The V4 Report’s interview regarding Sebastian Kurz and the crisis in Austria.
The Chancellor has been removed for now, but he will be back. Whether one trusts him or not, Kurz is popular in Austria and will win the snap election in September. The question: What will his next government look like?
1. The rating of Sebastian Kurtz is quite high, his party has just won the elections in the European Parliament with the best result in its history – almost 35.5%. How competent is to take a vote of no confidence to a government with such a rating of success?
V4 Report: It was absolutely necessary based on Kurz’s rise to power and the platform that got him there. Kurz had valid reasons to replace Strache, but we question his judgement to break entirely from the FPO. It was Kurz who “borrowed” the FPO’s platform on migration to help get him elected. Moreover, Kurz was out of line to demand the dismissal of Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, who was doing an outstanding job of trying to correct the mistakes of past governments (OVP and Socialists) by designing measures to discourage the migrants from staying. This is what Kurz campaigned on…migration. If he wanted to remain as Chancellor until the new elections, he should have kept his current Coalition. It would be disingenuous for him to remain the chancellor while dismissing the other partner of the coalition that resulted from the 2017 election. In effect, Kurz wanted to continue to govern with his party only, which would have been an impossible scenario considering the results of 2017.
2. A video from 2017, in which the leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache speaks with alleged “wealthy Russian woman” who later turned out to be a Latvian citizen, was released a week before the elections to the European Parliament. Who do you think could be behind the organization of this scandal?
V4 Report: We do not know but whoever wanted to sabotage a possible future (video before election) Kurz-FPO government succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. This was well planned, and probably a combination of pro-Berlin forces aligned with the liberal old guard in Austria. We question these German papers for hiding the sources and motives behind the setup…but Strache was reckless and we have no excuses for him, or his trusted advisor that put them in this type of environment. Unfortunately, the whole FPO suffers from the negligence of two men.
3. How possible is it that new scandals will arise before the next elections to the Austrian Parliament?
V4 Report: Well, if the source of the Strache video is revealed, this would likely cause the next scandal. Somebody wanted to frame the FPO and it would be interesting to see who it was and the motive behind this sophisticated sting. Obviously, the source has their own motives for remaining anonymous.
4. How likely is that the Austrian People’s Party, headed by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, will come to power again after the results of the parliamentary elections?
V4 Report: Kurz will win the snap election but it may prove difficult to win an outright majority. The question remains as to who his next partners will be in government or what his next platform will entail. Kurz is not exactly a man of principle…except when it comes to his own advancement.
5. It is speculated that the removal of the Sebastian Kurtz government is beneficial to the Austrian Freedom Party and the Social Democratic Party of Austria. In your view, which of these two forces will benefit more from this?
V4 Report: In the short term, the FPO was damaged, especially for the EU elections. But such is life…one must keep fighting after being knocked-down. It may take some time, but the FPO is bigger than one person and the party has many talented leaders. The V4 Report is optimistic that they will be back to full strength…we just do not know when. The Socialists, as in most other countries, are melting down. They have little to offer. The former coalition of the OVP and Socialists that ruled Austria for years became quite unpopular…returning to this type of government would be a big risk for Kurz’s credibility. A new party could even emerge to take advantage of the mess. Kurz is quite savvy and we would not discount his political strength.
6. How likely is it that if Kurz returns to power, he will be able to come to some kind of consensus with the Austrian Freedom Party? What needs to be done from two sides to improve its relations?.
V4 Report: This will be very difficult; the FPO and its supporters feel betrayed and used. The reputation of Kurz as an opportunist with unbridled ambitions is growing. He tried to take credit for the initial Balkan closing in 2016 (as if Viktor Orban did not exist) and then voted for Article 7 procedures against Hungary as if trying to polish his EU credentials. While he is an adult, there is no doubt that Kurz is being influenced heavily by Othmar Karas and the old, pro-Berlin guard of the OVP. We are not sure the FPO will trust Kurz in the future, but their options may be limited as well. We will see what plays out over the next five months. For now, as hard as it may be, both should try to limit the animosity, they may need each other in the future.
* Full disclosure: The V4 Report was very optimistic regarding the coalition of Kurz and the FPO from the start. Well before Kurz vaulted to the top of his party, we envisioned this scenario and viewed the election of 2017 in Austria as a game-changer. For at least a year, this coalition was very positive for Austria and Kurz did many good things, including rejecting the UN Migration Pact. He even defied Berlin and Brussels at times, although he always had his limits.
** While not completely ready to give up on Kurz, we do not think he would be the same force without the FPO at his side, or if he refused to work with Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orban on certain issues. At this point, nothing would surprise us regarding Kurz, but we would caution against the idea of relying upon him in the future. On the other hand, it would be hard to fathom Kurz abandoning his anti-migration goals, which would be impossible to realize without the help of Salvini, Orban and the FPO.
*** After the wild speculations and untrustworthy exit polls that dominated the EU elections, it may be wise to embrace patience and to avoid the “noise” surrounding this issue. We have a feeling, there will be more to this story.