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The “Ibiza Affair”

The so-called “Ibiza Affair” involved Heinz-Christian Strache, who had since 2005 served as the FPÖ’s Federal Party Chairman, and the Vienna FPÖ politician Johann Gudenus. It related to the publication of an illegal video recording of the former FPÖ leader, made in a private setting in a villa on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Ibiza. This led directly to the collapse of the turquoise-blue federal government of ÖVP and FPÖ, which had only been inaugurated in December 2017. In addition, Heinz-Christian Strache had to resign from the offices of Vice-Chancellor of the Republic and FPÖ Federal Party Chairman. The consequence for the FPÖ were considerable: in autumn 2019, there were premature National Council elections, with substantial losses for the FPÖ. On the other hand, notwithstanding extensive investigations, the people really behind the video remain unknown.

On 17 May 2019, the German news magazine “Der Spiegel” and the German daily newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” published excerpts from a video secretly filmed on Ibiza in July 2017. The video depicted the then FPÖ Federal Party Chairman, Heinz-Christian Strache, and his long-time confidante, Johann Gudenus, together with an alleged investor and purported niece of a Russian oligarch. The woman was clearly intended to serve as bait for the video, which was seemingly produced by a Viennese detective and security adviser, who was active in Germany and in Austria, as well as by a Viennese lawyer. The published excerpts implied that the two FPÖ politicians were negotiating donations to the FPÖ in return for state contracts in the event that the FPÖ entered government. Moreover, the statements in the sequences, which were filmed prior to the 2017 National Council election, also fuelled suspicions of illegal party financing and the planned appropriation of certain Austrian media. The video was even more explosive because it was made public shortly before the European Parliament elections of 26 May 2019. However, nothing was subsequently revealed about others who had masterminded the video, or commissioned it. Nonetheless, it was suspected that the relevant material had already been offered to various media and to other political parties in exchange for money.

As a result, on 18 May 2019, Vice-Chancellor and FPÖ Chairman Heinz-Christian Strache resigned from all functions with immediate effect. In his statement, Strache stressed that he was both resigning as Vice-Chancellor and giving up his FPÖ functions at the level of the federal party and in the Vienna provincial branch. He justified his decision by reference to the FPÖ’s desire to continue to implement the government programme with the ÖVP. He stated that his person should not be the reason for making this impossible. Immediately thereafter, Johann Gudenus – who had been Executive Chairman  of the FPÖ National Council Parliamentary Party since the party entered government in 2017 – issued a written statement that he too was resigning from all political offices.

The FPÖ thereupon designated the blue Minister for Transport, Norbert Hofer, as the new party leader. Hofer was eventually officially elected as the new FPÖ Party Chairman in September 2019, at the 33rd Ordinary Federal Party Conference in Graz. In the meantime, two possible variants for the future fate of the turquoise-blue coalition had been brought into play: premature new elections, or a continuation of the government, with Norbert Hofer as the new Vice-Chancellor. Yet on the evening of 18 May 2019, ÖVP Chancellor Sebastian Kurz terminated the coalition with the FPÖ and spoke out in favour of new elections at the earliest possible date.

The next blow came on 20 May 2019. In response to Sebastian Kurz's recommendation to Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen that the latter dismiss FPÖ Minister for the Interior Herbert Kickl from the government, all Freedom Party members of the federal government resigned from their posts. This meant that the turquoise-blue coalition was finally history and with it, the FPÖ’s fourth participation in federal government since 1983. The FPÖ once again found itself in the role of parliamentary opposition.

Kurz then presented a transitional government, which was to consist of experts, or top civil servants. However, on 27 May 2019, the SPÖ, the FPÖ and the Liste JETZT of the former Green politician Peter Pilz toppled the government under ÖVP Chancellor Sebastian Kurz with a National Council vote of no confidence. At the initiative of the Social Democrats, all three parties voted to express no confidence in the entire federal government. Together, the SPÖ, the FPÖ and the Liste JETZT had the necessary majority of National Council seats. In the end, Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen inaugurated a new federal government under interim Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein, all of the members of which were high-ranking civil servants. The aim was to guarantee an orderly transition until the National Council elections of 29 September 2019.

Here you can download The FPÖ Parliamentary Party Group’s Final Report on the Ibiza Committee of Investigation.

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