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‘Unimaginable’ for Kurz to continue as Austria’s leader if convicted, says Vice Chancellor

The future of Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in office would be "unimaginable" if he were convicted of corruption, the Vice Chancellor and leader of the Greens Werner Kogler said on Saturday.

'Unimaginable' for Kurz to continue as Austria's leader if convicted, says Vice Chancellor
(Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Public prosecutors are investigating Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz for allegedly making false statements during a parliamentary inquiry.

When asked about the future of Austria’s leader in relation to the ongoing inquiry, Kogler told ORF radio, “A convicted Chancellor is in fact unimaginable.”

Kurz said in May that he told the truth and would not step down as Chancellor, saying, “I always answered all (the committee’s) questions truthfully.”

READ ALSO: Alleged mastermind in Austria’s ‘Ibiza-gate’ video arrested in Berlin

The Constitutional Court (VfGH) has ordered Kurz to hand over additional email evidence to the inquiry. In an interview with the ZiB2 programme, the Chancellor denied the charges and said, “Of course I will not resign”.

But Kogler’s comments put that in doubt, suggesting that the coalition between the Greens and Kurz’s conservatives could be at risk.

The Vice Chancellor said it’s necessary to wait for the outcome, whether Kurz is charged or not and then follow the case brought against him.

But if there was a conviction, he said, “Then we are on a different level in terms of assessing whether someone is fit for office.”

sebastian-kurz-austria

(Photo by Peter Kneffel / POOL / AFP)

“It is hard to imagine that Austria can afford to have a convicted head of government.”

The investigation comes after the opposition Social Democrats (SPOe) and NEOS parties accused Kurz of not telling the truth in front of the committee of MPs, who are investigating the fallout from the so-called “Ibizagate” scandal that brought down Kurz’s previous government in 2019.

READ MORE: Ex-leader of Austrian far right charged with corruption

A secret video, filmed in a luxury Ibiza villa, showed Kurz’s then vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache from the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) seemingly offering public contracts to a woman believed to be a Russian oligarch’s niece in return for financial and political support.

It was published by two German media outlets, Der Spiegel and Süddeutsche Zeitung.

In May 2019, Kurz’s coalition collapsed when Strache was forced to resign as leader of the far-right Freedom Party and as Austrian vice chancellor.

Kurz returned to office in early 2020 in a coalition with the Greens.

Austria’s leader and members of his party have said the case against him is politically motivated and have cast doubt on the anti-corruption prosecutors’ office in charge of the case.

The parliamentary committee looking into the scandal has since broadened its focus to include other accusations of wrongdoing, including by politicians from Kurz’s People’s Party (OeVP).

The latest investigation comes as the OeVP’s party financing and other practices have increasingly come under the spotlight.

In February OeVP Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel’s home was raided as part of a separate probe into possible party financing offences.

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AUSTRIAN CITIZENSHIP

Could presidential criticism lead to Austrian citizenship rule changes?

Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen has hit out at Austria's naturalisation process, saying "the hurdles are too high". But how hard is it to get Austrian citizenship - and will the criticism lead to change?

Could presidential criticism lead to Austrian citizenship rule changes?

Austria’s federal president Alexander Van der Bellen, who is eyeing a second term in office in the autumn elections, has said that the hurdles for citizenship are too high in the alpine country.

“Citizenship is a valuable asset. I think the hurdles for obtaining it are too high.”, he said in an interview with the newspaper Kleine Zeitung.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does Austria’s presidential election work?

Van der Bellen mentioned a case with a German citizen who has lived in Austria for 20 years and cannot obtain dual citizenship: “He can vote neither here nor there. And that is the European Union?”

Austria does not allow for dual citizenship of naturalised citizens except in very few cases (including naturalisation of those who are descendants of Holocaust victims).

This is one of the many hurdles to citizenship in the country.

What makes Austrian citizenship so difficult to get?

Citizenship through naturalisation, meaning you are not the son or daughter of an Austrian citizen, is particularly hard to get.

First of all, the majority of applicants will need to give up any other citizenships they hold. So, a British citizen taking Austrian nationality through marriage or residence time will have to give up their British passport.

READ ALSO: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?

Besides severing that connection to a home country where people might still have many ties, this can lead to difficulties in matters of inheritance and property ownership, for example.

The naturalisation process is also long and expensive in Austria. In Vienna, the application costs €130. If successful, the new Austrian citizen can expect to pay from € 1,100 to € 1,500 just for the award – that doesn’t include costs with documentation, translation, and issuance of documents such as an Austrian passport.

The length of the process varies, but it can take more than a year for citizenship to be awarded.

The requirements will also be different depending on how long the person is legally an Austrian resident and what is their connection to the country.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my children get an Austrian passport if born in Austria?

For example, after 30 years of residence in Austria, you need to prove you are not a danger to the country and that you can support yourself.

You also need to prove German skills and pass a citizenship test.

The minimum amount of time of legal residency after which you can require citizenship is six years for people who fall into specific categories, such as legal and uninterrupted residence in Austria and possession of the citizenship of an EEA state, birth in Austria or German at a B2 level.

Will Austria change its citizenship rules?

It is improbable that there will be any significant changes soon. Despite Van der Bellen’s statements, citizenship laws are not within the federal president’s competence and mostly depend on legislative changes.

The party leading the ruling coalition, ÖVP, is against any changes, claiming that making the process easier would “depreciate” Austrian citizenship.

READ ALSO: ​​Why has naturalisation in Austria doubled in 2022 – and who are the new citizens?

Austria has recently seen a jump in naturalisation numbers, but that can largely be viewed as a one-off phenomenon after changes in the process for descendants of Nazi victims.

While junior partner Greens have been in favour of easing some rules, little is expected to happen with the ÖVP in power. The next parliamentary elections are set for 2024, though. If the SPÖ continues climbing in the polls, an SPÖ-Green coalition could push forward different rules.

Also, if the Red-Green-Yellow ruling coalition in Germany does succeed in easing naturalisation rules in the neighbouring country, Austria could see further pressure for domestic changes.

But that remains to be seen, mainly depending on the 2024 election results.

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