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Heinz-Christian Strache (1969 – )

FPÖ Federal Party Chairman from 2005 to 2019

Chairman of the FPÖ Parliamentary Party in the National Council from 2006 to 2017

Vice-Chancellor of the Republic of Austria from 2017 to 2019

Provincial Party Chairman, FPÖ Vienna from 2004 to 2019

 

Heinz-Christian Strache – who also goes by the name HC Strache – led the FPÖ for 14 years as its federal party chairman. During his chairmanship, the FPÖ increased its share of the national vote to in excess of 25 per cent. Moreover, like Jörg Haider before him, Strache shaped an era of party history. Strache started his political career as district party chairman in Vienna’s Landstrasse district. In 2005, Vienna-born Strache was elected FPÖ federal party chairman and in 2006, he became a member of the Austrian National Council. In 2017, Strache led the FPÖ into a coalition with the ÖVP and became Vice-Chancellor. Yet the FPÖ’s participation in government was overshadowed by the “Ibiza Affair”, which led to Strache resigning from all his political positions and subsequently resulted in him being expelled from the party.

Short biography

Heinz-Christian Strache was born in Vienna on 12 June 1969. He was raised by his mother who was a single parent and attended boarding school for a period of time. After graduating from high school, Heinz-Christian Strache trained as a dental technician. He then worked as a self-employed dental technician and also undertook his military service in the Austrian Armed Forces.

The Viennese-born politician's political career began in 1991, when Heinz-Christian Strache became a Freedom Party district councillor in Vienna's 3rd district (Landstrasse), where he also served as FPÖ district party chairman from 1993. Strache was an FPÖ member of Vienna’s Provincial Parliament and Municipal Council from 1996 to 2006. In 2004, Strache finally rose to become chairman of the FPÖ Vienna.

Within the FPÖ, Heinz-Christian Strache was originally considered a supporter of Jörg Haider. Nonetheless, in light of a series of FPÖ electoral defeats (the party having been in a coalition with the Austrian People's Party under Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel continuously since 2000) he became one of the most prominent critics within the FPÖ of how the party was operating within the federal government. Yet the role which the FPÖ was playing within the government was supported by both Carinthia’s Governor, Jörg Haider, and by the new FPÖ federal party chairwoman, Ursula Haubner. Meanwhile, Heinz-Christian Strache had long been regarded within the FPÖ as a young talent with the potential for a future federal-level career.

An escalation of the internal party conflict ensued and on 4 April 2005, the FPÖ leadership left the party and founded the movement “Alliance for the Future of Austria” (Bündnis Zukunft Österreich, or BZÖ). Jörg Haider played a leading role in the founding of this movement. With the support of his sister, Ursula Haubner, who had until then been the FPÖ’s leader, and of the Freedom Party’s Vice-Chancellor, Hubert Gorbach, he was able to persuade the entire FPÖ government team and several members of the FPÖ parliamentary party to join the BZÖ. Almost all political observers therefore viewed the Freedom Party’s future prospects as slim. The FPÖ now had only two National Council members who professed a clear commitment to the party’s line. Moreover, the party was faced with a huge mountain of debt. Nevertheless, the party grass roots had by and large not switched to the BZÖ. With the exception of Carinthia, the Freedom Party’s provincial branches had all remained loyal to the FPÖ.

At the 27th regular FPÖ federal party conference held in Salzburg on 23 April 2005, 90.1 per cent of the delegates voted to elect Heinz-Christian Strache as the new federal party chairman. The new leadership’s intention was to make headway as an edgy opposition party, a "social homeland party", now emphasising above all topical issues such as the preservation of Austria’s ‘Leitkultur’ (core culture). The new chairman was to be assisted by a seasoned team comprising two FPÖ general secretaries: Herbert Kickl and Harald Vilimsky. Marketing was optimised by creating the brand of "HC" and attaching that to the new leader, with a view to thereby enabling the party to also reach younger members of the public. And the new start paid off; an early sign of the FPÖ’s revival with Heinz-Christian Strache at the helm came at the Vienna state and municipal elections of 23 October 2005. The FPÖ achieved 14.83 per cent of the vote, which placed it third, behind the SPÖ and the ÖVP. In November 2005, Heinz-Christian Strache was also elected chairman of the FPÖ parliamentary party in Vienna’s provincial parliament and held this position until 2006.

