The multiple crises facing Europe in terms of defence, health, energy, immigration, inflation and the economy are generating ground shaking political changes in all countries as voters call for strong leadership prepared to deal with the problems that most concern citizens. In Lower Saxony in Germany today a vote for the regional government returned a massive increase in support for the far right political party the AfD. There is clearly a ground swell of change breaking in Europe’s heartlands.
In Austria, since the “temporary” departure of the long-standing charismatic party leader Heinz Christian Strache, the FPÖ has been in a maelstrom of intrigues and steady erosion.
Their former leader Heinz Christian Strache was ousted by a sting operation which lured him into a shabby staged video that compromised his reputation during his Ibiza vacation in July 2017.
Alongside Jörg Haider, who died in 2008, HC Strache was the second major FPÖ personality to have had a decisive influence on Austrian domestic politics for over 15 years. He led his FPÖ from 3% to over 26% in elections. In Vienna, HC Strache even achieved 31% as FPÖ mayoral candidate in 2015.
The so-called Ibiza scandal involved a video filmed at a private holiday dinner which presented Strache as corrupt. The final video edited “highlights’ were published in full (2020). During the filming Strache was demonstrably unwilling to take illegal or corrupt actions and he has consistently rejected accusations to the contrary. However a short manipulatively edited video sequence which distorted the truth was published in the Spiegel and the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
In this edited film clip, Strache was portrayed as corrupt and indecent with the sole purpose of bringing him down by fair means or foul.
Strache resigned as Vice Chancellor and FPÖ leader on 20 May 2019. He resigned to ensure the successful continuation of the ÖVP-FPÖ government.
Strache’s first successor was Norbert Hofer, who failed within a very short time and quickly threw in the towel.
The current “Freedom” party leader Herbert Kickl has struggled to fill the shoes of Strache, because basically Kickl lacks charisma. He does not have a winning manner, is a poor speaker, shows no social empathy and appears lumpy in his dealing with citizens.
In recent months it has become apparent that Kickl and his associates have operated with intrigues and anonymous complaints against Strache with targeted defamation. In the course of the current investigations by the public prosecutor’s office, it is likely that some details of their actions will emerge.
In 2019, Kickl betrayed Strache and had him excluded from the FPÖ – some well-informed circles in the Austrian police and judiciary even speak of a years-long constructed expense destruction campaign against his former mentor and boss HC Strache. Paradoxically, Kickl was involved in the party when the FPÖ organs decided on expenses, so there is an element of inconsistency here.
There is obviously also an element of jealousy and a feeling of inferiority on the part of Kickl. Strache was always an extremely talented front figure popular with the people and his political comeback in Austria in the future will undoubtedly be popular. It is unlikely that Kickl will be able to make a serious claim to leadership. He is not an internationally valued interlocutor, and plays no role in any European or internationally organised association of like minded conservatives.
It is therefore only a matter of time before there is a leadership challenge. HC Strache’s comeback to mainstream Austrian politics would make him the logical choice as the conservative leader of choice.