the entire esta ministerial team to resign. And then they resisted him, and eventually, when he tried to get rid of Herbert kick, oh, the interior minister, the FBI resigned on mass and they've gone into opposition against the government and we still actually don't know whether Kurtz will be able to weather this crisis because there is a no confidence vote now scheduled against him on Monday. And so far, the social Democrats who have in their power to decide the outcome of that vote really of sort of wavered as to whether they will or they won't support Kurtz, the key question for them being that. There are the actual elections coming up in September. And those are the sort of prize, they need to focus on, really rather than getting distracted by this political crisis of the moment. So Ben, let's look at the wider European context because I'm an Australia's relatively small country. But this scandal has happened on the eve of the European parliamentary elections, in which the rise of the foul writer, which the Freedom Party. An important component is a big big theme. So how does this fit into the broader European picture will? It's obviously an embarrassment to the other far right? Parties who have teamed up with the Freedom Party, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the hard right league in Italy is orchestrating a new alliance of which the Freedom Party was going to be part. And so the question is, whether it rebounds in those various, national campaigns. Emmanuel Macron, France's certainly using it as a stick to beat marine Le Pen, the French follow right leader, but we'll have to see how it will pan out. I think the significant thing is that Sebastian cooks was blazing. A trail that many conservatives want to go down in Europe, which is shifting away from sort of consensual Centigram, politics, two more right wing, politics, where the center, right? People's parties of Europe, actually cooperate with hard-right parties and take European a more right wing direction. That's what courts was doing in Austria. And that's what quite a few of a nationalist forces, want to do on a European scale. And the fact that it blown up in Vienna. I think presages pretty badly for that kind of route to a more conservative European politics because Amancio, say courts was a bit of a hero. She some on the right in Germany, where I was last week, a lot of people, this is just before the scandal broke, what talking about him as offering a potential model for German politics, which had got sort of, as they saw it stuck in the sort of squishy center. Merckel not really a conservative, as they sort, and that maybe this could be a coach in future for Germany, but perhaps that looks less convincing. Now, I think he probably does. I think he probably has much of the time that he's being chancellor. He has been a bit of a hero for conservatives in Germany, who are fed up with Angela Merkel's centrism and still can't forgive her for opening German doors to the migrant influx in two thousand fifteen in two thousand sixteen and I think he's not just considered in Germany conserved his. In france. Conservatives in Spain who feel that cooks may be had the answer to an insurgent far right? Which is you move onto some of their territory, you may be cooperate with them. But you contain them that way electorally now to a degree that is what happened in Australia in the sense that courts and his People's Party all pretty popular. And they have managed to stop the Freedom Party from overtaking them. But many would argue well what cost essentially, he enabled the Freedom Party to come into power and to do things, which normal center, right parties, wouldn't do vilifying, Muslim, immigrants and infiltrating the security services. So there was a price to pay and the question for courts is whether that damages him politically, and Sam, I mean, this whole question of Russian influences a fascinating, one isn't it because I mean it should be noted that the people that Straka was interviewed with were not actually representing Russian interests. It was a sting and. Yet via generally in this current government has become a source of more welcoming port for Putin's Russia, which is looking for ways of breaking the European Union and Bogo on them. Yeah, I mean, there's sort of two elements to this really one is the story of the F, and the Freedom Party that is, and their particular embrace of Russia, which has been a project is being an intrinsic part of their modernisation, if you like they're sort of turnaround from being a quite traditional if you like nasty Nazi party into a more outward-looking open looking far right? Populist party, which is a good undistracted, and that fifteen year project right from the get-go involved relations with Russia. And of course, the timing worked that because it was around the mid-2000s that Putin began his own turned toward social conservatism in Russian politics to shore up his own political base. So the ideological currents they're made sense. That, that link should develop. But really, since then there's been this infused Jassem to put it mildly for all things Russia, and Russian policy. And it's not just the F, B, O main party. But also all of these organizations the student societies, the youth movements that are connected with them that have mushroomed in Vienna and made the city, a real hub for Russian influence in Europe. The second part to this question, though, is actually the much longer standing historical connections between Austria, and the Austrian state and Russia, because the unsaid part of this story is that actually the Russian government still has excellent contacts. If not better contacts between longstanding senior figures in the Kremlin and mainstream Australian parties and every Australian government of the past fifty or so years, has been very careful to cultivate relations with Russia and for the Russians as well their relationship with the FBI is really just one of convenience. I think based on the fact that the F B owes becoming. This major political force in Australia, and therefore, they needed contact with them. But they've been quite careful the Russians one of the open questions about this struck a video was. Why was then no money previously. That had actually come from Russia. Why was struck her having to accept this money from this as Russian in less? He didn't have money material support from Russia analysts we've spoken to here, sort of seemed to suggest will that portrays the reality of the situation that the has this ideological bond, but not really much of a substantive bond with Russia. And actually, the substantial connections are still with the mainstream Australian parties and Ben. I'm going back to the pan-european side of it, of course, this question of sympathy for Russia is a bit of a theme that runs through all of the resurgent far-right from Salvini league in this lead FDA and Germany lapenne in France. In a way, I suppose for those who grew up in the Cold War was sort of the right as the titular. Urging to Russia. It's an interesting change, isn't it it is. Although would say clearly Vladimir Putin and his style of government and his disparaging of a decadent west sort of fits in with a lot of the far-right narrative, and also autocratic ruler who is not constrained by political correctness or constitutional niceties. The one thing though, is that it doesn't unite all of the nationalist ultra conservative movements in Europe at all. In fact, it's quite a big fault line running through them. And it's why ultimately Poland's law and Justice party will not join with Salvini instructor and lapenne because they distrust Russia, too much. And their view is also echoed, I think, by this Weeden Democrats and possibly some of the other Nordic countries. So I think it's the one reason why you will not have one super far right nationalist party in Europe because of differences over this question. And finally, Sam we've spoken about the way in which the coulds brand. If you like has been damaged perhaps temp. Early in the rest of Europe. Does he still though seem to be likely to be in command of Austrian politics? I mean, how people reading this envenom it's been a tumultuous couple of days where just two days ago. For example, the social Democrats seem to be saying they were going to support the no confidence vote, and then the peo- like they might be supported in that which would have been enough to get rid of Kurtz. But I think he will maintain his grip on the chancellery. I mean for one thing in all of the press, conferences, he has given his performance has been a sort of model of command and authority and control and is very much trying to play the statesman card. He has been helped an awful lot in that by Australia's president Alexander van der Bellen who's a much older figure, but also somebody from a liberal background, who is therefore able to bring along a lot of the center ground in Austria with him. And because he's been working with Kurtz over the past few days. I think that's been the crucial element. That's allowed Kurtz, too. Maintain his credibility, assuming he survives Mondays no confidence vote, which I think he probably will, but could be famous last words, then, of course, we then have a number of months until the September election. And I don't think anyone in that time is going to be seeking to bring down the government because it will be too bad for the campaigning because it will allow Kurtz who still is a member of the largest and most Popular Party in Austria, and still has extremely strong, personal opinion polling ratings. It will allow him to portray himself as the candidate stability and his opponents as those who are seeking to destabilize the Austrian state. Okay. Well, it sounds like we haven't heard the last of item is to cuts all the F B O, but we'll leave it there for now. Thank you very much indeed, to Sam Jones in Vienna to Ben who here in the studio in London..

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