The party also consolidated its position at the federal level. The first occasion at which Strache assumed the role of nationwide lead party candidate (‘Spitzenkandidat’) was at the National Council election of 1 October 2006. The FPÖ achieved 11.04 per cent of the vote, while the BZÖ just managed to scrape into Parliament, on merely 4.11 per cent of the vote. The FPÖ had thus proven itself to be the more successful party in the Third Camp ‘divorce’. What was to follow was an almost identical repeat under Heinz-Christian Strache of the FPÖ’s earlier rise under Haider. At the National Council election of 28 September 2008, the party was already scoring 17.54 per cent of the vote. It is true that at this election, the BZÖ achieved more than 10 per cent and was thus able to overtake the Greens. Yet the unexpected death of Jörg Haider on 11 October 2008 put an abrupt end to speculation about cooperation between the FPÖ and the BZÖ, ultimately sealing the political fate of the BZÖ.

Overall, the FPÖ under Heinz-Christian Strache was characterised by a return to Freedom Party values. This was also reflected in the party's programme. For example, the new party programme adopted in Graz in 2011 contained a renewed commitment to the German cultural community.

Following a whole series of electoral successes at the federal and provincial level, the FPÖ was from 2014 found by many opinion polls to already be the country’s strongest party. The Freedom Party gained considerable support among the Austrian population as a result of the mass influx of asylum seekers in the summer of 2015. However, from spring 2017 onwards, the FPÖ faced considerable competition from the new ÖVP chairman, Sebastian Kurz, who began to dominate public attention in Austrian domestic politics with his turquoise-veneered electoral movement, which he dubbed the "New People's Party".

Nevertheless, at the early National Council election of 15 October 2017, the Freedom Party was able to reduce the gap to the ÖVP and SPÖ; it achieved almost 26 percent of the vote and 51 seats. The ÖVP won over 31 per cent of the vote, which made it the overall winner of the election. The ÖVP's election victory and the Freedom Party's remarkable result led to the formation of a centre-right government comprising the ÖVP and the FPÖ. Agreement was reached on a joint federal government to be led by ÖVP Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Thus, at the end of the renewed rise of the party under Heinz-Christian Strache’s leadership, the party was proceeding to enter Austria’s federal government, just as had happened in 2000 under Jörg Haider. The new government was sworn in in December 2017. FPÖ federal party chairman Heinz-Christian Strache became Vice-Chancellor, as well as Minister for the Civil Service and Sport. The FPÖ provided five further cabinet ministers and one junior minister (“state secretary”).

The Freedom Party’s signature was also evident in the cornerstones of the turquoise-blue government's programme. For example, the government was focused on a new approach in respect of migration policy; on stronger border protection; on a reform of the minimum income support system and on merging the social insurance institutions. Tax reform was also in the pipeline.

Despite the government's positive opinion poll ratings, the coalition collapsed in May 2019, as a consequence of fallout in the wake of the ‘Ibiza Affair’. The trigger was a compromising and apparently illegally-shot 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 was allegedly engaged in negotiations with a purported female Russian investor about granting state contracts in exchange for party donations. In light of the affair, Heinz-Christian Strache resigned as Vice-Chancellor and FPÖ federal party chairman on 18 May 2019. ÖVP Chancellor Sebastian Kurz nonetheless on the very same day announced new elections, thereby terminating the turquoise-blue coalition. Subsequently, however, there were disputes within the FPÖ about the former chairman’s future role in the party. These ultimately led to Heinz-Christian Strache’s expulsion from the FPÖ in December 2019. This step was also justified by reference to the former federal party chairman having engaged in conduct that was damaging to the party’s reputation.

 

You can access the video here:  2005–2017: The Rise of the FPÖ under HC Strache

 

You can access the video here:  2017-2019: A Reform Coalition for Austria

 

Main political positions

1996–2006           Member, Provincial Parliament and Municipal Council, Vienna

2004–2019           Provincial Party Chairman, FPÖ Vienna

2005–2019           FPÖ Federal Party Chairman

2005–2006           Chairman of the FPÖ Parliamentary Party in the Vienna Provincial Parliament

2006–2017           Chairman of the FPÖ Parliamentary Party in the National Council

2017–2019          Vice-Chancellor of the Republic of Austria and Federal Minister for the Civil Service and Sport 

Weblinks

One year on from his swearing in: Vice-Chancellor HC Strache takes stock (2018): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVW8SpkK7pY

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