The fundamental basis on which the European Union was set up on 7th February 1992 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty was laid down in goals and values shared between the member states. The value concerned in this case is democracy, which is defined as follows: “The functioning of the EU is founded on representative democracy. Being a European citizen also means enjoying political rights. Every adult EU citizen has the right to stand as a candidate and to vote in elections to the European Parliament. EU citizens have the right to stand as candidate and to vote in their country of residence, or in their country of origin" (European Union, 2019). Nevertheless, the importance of voting especially in elections concerning the European Parliament seemed to decrease over the last years. While that may be linked to several individual factors that will not be elaborated in this report, also scandals from politicians, showing them taking unethical decisions and kind of betraying their voters, do influence the interest in voting of EU citizens in a negative way. Therefore, when the ‘Ibiza- scandal’ was brought to light, it caused a huge wave of indignation not only nationally across Austria but also Europe-wide. The Austrian government reacted quickly by taking several measures such as releasing vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and exclaiming reelections taking place in September 2019. In order to get back the trust of voters and to ensure a framework that restricts political parties from taking unethical actions on the long run, stricter transparency regulations on both EU and national level are necessary while running campaigns to convince European citizens that their vote is heard and the majority of politicians does act on behalf of their interests.
This report aims at the reconstruction of the so-called ‘Ibiza-scandal’, concerning two members of the FPO (Austrian Freedom Party) Heinz-Christian Strache, vice chancellor of Austria and Johann Gudenus, member of the National Council of Austria, who were promising illegal and unethical deals to a pretended niece of a Russian oligarch to gather a basic understanding of what impact such an incident might have on EU citizens, especially taking into regard the trust in politicians. To give the reader a broad overview, firstly the focus will be put on the values and goals that are shared among the EU member states while also determining on how the trust of EU citizens in European politicians can be measured. Afterwards, all the necessary background information concerning the content of the respective video and the timeframe of the scandal will be given. In a third step, the measures taken subsequently by the Austrian government will be elaborated to gain an understanding of the extent of the situation before the main facts will be summarized in the conclusion. The report will be finished off with specific recommendations towards the European Union.
VALUES AND GOALS THAT ARE SHARED AMONG MEMBER STATES
At the moment, the European Union is a partnership covering economic and political aspects between 28 countries - in the case of a Brexit, this number will decrease to 27. While the first six countries to found the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952 were Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, the number of member states has increased steadily over the past years, with Croatia being the last one joining in 2013 (European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, N.D.). As it is obvious, that due to cultural and several other aspects it is not possible to determine a fixed framework that covers all the member states, goals and values of the Union were set up in its foundation Treaties. Legislation determined in EU institutions, where national deputies represent national opinions, should always be in line with those goals and values. As the EU goals - just to mention a few: promote peace, offer freedom, respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, establish an economic and monetary union whose currency is the euro - should act as a guideline for decisions taking by the European Union in order to achieve its overall aims, its values are more like practises that are taken by granted and should never be questioned (European Union, 2019). The Union’s six fundamental values are: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and human rights. The one that is concerned by the ‘Ibiza- scandal’ which will be elaborated in the next section, is democracy, as political leaders should act on behalf of the interests of their voters instead of their own benefit. While the democratic process in all of the Union’s is one of the most valuable aspects not only nationally but also internationally, it is highly important to set strict frameworks for political parties and politicians to prevent some kind of unfair competition, disinformation campaigns and unethical practises. Determinants to measure the level of trust, that EU citizens show towards European politicians are individual reactions, which have to be found out by qualitative research on the one hand, and data about the voter turnout for European elections on the other. Concerning the second one, information was gathered of elections from 1979 - 2014. It is clear to see, that the turnout decreased steadily as in 1979 61,99% of all inhabitants eligible to vote actually went to the ballot box while that number fell to only 42,61% in the last elections for the European parliament which took place in 2014 (Merkur, 2019).. In Austria, being constantly over the EUwide average, 49,4% of the total electorate voted - but also this number decreased to 45,39% in 2014 (Merkur, 2019). While this decrease is influenced by several factors, also scandals caused by politicians - such as the ‘Ibiza-scandal’ which will be focussed on in the next part - do have a very bad impact on the turnover.
THE 'IBIZA-SCANDAL': WHAT HAPPENED?
The two “protagonists” concerned in the video are the Austrian deputy chancellor and leader of the right-winged freedom party FPO and Johann Gudenus, leader of the parliamentary club of the same party. The video was made a few weeks before the legislative election in autumn 2017 showing the two politicians in a mansion on Ibiza, Spain where they met an unidentified woman pretending to be the niece of a rich Russian oligarch. Strache and Gudenus thought that the meeting was a closed session - nevertheless, the woman purporting to be Russian and her spouse were actually actors, who rent the mansion and the luxury cars in front of it and equipped the whole building with six hidden cameras in order to document the appointment. On Friday, 17th May 2019, three newspapers - namely: Spiegel Online (GER), Suddeutsche Zeitung (GER) and Falter (AUT) - published short sequences of the video, showing the willingness towards corrupt deals and the circumventing of rulings on partyfinancing but also to the covert takeover of control of a nonpartisan newspaper by the two Austrian politicians. In detail, deputy chancellor Strache offered “lucrative public contracts in exchange for campaign support” if the Russian niece would take over the Kronen-Zeitung (AUT), push the FPO via this medium before the legislative election in October 2017 and support the FPO financially in favour of their election campaigns (The Guardian, 2019). With lucrative public contracts, Strache expressed in detail the possibility of giving large-scale investments in Austria to the pretended Russian women, taking away the commissions from Hans-Peter Haselsteiner, owner of the Austrian infrastructure company STRABAG and supporter of the liberal party NEOS. Furthermore, as the vice chancellor stated in the video, the financial support should be transacted in cooperation with a public Austrian charity, so that they can circumvent control by the Austrian audit court. Short time after the publication of the video, the reaction was immense, especially on social media people showed their disappointment and indignation towards politicians and politics in general. Until now, the string- pullers behind this incident are unknown - the only external person who was linked to the scandal is a Viennese lawyer who committed that he was involved in the video sting (BBC, 2019). Nevertheless, that does not reveal any further information on who really stood behind this action. A controversial detail in this case is the fact, that German satirist Jan Bohmermann gave a hint to this video already in April 2019, during his speech at the Romy-awarding and additionally one day before the video was published he stated in his late night show, that “...kann sein, dass Osterreich morgen brennt” (Neo Magazin Royale, 2019) which can be translated to “Austria might burn tomorrow”. To what extent Bohmermann has been involved in this process is yet unclear.
