Austria’s Kurz appoints technocrats after FPÖ leaves cabinet


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Media captionThe video, from, 2017, was recorded in a villa in Ibiza

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has replaced far-right ministers with technocrats after his coalition government collapsed amid a political scandal caused by a secret video.

The far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) quit the coalition after President Alexander Van der Bellen fired FPÖ Interior Minister Herbert Kickl.

Mr Kurz, 32, is facing a no-confidence vote in parliament on Monday.

If he survives he will try to stay on until elections, probably in September.

However, his ruling centre-right People’s Party (ÖVP) has only 62 seats in the 183-seat parliament.

Two leading far-right figures were caught up in the secret video, including party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who resigned as vice-chancellor on Saturday.

His post in the caretaker cabinet is filled by Finance Minister Hartwig Löger, who is part of Mr Kurz’s surviving team.

The technocrats appointed by Mr Kurz include:

  • Former High Court judge Eckart Ratz, who becomes interior minister
  • Valerie Hackl, who was head of air traffic control and now runs the transport department
  • Lt Gen Johann Luif, who was deputy chief of staff and now becomes defence minister
  • Walter Pöltner, former top civil servant in social affairs and labour department becomes minister in same department

“All of you now carry a significant responsibility, a co-responsibility so that our homeland Austria will take a positive development,” President Van der Bellen said after the swearing-in ceremony.

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President Alexander Van der Bellen (fourth from right) and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (to his left) presented the new cabinet to the media

To survive a no-confidence vote Mr Kurz will need the support of the FPÖ or the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPÖ).

The SPÖ said it was not consulted over Mr Kurz’s choice of technocrats in the new cabinet and that it would decide on Monday how to vote.

“The chancellor has to know that if he demands confidence he first has to create it. He has to talk to all the parties and parliament as well as answer to the public. As yet he has not done that,” said SPÖ deputy parliament speaker Doris Bures.

What is in the video?

The scandal is widely being labelled “Ibiza-gate”, after the Spanish island where the video was recorded. It was made just weeks before the election which saw both the FPÖ and Chancellor Kurz’s People Party perform well.

In the footage, released last Friday by German media, far-right leader Heinz-Christian Strache can be seen relaxing and drinking for hours at a villa with FPÖ parliament group leader Johann Gudenus, while they meet a woman, purported to be the niece of a Russian oligarch.

During the conversation, Mr Strache appears to propose offering her public contracts if she buys a large stake in the Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung – and makes it support the Freedom Party.

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Media captionMr Strache said he resigned because he did not want to provide a pretext for the government’s collapse

He is heard suggesting that a number of journalists would have to be “pushed” from the newspaper, and that he wants to “build a media landscape like [Viktor] Orban” – referring to Hungary’s nationalist leader.

Many questions remain unanswered about the video itself: it is not clear who recorded or how it was offered to German media outlets.

The timing of its release – a week before European Parliament elections across the EU – has also been called into question. The Vienna prosecutor is considering a possible criminal inquiry.

Mr Strache stood down hours after the video emerged. Mr Kickl was not in the footage, but on Tuesday President Van der Bellen fired him at the request of Mr Kurz. The move prompted the FPÖ’s other ministers to resign in solidarity.

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