SPÖ parliamentary group leader Kai Jan Krainer played an excerpt from a question time with Köstinger in the National Council in the first few minutes of the survey. At the meeting at the time, the SPÖ mandatary wanted to know whether the respondent, as Minister of Agriculture, had commissioned surveys that “had nothing to do with the subject of the department”.
In the National Council meeting, Köstinger said no. “Personally, I have not commissioned any surveys,” she said. On Thursday, Krainer wanted to know whether she would stand by her statement at the time. “Nothing has changed at my level of information,” said the ex-department head, repeating that she “personally” did not commission the surveys.
Reference to ex-cabinet chief
The SPÖ then continued seamlessly where it left off on Wednesday evening when it came to the Ministry of Economic Affairs: surveys commissioned by the department and carried out by the opinion research institute Demox Research. According to the SPÖ, these included “non-departmental” questions that are important for parties but are not the responsibility of the ministry. In addition, the managing director of the institute is the former ÖVP farmers’ association official Paul Unterhuber.
She has known him for years, said Köstinger, who was presented with photos showing the two. However, the ex-minister does not know why he carried out surveys for her department, which, according to the SPÖ, contained “non-departmental” questions. As a minister, she is very much responsible for the processes and decisions in the department, said the ex-politician when asked by the SPÖ.
She was not involved in the direct topic design of surveys, said Köstinger. Krainer quoted from e-mails from her former head of cabinet, Gernot Maier, who spoke to Unterhuber about questions for surveys. According to the ex-minister, it is important for tourism to ask for opinions on unemployment. She answered why questions related to “our social order” or the arrival of refugees by saying that the department had many responsibilities and one could ask many questions. Krainer noted that these issues were surveyed shortly before the 2020 Vienna election.
Donation for the farmers’ association ball?
The FPÖ then went into the Court of Auditors’ report on the ÖVP’s 2019 accountability report. Specifically, Susanne Fürst wanted to know whether she knew about a donation of around 43,000 euros from the Ministry of Agriculture for the Styrian Farmers’ Association Ball. Because of the question, ÖVP parliamentary group leader Andreas Hanger intervened because parties are not the subject of a U-committee, according to the mandatary. Köstinger emphasized that she was only a few months as Minister in 2019. You were not aware of the cash flow.
However, the FPÖ did not give up and tried to follow up several times. Not infrequently, it was about the specific issue that led to lengthy discussions between Köstinger and the confidant, lawyer Werner Suppan – Suppan is a regular guest in Parliament and accompanied several ÖVP politicians and officials in various underground committees. He also represents the ÖVP outside of the parliamentary control instrument.
Occupation of the Federal Gardens management
Green parliamentary group leader Nina Tomaselli then focused on post orders and asked about Katrin Völk, who has been in charge of the Austrian Federal Gardens since July 2020. Völk was Köstinger’s deputy head of cabinet and had previously worked for the politician. Köstinger followed the recommendation of the personnel commission, she said. She did not influence the appointment committee. She doesn’t know why there were no hearings for umpteen applicants.
Köstinger was not aware that the Ombudsman’s Office requested documents about the appointment process, but the Ministry referred to official secrecy, as Green Party representative Tomaselli emphasized. The respondent asked for documents that she could study. However, Tomaselli quoted from a “standard” article in which Ombudsman Walter Rosenkranz (FPÖ) explained that documents had been waiting for months.
Term “Project Ballhausplatz” known today
Asked about the “Ballhausplatz project”, which was prominently discussed in the “Ibiza” sub-committee, Köstinger said that she was initially unfamiliar with the term. He was “medially constructed”. Today, after the surveys and the media reports, she knows about the term. In any case, she was asked in 2017 by the then ÖVP boss Sebastian Kurz to become ÖVP general secretary. Together they wanted to “bring the country to the top”.
In her introductory statement, Köstinger referred to the successes during her tenure. It was nice to connect with people. For the former minister, it was important not only to talk about politics, but also to help shape it. She would do it again. “I resigned from my job on May 9th and left politics,” said Köstinger. Her successor, Norbert Totschnig (ÖVP), was sworn in on May 18, until then Köstinger was in charge of official business.