MEASURES TAKEN ON A NATIONAL LEVEL
After the publication on 17th May in three newspapers, pressure on the local politicians was high, as the FPO was part of the Austrian government and both Strache and Gudenus were in leadership positions. Therefore, vice chancellor Strache gave a public statement the next day where he explained that he will resign from his status as deputy president and all other political duties. Besides that, he pointed out that he is sorry for his misbehaving, that he was drunk and therefore spoke without thinking and that no corrupt deals took place. On the same day in the evening, chancellor Sebastian Kurz (OVP) gave a public speech where he stated, that the existing government is not capable of working together anymore and as a consequence, reelections will take place in autumn. Over the weekend, there have been a lot of speculations regarding what will happen in a next step. Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, also member of the FPO, was dismissed on 20th May by chancellor Kurz which led to a collective resigning of all FPO ministers. Afterwards, all ministries were staffed with independent experts. Nevertheless, this has not been the end of the story, as the oppositional parties SPO (social democrats) and Liste Jetzt (relatively new party, established by a former politician of a left-winged party) asked for a motion of no-confidence against chancellor Kurz, as he was the person who formed a government with the far right-winged FPO and therefore has been part of the scandal. The motion of no-confidence will take place on Monday, 27th May 2019. A possible consequence might be, if there is a majority in favour of the no-confidence action, that the government will be completely uncapable of acting in any way, as a new government plus new ministers need to be found, which would not be possible until the re-elections. However, all these measures may have been necessary from a political point of view, but people still lost their trust in politics. As a reaction, even the Austrian Federal President, Alexander van der Bellen, addressed a speech to the public where he explained that Austria is not the way it has been presented over the past days. People should not lose their trust in politicians and Austria as a country will overcome this mini-crisis. He showed a lot of optimism which has reassured the overall situation a little bit. As there are elections to the European Parliament taking place on Sunday, 26th May 2019 in Austria (and all over Europe) it will be interesting to observe the impact the scandal has had on both the government parties - in both the outcome of the respective parties and voter’s turnout.
Summing up the facts of the ‘Ibiza-scandal’, the only right decision by the Austrian government under chancellor Kurz was taken when dismissing Heinz-Christian Strache and Herbert Kickl from their positions in order to stabilize and calm down the situation in Austria to some extent. Nevertheless, both Austria on a national level and the EU as a guiding international Union do have to ensure, that such behaviour will not take place in the future again if we want to strengthen the basic values on which the European Union was set up - especially regarding democracy and the importance of it. There will always be several scandals regarding politicians being corrupt, taking unethical decisions or betraying their voters - however, now it is even more important to make clear to the public, that the vast majority of politicians are conscious of their responsibility and that they are really acting on behalf of the Austrian citizens.
Due to the fact, that in the video the idea of financing the political party from external sources, which is by fact illegal, but on a ‘legal’ way with the cooperation of a public charity was mentioned, the EU acting as a watchdog should implement a directive which aims at a harmonized regulation, regarding not only financing but also the coping with bribe and other forms of corruption which should be applicable to every single political party that is capable of being elected in any kind of election. Then, every nation itself is responsible on implementing national measures and regulations to achieve the overall goal set out by the EU. This will show every EU citizen, that the Union is taking care of what happens in politics and that it tries to prevent illegal behaviour. Besides the legal framework, that needs to be elaborated, also EU wide campaigns should be run that show EU citizens what the Union is actually doing for them. They tried to establish such a project recently online, which has already been a huge success. Nevertheless, the EU should not rest on this campaign but continuously review them to address people also on a personal, individual level.
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Merkur. (2019). Europawahl 2019: Wahlbeteiligung sinkt - So will die EU die Wahle mobilisieren. Retrieved from: https://www.merkur.de/politik/europawahl-2019-wahlbeteiliaung- sinkt-eu-will-mit-kampaane-mobilisieren-zr-11869448.html on 24th May 2019
Neo Magazin Royale. (2019). Program from 16th May2019.
The Guardian. (2019). Austria’s „lbiza scandal": what happened and why does it matter?. Retrieved from: https://www.theauardian.com/world/2019/mav/20/austria-ibiza-scandal-sting- operation-what-happened-whv-does-it-matter on 25th May 2019
- Quote paper
- Julius Holaus (Author), 2019, The "Ibiza-Scandal". How a Published Video of Austria's Vize President Unsettled Trust in the Fundamental Values of the European Union, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/491647