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Austria’s scandal shows the danger of cosying up to the far Right

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21.05.2019

The thrills of populist breakthrough parties are as nothing compared to the spills that often follow. A sudden unravelling of Austria’s governing coalition is a riveting reminder of the risks traditional politicians take when they seek to boost sagging appeal by courting those once on the margins. The bizarre “Ibiza scandal” reaches far beyond Austria, which is surveying the wreckage of a partnership that seemed to promise a model of harnessing fire on the Right and embedding it in mainstream party politics.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has just seen his coalition partner, the far-Right Freedom Party, implode after its leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who was Vice-Chancellor, was caught in a video sting. He was seen discussing the possibility of illegal donations and the purchase of a powerful tabloid newspaper, in return for state contracts. A woman posing as the niece of a would-be Russian donor provided the political honeytrap.

Strache should have trusted his instincts when he suspected her of not being a wealthy Russian “because her toenails were dirty”. The plotline was half The Night Manager, half Mr Bean. He and another colleague present for the six hours of revels in a holiday villa have resigned, and the Freedom Party’s interior minister has followed — leaving Austrians facing elections this year.

But the most intriguing figure in this spicy Vienna stew — with reverberations for panicking conservatives across the EU — is not venal and witless Strache but the far sharper Chancellor. Still only 32, Kurz has become the most interesting conservative........

© Evening Standard