These days, Alice Weidel is touring Austria on a political mission. First, the chairwoman of the right-wing extremist Alternative for Germany, AfD, gave an interview to a relevant platform. At her side: the head of the no less right-wing FPÖ, Herbert Kickl.

This Tuesday, Weidel will give a lecture at an event organized by the sister party in Vienna's Palais Epstein, entitled: "The German 'traffic light' as a deterrent example for Austria". The event is unlikely to be characterized by great objectivity.

The right is stably high, in both countries

In Germany, the AfD has been stable at over 20 percent in recent weeks, and in Austria the FPÖ is even expanding its position as the strongest force to more than 30 percent.

A look at the competition currently makes some Freedom Party members rejoice: The conservative chancellor's party ÖVP has been laboring for weeks on the question of whether Sebastian Kurz will return, while the Social Democrats with their new party leader Andreas Babler have not yet managed to advance the SPÖ.

Meanwhile, the FPÖ is successfully flooding the tabloids and various digital channels with controversial topics and nonsense, with conspiracy theories and mountaineering impressions of frontman Kickl – a potpourri of topics with which the party reaches many people.

The media strategy of the Freedom Party is now reminiscent of that of the equally right-wing American political consultant Stephen Bannon, with whom he once hoisted Donald Trump into the White House: "Flood the zone with shit." Loosely translated: Flood people with all sorts of dirt. Why shouldn't this recipe for success also work in Austria?

The FPÖ believes in a real chance of getting back to the levers of power soon. The ÖVP, which seems quite compliant, has brought the "Blues" into the provincial governments there, despite Kickl's aggressive fundamental opposition in the provinces of Salzburg and Lower Austria. Why shouldn't this also work at the federal level?

Despite all the euphoria, however, there is also cause for concern in the FPÖ. Some even firmly expect approval ratings to plummet. Because several affairs are smoldering, the outcome uncertain.

In Styria, the clarification of the financial scandal continues in the capital Graz. In addition, there is a bizarre case about a drug kitchen unearthed by the investigators – involved is the brother of a top cadre, who has since been thrown out of the party.

And in Vienna, the judiciary is working its way through the expenses scandal that arose in the wake of the Ibiza revelation: not only the former FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache is being investigated, but also key functionaries of the state party. They are suspected of having enriched themselves at the expense of the party – or of having aided and abetted enrichment.

Particularly delicate detail: Some suspicious cadres of the FPÖ in Vienna had parts of the accounting system destroyed remarkably early – except for the receipts that incriminate Strache. Should the fired frontman be solely to blame, do former comrades-in-arms – as some suspect in Strache's environment – want to "brush off" the former vice-chancellor?

The election year 2024 is likely to be a trial year for the FPÖ

The investigation is still ongoing, and witnesses are still being questioned. A trial is not expected to open until next year, says a trial lawyer to SPIEGEL and STANDARD.

This would be particularly bad news for the FPÖ, because the parliamentary elections are due in autumn 2024 at the latest, and the European elections in spring. There are few things that the FPÖ is more afraid of than the idea of falling back into the reputation of corruption and "friendly economy" five years after the Ibiza affair.

There was a foretaste on Monday before the Vienna Regional Court for Criminal Matters: There, an early driver of Strache had to answer for false testimony. The FPÖ man, who is still politically active today, spoke meekly of an "emotional blockade" and said he had not acted in bad faith. The judge left it with a fine of 6800 euros.

The main suspects in the expenses affair are unlikely to get off so cheaply.

Social Media Moment of the Week:

Rammstein singer Til Lindemann has obtained an injunction against the ORF. The station had reproduced the descriptions of an Austrian woman, according to which the singer is said to have beaten her against her will. The district court ruled in Lindemann's favor, as ORF refused to disclose the time and place of the alleged incident because the woman wanted to remain anonymous.

Instead, the radio published the research on the Internet in a new version, which caused a stir: Now some parts of the article have been replaced by the letter X – it looks like censorship. The broadcaster continues to consider its source to be credible. The ORF wants to "report immediately on any new findings in the case".

Stories we recommend to you today:

  • Sebastian Kurz: Comeback or not – what does the ex-chancellor have in mind?

  • Podcast »Inside Austria«: How Herbert Kickl acted as Minister of the Interior

  • History: When the Vorarlberg Wehrmacht soldier Bilgeri defected to the partisans

Get through the week well!

Greetings from Vienna
Oliver Das Gupta, author for SPIEGEL and STANDARD

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