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EXPLAINED: Just how much trouble is Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in? 

Raids were carried out during investigations into corruption and bribery accusations levelled at Chancellor Sebastian Kurz this week. Here's what you need to know about the allegations against Kurz and the possible ramifications for Austrian politics. 

Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks to the media.
Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks to the media on Thursday, the day after he was implicated in a media corruption scandal. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

What is Sebastian Kurz accused of? 

Austria’s corruption inspectors suspect the Kurz’s ÖVP party may have used  taxpayers money to bribe pollsters and media figures in return for positive media coverage. The publication which benefited from the arrangement is believed to be the tabloid newspaper Österreich. The Economic and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (WKStA), says the investigation is “exclusively motivated by party politics and surveys relevant to the (party) political advancement of Sebastian Kurz and the group of his closest confidants around him and the ÖVP federal party”, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reports.

A demonstrator dressed as a prisoner in handcuffs and wearing a mask with the face of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz  is seen during a protest in in Vienna  after Kurz was implicated in a media corruption scandal. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

How has Sebastian Kurz reacted to the accusations? 

Kurz gave an interview on Wednesday with the ZIB2 channel in which he said he did not understand why he “should always be to blame”. He pointed out in the period under investigation (2016), he was foreign minister for Austria, not the Federal Chancellor. He said he could see “no evidence at all” for the accusations that he paid for surveys, Der Standard newspaper reports.

Is the government sticking by Sebastian Kurz? 

This is a tricky one, because Austria is currently ruled by a coalition government of the Green Party and Kurz’s ÖVP party. The ÖVP party have said so far that they stand by the Chancellor. However, the Greens have said there are now “very serious allegations” and have started to distance themselves from Kurz. Green party chairman Sigrid Maurer has called on the ÖVP to find an “impeccable person” who can carry out this office,” broadcaster ORF reports. The Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler, who is also head of the Greens, says he will now explore other possibilities with the other parliamentary parties, and said it had become “extraordinarily difficult” to work with the ÖVP Chancellor. 

Demonstrators gathered in Vienna on Thursday evening. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

What about the opposition parties in Austria? 

The leader of the opposition Social Democrats (SPÖ) Pamela Rendi-Wagner, said that if Kurz “had any decency left” he would resign, and has called for him to appear before Parliament to answer questions over the affair, Politico reports. 

There is expected to be a motion of censure against Kurz in Parliament on Tuesday, which the Greens must back for it to succeed. 

If Tuesday’s vote gets the required majority in parliament to succeed, it would be the second time Kurz — who became the world’s youngest democratically elected leader in 2017 — is deposed. The previous time was after the so-called Ibiza affair. 

READ MORE: Ibizagate- what you need to know about the scandal which continues to grip Austrian politics

A demonstrator protests with stickers on her cheeks against Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

How are Austrians reacting to the latest developments? 

Around 1,000 people gathered outside the front of the ÖVP headquarters on Thursday evening to demand Kurz’s resignation, the Kurier newspaper reports. 

A demonstrator holds up a placard during a protest against Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in front of the headquarters of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP ). (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Who could be in charge if this coalition breaks down? 

The ÖVP says if the Greens decide to break up the coalition government, it will open the door for Austria’s far right parties, such as the FPÖ, who have a vaccine sceptical platform. The centre left SPÖ party or the liberal Neos party could also join a coalition government.

Wasn’t Kurz already under investigation before this week?

Kurz and his allies have already been investigated over corruption in the  ÖVP party and scandals relating to the infamous Ibiza affair.

Kurz also faces possible indictment in a separate case involving perjury allegations related to sworn testimony he gave before a parliamentary inquiry last year, Politico reports. 

The Chancellor said on Wednesday that the latest accusations are “manufactured” and predicted that he and his colleagues would be exonerated of blame. 

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AUSTRIAN CITIZENSHIP

Austrian presidential elections: Why 1.4 million people can’t vote

Due to Austria's strict rules on citizenship and growing number of international residents, the number of people that are not allowed to vote is increasing.

Austrian presidential elections: Why 1.4 million people can't vote

The election of Austria’s Federal President will take place later this year on October 9th and the upcoming vote is once again raising the topic of citizenship and voting rights in the country.

The Kurier reports that 18 percent of residents (or 1.4 million people) in Austria over the age of 16 do not have the right to vote because they are not citizens, with the highest concentration of ineligible people in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg. 

As a comparison, 20 years ago there were just 580,000 people without the right to vote in Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

Statistics Austria data evaluated by the APA shows that around 30 percent of the voting age population in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg are not entitled to vote. In Linz and Graz, it is around 25 percent.

However, there are some smaller communities in Austria where the number of people without the right to vote is even higher.

In Jungholz in Tyrol, 66 percent of the population are not eligible, followed by 51 percent in Mittelberg in Vorarlberg. Kittsee in Burgenland and Wolfsthal in Lower Austria also have high proportions of Slovakian residents who are not able to vote.

Who is eligible for citizenship in Austria?

Currently in Austria, if someone wants to take up citizenship via naturalisation they have to undergo an extensive and expensive process and fulfil specific criteria.

Generally, there needs to be at least 10 years of lawful and uninterrupted residence in Austria. But there are exceptions for those with citizenship of an EU or EEA country, those born in Austria, or married to an Austrian, for example.

READ MORE: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

The main hurdles, however, include having to give up any other citizenships, as Austria doesn’t allow for dual citizenship in naturalisation cases with few exceptions, and the payment of a high fee, which depends on the municipality.

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 tricky topic of Austrian citizenship 

Most international residents in Austria do not pursue citizenship as it means revoking citizenship of their home country.

But the Kurier reports that political scientist Peter Filzmaier has warned there could be negative consequences if large sections of the Austrian population remain unable to vote.

Filzmaier said: “Since people are affected by the decisions of the political system in their place of residence, it could also be linked to their place of residence instead of citizenship.”

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

In May of this year, Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen also raised the topic of easing citizenship rules when he told an interviewer that the “hurdles” for Austrian citizenship are too high.

So far though, any discussions surrounding citizenship reform have been dismissed by the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ).

Additionally, political scientist Flizmaier advises any further debate on the issue to take place outside of election time when there is less “emotion”.

READ ALSO: Five of the biggest challenges facing Austria right now

Will Austria change its citizenship rules?

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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