Angela Merkel says Europe needs to ‘stand up’ against far right as Austrian government falls

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Europe needs to push back against the far right, amid a political crisis that has claimed Austria’s government.

Key points: 

  • Austria’s goverment fell after a corruption scandal engulfed its far-right coalition partner
  • Mrs Merkel said the far right wanted to destroy human rights and minority protections
  • Austria will head to the polls in a snap election, but no date has been set

Mrs Merkel made the remarks when asked about a scandal engulfing Austria’s anti-immigrant Freedom Party, whose leader Heinz-Christian Strache quit on Saturday as the government’s vice-chancellor.

Mr Strache was secretly recorded reportedly promising a Russian investor government contracts in return for them purchasing a newspaper and supporting his anti-immigrant Freedom Party.

“We’re having to deal with populist movements that in many areas are contemptuous of these values, who want to destroy the Europe of our values,” Mrs Merkel said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“We have to stand up to this decisively.”

The far right in Eastern Europe

The far-right in Eastern Europe

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“What falls under this is that minorities are not protected, that basic human rights are called into question and that corruption plays a role in politics,” she added.

Far-right forces across Europe have come together in a bid to sweep European Union (EU) parliamentary elections next week.

Fellow German Manfred Weber, who is part of the European Parliament’s conservative European People’s Party, said the Austrian scandal vindicated his intention not to rely on votes from far-right parties in his bid to become the EU’s Commission president.

“The far right and populists are ready to sell their patriotism and the values of their country for their gains”, he said, referring to the Austrian scandal.

‘I behaved like a bragging teenager’: Strache

Heinz-Christian Strache of the right-wing Freedom Party stands beside Austrian People's Party leader Sebastian Kurz.

The vice-chancellor described the video’s release as a “targeted political assassination” and said it never led to any money changing hands, and insisted the only crime that took place was illegally videotaping a private dinner party.

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In the footage, he appeared to offer to funnel contracts towards a company in exchange for political and financial support.

He discussed rules on party financing and how to work around them, although he also insisted on having to act legally.

“It was dumb, it was irresponsible and it was a mistake,” Mr Strache said. 

“In the cold light of day, my remarks were catastrophic and exceedingly embarrassing.”

Mr Strache also apologised for flirting with the woman, whom he describes as attractive in the recording.

“It was typical alcohol-fuelled macho behaviour in which, yes, I also wanted to impress the attractive female host and I behaved like a bragging teenager,” he said.

Austria’s Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, subsequently dissolved the coalition after the video aired, who told the media in a statement “enough was enough”.

He said he would propose a snap election to the Austrian President, Alexander Van der Bellen, as soon as possible.