Austria’s Interim Government of Technocrats Is Winning Praise Ahead of Elections

Austria’s Interim Government of Technocrats Is Winning Praise Ahead of Elections
Austrian Interim Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein, center, arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, July 2, 2019 (AP photo by Olivier Matthys).

VIENNA—Armin Wolf is one of Austria’s most hardened political interviewers. For more than two decades, the journalist and television anchor has been interviewing the country’s top politicians, winning awards and admiration along the way. At once witty and hard-hitting, he has the image of someone who can’t be caught off guard. But in a recent TV interview, Austria’s new interior minister, who is part of an interim government appointed in June in the aftermath of the worst political crisis in the country since World War II, appeared to blindside the usually unflappable Wolf.

Wolf had invited the minister, Wolfgang Peschorn, for an interview about the Interior Ministry’s investigation into what Austrians know as the Ibiza scandal. In May, a secretly filmed video was leaked to German media outlets showing Heinz-Christian Strache, the vice chancellor and leader of the far-right Freedom Party, and one of his close confidants meeting on the Spanish island of Ibiza with a woman they believed to be related to a Russian oligarch. They offered lucrative public contracts in exchange for campaign support, among other things. The fallout from the video’s release was immediate, as Strache resigned as both vice chancellor and leader of the Freedom Party. Austria’s coalition government under Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, then just 32 years old, soon collapsed, after the interior minister, also a member of the Freedom Party, refused Kurz’s demand to resign and make way for an independent investigation into the scandal.

Sitting across from Wolf in late August, Peschorn didn’t meander in his comments or turn to political spin. A lawyer who had served as the nation’s top prosecutor since 2006, he actually answered the questions Wolf asked, unlike so many other politicians. His answers were so short and to the point, in fact, that Wolf seemed startled.

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