Tag Archives: Michael Spindelegger

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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Coalition austerity package – Austria to have zero deficit by 2016

After 10 weeks of negotiations the ruling coalition parties announced a package of measures totalling around 26.5 billion euros, over 5 years, which they believe will see Austria achieve a zero deficit in 2016. About 70 per cent goes of the package comprises cost cutting measures, with the remaining 30 per cent accounted for through new taxes.

Austrian Chancellor and leader of the SPÖ (Social Democrats), Werner Faymann, is reported to have described the package as a ‘socially balanced budget’ and the SPÖ have highlighted the tax changes relating to assets. Vice Chancellor and leader of the (conservative) ÖVP Michael Spindelegger has placed emphasis on the extent of the planned savings. Thus both sides appear to have achieved key objectives but also to have given ground during the negotiations.

Both parties seem to be comfortable with the final agreement.

The savings include a pay freeze next year in the public sector and a modest salary increase in 2014; changes in retirement and pensions; a public sector freeze on recruitment (with some exclusions such as teacher etc); health care reforms; reduced federal government funding to the nine Austrian states; the States to make their own contribution in saving of 5.2 billion euros (partly offset by share in new tax revenues); reduced support to ÖBB (Austrian Federal Railways); remove subsidies on diesel fuel for farmers and public transport.

Increased revenue measures include a new capital gains tax on real estate (excluding primary residences); financial transaction tax (introduced jointly with other EU countries from 2014); a Solidarity tax on top earners from 2013-2016; tax treaty with Switzerland.

The coalition believes its plans are realistic and achievable. The two parties appear to be full signed up, as are (if I’ve understood correctly) the ‘social partners’ from both the union and business sides.

It will be interesting to see the more detailed reaction of commentators over the next few days and that of the wider public. My initial perceptions are that this will probably get a positive response from Austrian voters if:

a) The parties really are committed to the plan.

b) They can convince people that they really are serious about following through on the implementation.

The latter may be the bigger of the two issues.

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Conservative leader attacks Cameron over EU veto

Talking about last week’s European summit and Britain’s role in Europe, the head of the country’s pro-European conservatives is quoted, here, as saying “Britain must discuss a change of opinion towards Europe. I hope (for a change) because Europe without Britain is unthinkable for me.”

Alas, the leader in question is not a British Conservative showing some signs of sanity and defending the real interests of Britain. Instead the quote is from Michael Spindelegger the leader of Austria’s conservative ÖVP and the countries Vice Chancellor. Unlike the political landscape of the UK, in Austria it’s the conservatives who are often described as the most pro-European of the parties.

Austria currently has the lowest unemployment in Europe, growth has (up until recently) been healthier in comparison to much of Europe (including the UK), and (for the present) the country retains its AAA rating. The Euro has contributed to the country’s economic success and the collapse of the currency would potentially cause significant damage – as it would to the UK.

For many living Austria the Euro crisis has often seemed to be something happening elsewhere – a little irritating, far off, giving money away! However, the country’s debt figure is 73% of GDP compared to 60% only a few years ago and Italy’s troubles have brought matters closer to home as it is a very significant trading partner. The talk now is of debt brakes, taxation and cutbacks especially in the country’s extensive bureaucracy.

Thus Austria is learning that it isn’t quite the Alpine ‘island’ in the middle of Europe that frankly is the way you often feel living here. Getting to grip with the debt, ensuring unemployment remains low (tackling the issue of youth unemployment) and getting the Euro sorted (with or without some of the current club members), all whilst maintaining social cohesion would, I think, sums up mainstream opinion here in the Republic. The anti-euro, anti-Europe glee currently coming out of some sections of the UK body politic sounds particular strange from here given the importance of the European market to Britain, the lack of growth, rising unemployment, as well as the UK’s dependence on the outcomes of decisions from the Euro zone, the States and China.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not actually suggesting that Austria is a model that the UK should be following. In fact, despite Britain’s problems, Austria and other EU members could still gain from adopting some aspects of the Anglo-Saxon approach. It’s just that the little Englander stuff I’ve been reading in recent days reminds me of that rather interesting solution suggested in Tudor times for avoiding invasion from the Spanish Armada – send the English fleet north with ropes and grappling hooks, then tow the British Isles out into the Atlantic.

In all seriousness, sitting here on this ‘Alpine island’, the option of trying to get the Euro/EU back on track looks a much safer bet than putting up the keep out signs and rotting away in obscurity.


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