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A “Speech to Austria”? No.

Published: May 15, 2012; 11:38 · (Vindobona)

The disenchantment with politics in Austria is as big as never before. An ambitious, but meaningless speech of Vice-Chancellor Spindelegger will not change the misery.

A “Speech to Austria”? No. / Picture: © Flickr / The Austrian Foreign Ministry

Today, Vice-Chancellor and political leader of the Austrian People´s Party (ÖVP) Michael Spindelegger held a “speech to Austria”. What may sound as a future concept for Austria, was nothing more than an act of desperation. For more than one year, the ÖVP has been in a severe crisis. Not only unfavorable opinion polls, but also several corruption scandals and the observable dissatisfaction within the party indicate that the governing party is in a persisting low.

At the moment, the party ranks third in opinion polls and would come close to about 21% to 22%. The coalition partner SPÖ (social democrats) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) are at 28%. Ten years ago, the ÖVP still ranked first and achieved remarkable 42% of the votes. The ÖVP has no chance to place first anymore and is going to become an opposition party. Generally, voters seem to have hardly any confidence in politicians. The disenchantment is as big as never before in Austria. Protest parties such as the FPÖ or even the widely unknown “Pirate Party” may expect a gain in power.

What Austrians need and want is a sustainable pension reform, an administrative reform and a school and university reform. Moreover, the people want honest, trustworthy and ambitious politicians. Spindelegger knows that and stressed terms like “freedom”, “performance”, “responsibility” and “integrity”. He wants to become an innovator, Spindelegger said. What is remarkable, is that the ÖVP calls for reducing public debt, cutting taxes and improving the education system. Spindelegger suggested to raise the R&D quota up to 6% of the GDP and pushed for more support for small and medium-sized enterprises.

The ideas of Spindelegger´s party are interesting. But they are not credible at all. The Austrian public debt is high as never before, the state is far from reaching a zero deficit and the tax burden has reached a new record level. Austrian universities and schools are being left to starve and the educational system is close to collapse. Austria has been losing its competitiveness for years and falls behind in innovation indices. The Austrian business location faces stagnation at best.

Since 1986, the ÖVP has been present in Austria´s federal government without interruption. Thus, for 26 years, the party has had the opportunity to initiate reforms. For at least 10 years, the ÖVP has had the opportunity to cut public debt and reduce the tax burden. The Ministry of Science has been governed by the ÖVP for 18 years. Moreover, the party has been managing the Ministry of Economics for 26 years. There was time enough to implement economic, fiscal or educational reforms. Instead, the party is self-absorbed and is at feud with the coalition partner SPÖ. As a result, Austrians criticize the government for its aimlessness and mutual blockade.

To claim such reforms is nothing but canting. At least, Spindelegger did not talk about an administrative reform. Being still dependent on his mentor, the governor of the province of Lower Austria Erwin Pröll, Spindelegger does not dare to call for such reform steps. For many observers, Pröll is not only the biggest opponent of an administrative reform, but also the shadow party leader.

To sum up, Spindelegger´s speech was solid, but insubstantial and noncredible. It was not a “Speech to Austria”, but a desperate stump speech.