A high-profile scandal has sent shockwaves through Europe just days before critical EU Parliament elections in which populist parties are projected to make significant gains.
The scandal revolves around the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) – a junior member of the ruling coalition led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and a member of Matteo Salvini’s Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) political group in European Parliament. It broke when a video was published showing the FPO vice chancellor, Heinz Christian Strache, conversing with a woman he believed was the niece of a Russian oligarch. In the recording, Strache blithely discusses illicit ways for the billionaire to support the FPO, including a donations-for-government-contracts scheme and a takeover of one of Austria’s leading newspapers, the Kronen Zeitung, in order to provide more favorable coverage of the far-right party.
The affair has exploded like a bomb over the Austria political landscape. But will it make any difference at the ballot box?