A Reform Coalition for Austria
Parallel to the rise of the FPÖ under Heinz-Christian Strache, there was an increasing loss of support among the population for the SPÖ-ÖVP grand coalitions, which had been in place since 2007. In addition, during the summer of 2015, the Europe- wide refugee crisis led to mass immigration and its consequences for the social system and security in the country. As a result, the Freedom Party‘s immigration-critical stance gained more support. This shift in political mood was confirmed at the federal presidential elections of 2016. Norbert Hofer - who had since 2013 served as Third President of the National Council – was the Freedom Party’s candidate. He won the first round of the election and was in the final ballot narrowly defeated by Alexander Van der Bellen, who went on to become Federal President. Hofer managed to mobilise some 2.12 million voters.
The party’s success continued at the National Council elections of October 2017, when the FPÖ achieved around 25.97 per cent of the vote. Yet at over 31 per cent of the vote, the ÖVP – competing for the first time as the “New People‘s Party“ and rebranded in turquoise – emerged as the party with the most votes. Thereupon, coalition negotiations took place between the ÖVP and the FPÖ, with agreement being reached on a joint government to be led by ÖVP Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. On 18 December 2017, Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen swore in the members of the cabinet of Kurz I, which comprised representatives of the ÖVP and FPÖ.
FPÖ Federal Party Chairman Heinz Christian Strache became Vice Chancellor and Federal Minister for the Civil Service and Sport. Five further cabinet ministers and one junior minister (state secretary) were also provided by the FPÖ. The newly-swornin Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs was Karin Kneissl, a non-partisan who had been nominated by the FPÖ. The defence portfolio was taken on by Mario Kunasek, the Chairman of the Styrian branch of the FPÖ. Norbert Hofer, who had until then served as the Third President of the National Council, became Federal Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Technology. Beate Hartinger- Klein, a health manager, took on the leadership of the Health Ministry. Herbert Kickl became the first FPÖ Federal Minister of the Interior in the history of the Second Republic. Hubert Fuchs, who had until then been a member of the National Council, took on the role of State Secretary in the Ministry of Finance.
The Freedom Party’s imprint was clearly visible on the cornerstones of the turquoise- blue government programme. The government was committed, for example, to adopting a new approach in respect of migration policy, to strengthening border protection, to reforming the system guaranteeing a minimum income and to merging the various social insurance institutions. Tax reform was also being planned. Despite the government‘s positive opinion poll ratings, the coalition collapsed in May 2019, as a consequence of the fallout arising from the “Ibiza Affair”. The trigger was a compromising and apparently illegallyshot video that dated from 2017, which was published on 17 May 2019. The video depicted Heinz-Christian Strache in a private setting, on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza, as he – according to the allegations made – was engaged in negotiations with a purported female Russian investor about granting state contracts in exchange for party donations. In light of the affair, on 18 May 2019, Heinz-Christian Strache resigned as Vice-Chancellor and FPÖ Federal Party Chairman. In December 2019, he was expelled from the FPÖ. On 18 May 2019, ÖVP Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced new elections, thereby terminating the turquoise- blue coalition. As early as 27 May 2019, however, the ÖVP-led interim government was itself removed from office by a National Council motion of no confidence that had been co-sponsored by the FPÖ.