Austrian Kurz resigns corruption probe to save coalition

  • Coalition partner the Greens demanded that he go
  • Kurz will however remain at the head of his party.
  • He is likely to continue to take the lead in government
  • Proposes the Minister of Foreign Affairs as successor, the Greens agree

VIENNA, Oct. 9 (Reuters) – Austrian conservative chancellor Sebastian Kurz resigned on Saturday to pull his coalition government from the brink of collapse after the junior party demanded his head because it was the subject of a investigation for suspicion of corruption.

The move by Kurz, who denies he has done wrongdoing, has satisfied his coalition partner, the Greens, and comes just three days before a special session of parliament in which they were set to support a motion of no confidence that would have forced him to withdraw. Read more

At the same time, his resignation is more a question of form than of substance in terms of policy. He plans to remain at the helm of his party and become its main legislator in parliament, and he is likely to continue leading the coalition.

“So I would like to give way in order to break the deadlock, avoid chaos and ensure stability,” Kurz said in a statement to the media.

He added that he was proposing that Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, a career diplomat backed by Kurz’s party, take over as chancellor, whom the Greens quickly made known they accepted.

“I think this is the right step for the future work of the government,” Greens leader and vice-chancellor Werner Kogler said in a statement, adding that he had had a “very constructive” working relationship with Schallenberg and that he would meet him on Sunday.

A star among European conservatives known for his hard line on immigration, Kurz, 35, became one of the continent’s youngest leaders in 2017 when he formed a coalition with the Extreme Freedom Party right which collapsed in a scandal in 2019. Parliament sacked him but he won the early elections that followed.

He is so far undisputed at the head of the Popular Party (OVP) – he was reappointed in August with 99.4% support.


Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is under investigation for suspected corruption offenses, delivers a statement to the Federal Chancellery in Vienna, Austria on October 9, 2021. REUTERS / Lisi Niesner

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“This resignation is not a real resignation,” said political scientist Thomas Hofer. “It is (formally) a step back in the second line but the power in the OVP and therefore within the government team of the OVP still belongs to Sebastian Kurz.”

Schallenberg, 52, who worked with Kurz when Kurz was foreign minister before becoming chancellor, is unlikely to lose the image of a man who owes his ministerial career to Kurz.

“Of course, he won’t do anything without agreeing with Sebastian Kurz first. He’s one of Kurz’s closest confidants,” Hofer said.

Prosecutors have placed Kurz and nine others under investigation on suspicion of breach of trust, corruption and bribery with varying levels of involvement.

Beginning in 2016, when Kurz sought to take over as head of the party, prosecutors suspect that the Tory-led Finance Ministry paid for manipulated polls and Kurz-friendly coverage to be published in a newspaper. Read more

Documents released as part of their investigation and published in Austrian media also included embarrassing and compromising text messages claiming that Kurz’s opponents displayed a lack of scruples and underhanded tactics.

Austrian media reported ahead of Kurz’s announcement that he would only step down temporarily. While Kurz did not say he said of his future: “Mostly … I will of course take the opportunity to rebut and refute the accusations that have been leveled against me.”

The political consequences, both in terms of the popularity of his party and its relations with the Greens, are not clear.

“Is it sufficient?” Liberal Neos leader Beate Meinl-Reisinger said at a press conference reacting to Kurz’s announcement.

“We know from the (investigative) documents that he bought himself a party, that he bought himself an election, that he manipulated and lied to people, and he did everything with it. ‘money from your taxes. “

Reporting by François Murphy, editing by William Maclean, Philippa Fletcher and Chris Reese

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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