20220728 Offizieller Besuch des Ungarischen Ministerpraesidenten WIEN, OESTERREICH - 28. JULI: Bundeskanzler Karl Nehammer OEVP bei einer Pressekonferenz im Bundeskanzleramt am 28. Juli 2022 in Wien, Oesterreich. 220728_SEPA_32_033 Copyright: xMartinxJuenx SEPAxMedia

Once again a government broke up, a prime minister throwing his hat – these are political situations that are familiar from Italy. And of which there is also talk in Austria after politics has been shaken up by scandals in recent years. First, the Ibiza affair blew up the government of the ÖVP and FPÖ, then Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) had to resign because of an affair about corruption, nepotism and embellished surveys.

Karl Nehammer, head of government and party leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), is currently fighting for his office. There is increasing speculation in the media about replacing him, even party leaders should think about it, you can read. It would be the third castling within a year.

Things are not going well for the ÖVP: their poll numbers are falling and are around 20 percent, most recently they even slipped back to third place behind the right-wing FPÖ. In the last election in 2019, she had won 37 percent with Kurz at the top. At the time, leading CDU politicians saw his pithy demeanor with conservative paint as a role model. But that has long been out of the question. The ÖVP has been in crisis since the emergence of its corruption scandal in 2021 and the subsequent resignation of Sebastian Kurz.

Karl Nehammer should lead them out of this. The former professional officer was promoted to General Secretary and Minister of the Interior under Kurz and was elected the new chairman in May with 100 percent. A leap of faith that he gambled away, says Kathrin Stainer-Hämmerle, professor of political science at the Carinthia University of Applied Sciences, the Tagesspiegel. “So far he has not succeeded in showing a different image of the ÖVP and in promoting its renewal. He was only reluctant to counteract the allegations of corruption and job swapping.”

Especially since these do not want to end. It was not until spring that an affair involving illegal party donations and advertising corruption in the media shook the ÖVP in what was supposed to be the clean country of Vorarlberg. Individual regional groups of the ÖVP Seniors’ Association are said to have diverted Corona aid that was reserved for other organizations.

Probably his biggest mistake was to face the press with the sentence “The ÖVP has no corruption problem”, says an insider to the Tagesspiegel. He describes Nehammer as “trying”, especially in dealing with the opposition. But he was too caught up in the old structures of the ÖVP. The fact that two ministers from the Kurz era preempted him with their resignations in the spring made him appear weak.

Even as a manager of multiple crises from Corona, the Ukraine war, energy shortages to a wave of inflation, he did not set any accents, Stainer-Hämmerle notes. “One has the feeling that he has no plan that promises people security.” Instead, he fled to the foreign policy stage, “which was certainly an attempt to emancipate himself as chancellor,” says the expert. Nehammer undertook foreign policy missions to Kyiv and Moscow, where, in the words of a connoisseur, he “wanted to try to get things moving”. But the trips brought him malice and accusations that he traveled the world and didn’t care about the people in his own country. That stuck.

All of this causes great nervousness in the ÖVP. Because there are state elections in black core countries. In Tyrol, where elections will be held on September 25, there are withdrawal movements. The Conservatives are running as “List Mattle” and are renouncing the name “People’s Party”. A current survey predicts a minus of 15 percentage points for the ÖVP. It is also threatened with a defeat in Lower Austria, where the conservatives derive an important say in federal politics from their previous electoral successes. The debate about Nehammer’s fee was also started there.

The Chancellor himself locates a media “summer slump debate”, whereby the circle around him is getting smaller, wrote the Standard recently. The time for castling is still difficult for political scientist Stainer-Hämmerle. “It seems illogical that someone would want to take his post before the elections and possible defeats. This also raises other questions: Who would have a better chance of success? And who would the Greens support as a coalition partner?”

They are in the polls at nine to ten percent. In 2019 they came to 14 percent. New elections would now be inconvenient for them. They would probably support another chancellor exchange. According to the opposition, the Greens have proven to be very “hardened”. For the political scientist Stainer-Hämmerle, it is the narrative that counts.

Should Nehammer leave voluntarily and justify his departure with attrition, the Greens could argue with government responsibility: They would ensure stability in times of crisis. It will be difficult when an internal ÖVP scandal erupts again and Nehammer resigns as a result. The fact that a party like the Greens, which is committed to transparency and enlightenment, will continue to stand by it, would be difficult to convey to its own electoral clientele.

The ability of the small coalition partner to suffer will soon be put to the test again. At the beginning of September, the ÖVP corruption investigation committee starts again. If chats about postenschacher arise again in the highest circles, “a lot could quickly slip,” believes Stainer-Hämmerle. Then Austria would have changed chancellor seven times within ten years, which has not even been done in Italy so far.