Austria’s Kurz Steps Down Over Corruption Probe to Save Coalition

Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz resigned Saturday to save his coalition government from collapse after the junior party demanded he step down while under investigation on suspicion of corruption.

The move by Kurz, who denies wrongdoing, satisfied his coalition partner, the Greens, and came three days before a special session of parliament at which they were preparing to back a motion of no-confidence that would have forced him out.

However, he plans to stay on as his party’s leader and become its top lawmaker in parliament, and he is likely to continue to call the shots in the coalition.

“I would therefore like to make way in order to end the stalemate, to prevent chaos and to ensure stability,” Kurz said in a statement to the media.

He proposed that Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, a career diplomat backed by Kurz’s party, take over as chancellor, whom the Greens made clear they accepted.

“I believe this is the right step for future government work,” Greens leader and Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler said in a statement, adding he had had a “very constructive” working relationship with Schallenberg and would meet him on Sunday.

Conservative standout

A star among Europe’s conservatives known for his hard line on immigration, Kurz, 35, became one of the continent’s youngest leaders in 2017 when he formed a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party that collapsed in scandal in 2019. Parliament sacked him but he won the snap election that followed.

He has so far been unchallenged as leader of the People’s Party (OVP); he was reappointed in August with 99.4% support.

Prosecutors have placed Kurz and nine others under investigation on suspicion of breach of trust, corruption and bribery with various levels of involvement.

Starting in 2016 when Kurz was seeking to take over as party leader, prosecutors suspect the conservative-led Finance Ministry paid for manipulated polling and coverage favorable to Kurz to be published in a newspaper.

Documents circulated as part of their investigation and published in Austrian media also included embarrassing and compromising text messages that Kurz’s opponents said showed underhanded tactics and a lack of scruples.

The political consequences, both in terms of his party’s popularity and its relationship with the Greens, were unclear.

“Is it enough?” the leader of the liberal Neos party, Beate Meinl-Reisinger, said at a news conference, reacting to Kurz’s announcement. “We know from the [investigation] documents that he bought himself a party, that he bought himself an election, that he manipulated and lied to people, and he did it all with your tax money.”

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