Austrian far-right ministers quit as chancellor Sebastian Kurz's coalition crumbles

Jon Sharman

Members of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) have quit all their ministerial roles in the Austrian government, according to reports.

It comes after chancellor Sebastian Kurz proposed to sack his interior minister, having ended his conservative People’s Party’s (OVP) coalition with the Freedom Party on Saturday.

The interior minister, Herbert Kickl, had declined to leave the government voluntarily following the schism, which was sparked when a video sting took down the country’s vice chancellor who also leads the Freedom Party.

Mr Kurz said the vacant posts would be filled by technocrats until elections can be held in September.

Heinz-Christian Strache, the vice-chancellor was caught in the apparent sting operation offering to fix state contracts for a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece.

Mr Kurz told reporters he would propose to Austria‘s president removing Mr Kickl from office after Kickl refused to go voluntarily, as Mr Strache had.

The FPO had announced that it would quit all its ministerial posts should Mr Kickl, a mastermind of the FPO’s ascent to power, be forced out, and made good on the promise after Mr Kurz’s remarks.

“I agreed with the president that we want to guarantee stability until the new elections. That’s why we’ll fill the vacant jobs in the ministries with experts or senior government officials,” Mr Kurz said.

He said this would keep the government operating effectively until snap elections due in September. Opposition parties readied a vote of no confidence in the government, and it was not clear that the FPO would side with Mr Kurz in the ballot.

German media published the video on Friday, a week before European Parliament elections and 18 months after Austria once again became the only western European country with far-right cabinet ministers. It has since been joined by Italy.

The video showed Mr Strache meeting the woman in 2017, shortly before the election that brought him into government. So far, nothing has come to light suggesting how or why the two news outlets came to publish it now.

In the footage, Mr Strache discussed rules on party financing and how to work around them. Describing the footage as “targeted political assassination”, he said he had done nothing illegal and never met the woman again.

Mr Kurz has argued Mr Kickl could not oversee an investigation into the sting that snared his party leader. But Mr Kickl, one of Austria’s best-known politicians, accused Mr Kurz of attempting a power grab for his OVP party.

“This ministry was for many ... years the linchpin of the engine of a ruthless OVP power system in this republic,” Mr Kickl said, adding that for Mr Kurz ”it therefore had to come back under the OVP’s control, no matter the cost”.

His position is especially sensitive given the FPO’s ties to Russia. It has a cooperation agreement with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

Additional reporting by Reuters