Nationalist right crumbles in Austria

Heinz-Christian Strache © Getty images
Heinz-Christian Strache: promised contracts for cash

A “lurid” video showing Austria’s vice-chancellor and Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache “promising state contracts for cash” to a woman claiming to be a relative of a Russian oligarch has brought down the Austrian government, says Jonathan Tirone for Bloomberg. Strache was forced to resign. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also fired the interior minister, Herbert Kickl. That was a “bridge too far” for the rest of the Freedom Party (FPO), and its ministers resigned en masse. With the coalition between that party and Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party now over, Kurz has agreed to call fresh elections in September.

Ditching the far right may be a blessing in disguise for Kurz, however, says Valerie Hopkins in the FT. Even before the coalition was formed, the FPO earned intense criticism for signing a co-operation agreement with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. Despite this, the FPO was given control of all three of Austria’s intelligence services, prompting the agencies of other Western countries to limit their co-operation with Austria.

Kurz may now strengthen his party’s position in a new election if he can win over disgruntled Freedom Party voters, says Matthew Karnitschnig for Politico. By contrast, Europe’s far-right parties are likely to face “uncomfortable questions” on the eve of the European elections about their own relationships with “unsavoury Russian actors”, as they have generally pursued “a similarly Russia-friendly strategy” to the FPO. At the very least, the other far-right parties are likely to try to distance themselves from the Austrians, complicating efforts to unite Europe’s far-right parties into a new political alliance.