February 29, 2024

Thomas Schmid and The Friendly Economy

In Austria, Thomas Schmid, one of the most prominent figures in modern political history, stands trial as a witness. It is a scene that offers insight into the mechanisms of power.

Former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (left) is on trial for an alleged false statement.

Christian Bruna/EPO

In Vienna, former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is on trial because he allegedly lied to a parliamentary investigative committee: in 2019, he was “informed, but not further involved” in the appointment of senior official Thomas Schmid as head of the state investment authority. Obag company.

However, the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Economics and Corruption (WKStA) believes that Kurz, as head of government, had the final say on the appointment of this person. The evidence includes countless text messages between Schmid and the chancellor’s team. The two men also sent friendly letters to each other. “You get everything you want anyway,” Curtis wrote to him in 2019 with three hearts. “I love my advisor,” was Schmid’s response, which has long since become a household word.

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But the Vienna Regional Court is not limited to conversations and semantics. On Monday, Schmid, one of the most colorful figures in modern Austrian political history, testified – and also the person who made a major contribution to Kurz’s rise to power. As Prime Minister and Secretary-General of the Ministry of Finance, Schmid, now 48, had access to resources that the ambitious young politician could use on his way to the chancellorship. After many things, the “Corts regime” that emerged at that time is now surrounded by a reputation for manipulation and corruption.

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Today Schmid is teaming up with WKStA for key witness status. This guaranteed him a reduction in sentences in the lawsuits filed against him, which revolved around job bargaining and embezzlement.

Former senior official Thomas Schmid (second from left) testifies against Kurz in court.

Former senior official Thomas Schmid (second from left) testifies against Kurz in court.

Christian Bruna/EPO

The most serious accusation is that he concluded agreements with the “Österreich” newspaper and an opinion research institute while working in the Ministry of Finance. They produced and published manipulated surveys in exchange for advertising and payment. Kurz was supposed to be presented as a savior for the Conservative Party, which was then badly shaken as a junior partner in the grand coalition with the Social Democrats. Schmid admitted this.

It is doubtful that Kurz, who was very popular before his election victory in 2017, needs this support. The politician always stated that he had nothing to do with Schmid’s activities and did not order them. Overall, the defensive strategy aims to portray Schmid as untrustworthy. Kurz’s lawyer says that Schmid strengthened his closeness to the Chancellor in 2019 in order to become the head of Obag, and that Schmid is now trying to save his head with false accusations. So, on Monday, he spent a lot of time painting Schmid as a fraud and a hypocrite, even though the judge repeatedly suspended him for presenting new material from unclear sources.

The lively Schmid was “electrifying”

Schmid, on the other hand, seemed serious — the complete opposite of the persona in those prolific text messages that had caused so much trouble for him and the leadership team surrounding the former chancellor.

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Schmid seemed more convincing in his statement when he talked about the atmosphere prevailing in Kurz’s environment about forming a government with the Freedom Party of Austria in 2017. The close cooperation with Kurz “excited him.” As chats from that time also show, he felt part of a team whose goal was to secure power and willingly surrendered to it.

Schmid also portrays Kurz as a strong man with a strong need for control, which is consistent with descriptions of several other insiders. The prospective prime minister has given himself veto power over important personnel decisions. “It would have been possible to create a supervisory board for Öbag without coordination,” Schmid said.

Indeed, it seems inconceivable that Kurz would have stood aside when such decisions were made. Therefore, Kurz’s credibility is also discussed in court. He lost his way when he publicly downplayed his responsibility for controversial personal decisions before the parliamentary investigation committee, which was surrounded by an atmosphere of “friendship.” The fact that Schmid, a confidant, was given the position of head of the Obag who did not have basic skills such as international experience contradicted Kurz’s promise to introduce a clean, new style in politics.

But the prosecutor’s office also risks a lot by charging him. So far there is no evidence of Kurz’s direct involvement in the poll-rigging case. It would also be very difficult to prove Kurz’s intention to lie to the investigating committee. His lawyer also suggested a second line of defense: Kurz may have been forced to give false testimony so as not to incriminate himself before a hostile, politically motivated commission.

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A scene with exciting visions

The lengthy trial against Curtis, only the first in a series, threatens to become primarily an exhibition spectacle, with participants trying to portray themselves as victims. These discoveries always provide fascinating insights, not least into the personal side of the “friendship economy.”

The close relationship between the previously like-minded people quickly cooled. Schmid had a feeling that he could be ignored, and he insisted more and more on his own interests, apparently to the annoyance of Kurz and those around him. “It’s something like that with friendship,” he said Monday. “In a political environment it’s often driven by where you want to go professionally.”