President on brief investigations: "Government crisis, but not a state crisis"

The Austrian Federal Chancellor is once again in the sights of the public prosecutor. After talks with all opposition parties, Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen reassured the Austrians: he would “watch over it with hawk eyes.”

In a televised address, the Austrian Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen described the searches in the Federal Chancellery, Ministry of Finance and ÖVP headquarters as “a very unusual process”. With a view to the censure motion of the opposition parties against the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, he called on all parties to “think first of all of the well-being of Austria”. At the same time, Van der Bellen assured: “What we are seeing here is at best a government crisis, but certainly not a state crisis.”

Investigations are still ongoing, which is why the Federal President does not want to allow himself a judgment: “We do not currently know whether these investigations will lead to an indictment or not,” he said. Until then, the presumption of innocence applies to everyone. Nevertheless, the Austrians also have rights “, among other things, to a government capable of acting,” said Van der Bellen. With the house search at Kurz, this ability to act is now called into question. Van der Bellen will therefore watch over the next few days “with eagle eyes that the ability to act and the integrity of our Federal Republic is preserved”.

Austria could not afford any “egoisms”

The past few days have shown that democracy and the rule of law work: “Our democracy is equipped for all kinds of situations, and so is this one.” However, he warned that Austria “could not afford egoism”. In view of the upcoming special session in parliament next week, he urged all parties not to think about “what they can get out of their respective party in the short term.”

Kurz and several of his confidants in the ÖVP are currently being investigated for breach of trust, bribery and corruption. According to the public prosecutor’s office, the media company “Austria” – one of the most widely read tabloids in the country – has been producing positive reports, including manipulated survey results, about the then candidate for chancellor since 2016. In return, the Kurz team is said to have used taxpayers money to buy advertisements in the newspaper for more than 1 million euros.

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It is not the first time that Kurz has been investigated: “And the public prosecutor’s office is investigating a new case, including against the incumbent Chancellor,” says the Federal President, referring to the alleged false statements made by Kurz in the Ibiza Committee of Inquiry. In May 2019, investigative journalists uncovered a video of the then Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache. In Ibiza, the FPÖ politician speaks of alleged plans to use the media to exert political influence. Then as now you can hear “a tone of disrespect for people, for the institutions of our constitutional state,” said Van der Bellen in his speech.

“What the next few days will bring cannot be said with certainty today,” says Van der Bellen at the end. As Federal President, he does not want to give advice. But he has to ensure “that there is always a stable government.”