The conservative leader, the billionaire and a railway company


Last Monday Michael Spindelegger (leader of the conservative ÖVP) suggested in a TV interview something along the lines of…’If Frank Stronach wants to help the country he should buy the ÖBB national railway company and turn round its fortunes, instead of spending his money/time on his own new political party’.

For those who have not been following events here in Austria, Frank Stronach is an Austro-Canadian billionaire who is about to launch a new Austrian political party. To date he has managed to recruit 4 existing members of parliament to his new enterprise – three from the right and one from the left of the political spectrum. Three was the important first number as this will allow him to have his party nominated for the next general election, in 2013, without having to gather thousands of signatures from the general public. His next target is to reach five members in the existing parliament. If he can get one more MP then his new party will potentially get access to state funding (not that he needs the money) and more importantly a higher profile in the election as it will be entitled to greater media coverage.

Anyway, back to the story of the suggestion made by Michael Spindelegger, leader of the conservative ÖVP and junior partner in the government coalition. The ÖBB national railway company by the way, I understand, costs the Austrian taxpayer around 7 billion euro’s a year.

No one took the suggestion seriously – though Spindelegger claimed to be in earnest – and the press has had fun reporting the story over the last few days. However, I’ve just read here on the oe24 website that Stronach’s spokesperson has confirmed that he has sent word via email that he takes the idea seriously and will present his ideas on restoring the fortunes of ÖBB when he is next in Austria.

Ermm…yes that last bit. The leader of the yet to be named party, who has the declared ambition of being the next Chancellor (for British readers the equivalent to Prime Minister) still has his main residence it seems in Canada. Stronach, 80, moved to Canada when he was 21 years old and is a self-made billionaire.

Well it will be interesting to see if something comes of this ÖBB discussion. Even if he really would take it on and the ÖVP would definitely like to see it sold, I’m not sure the SPÖ (Social Democrat) senior partner in the government coalition would have much sympathy with such proposals. Moreover, I very much doubt that Stronach would embrace the other part of Spindelegger’s suggestion and give up on his newfound political career.

One final question remains about the possible success of Stronach’s new political venture. Is a political party more like a business or a football club? Mr S is clearly a successful businessperson. He has also been in his time the Chair and major investor in two Austrian football clubs. In the case of my own club, Austria Wien, it’s difficult to find a fan that has a good thing to say about his period at the club and it has taken the club some time to recover. I haven’t taken a poll amongst the Viola faithful but doubt that his new party would secure many votes. On the other hand, the new party will need to adopt a colour and blue, black, red, green, and yellow are all taken. Now if the Stronach Party was to adopt Violet well a few Austria fans might…..

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