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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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EU court rejects Austria case against Hungary nuclear plant

The EU's second highest court on Wednesday rejected a complaint by Austria against a European Commission decision to approve the expansion of a nuclear plant in neighbouring Hungary with Russian aid.

EU court rejects Austria case against Hungary nuclear plant

Staunchly anti-nuclear Austria lodged the legal complaint in 2018 after the European Union’s executive arm allowed the expansion of the Paks nuclear plant outside the Hungarian capital Budapest with a 10-billion-euro ($12.4 billion) Russian loan.

The plant is Hungary’s only nuclear facility and supplies around 40 percent of its electricity needs.

In its decision the commission judged that the project met EU rules on state aid, but Austria disputed this.

The General Court of the EU ruled Wednesday that “member states are free to determine the composition of their own energy mix and that the Commission cannot require that state financing be allocated to alternative energy sources.”

READ ALSO: Why is Austria so anti nuclear power? 

Hungary aims to have two new reactors enter service by 2030, more than doubling the plant’s current capacity with the 12.5-billion-euro construction. The Paks plant was built with Soviet-era technology in the 1980s during Hungary’s communist period. 

The construction of two new reactors is part of a 2014 deal struck between Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Victor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The work is carried out by Moscow’s state-owned nuclear agency Rosatom.

The details of the deal have been classified for 30 years for “national security reasons” with critics alleging this could conceal corruption.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What are the chances of blackouts in Austria this winter?

Since the late 1970s, Austria has been fiercely anti-nuclear, starting with an unprecedented vote by its population that prevented the country’s only plant from providing a watt of power.

Last month, the Alpine EU member filed a complaint with the European Court of Justice over the bloc’s decision to label nuclear power as green.

In 2020, the top EU court threw out an appeal by Austria to find British government subsidies for the nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in breach of the bloc’s state aid rules.