Othmar Karas' Reckoning with the ÖVP

Lifestyle & TravelCulture ♦ Published: October 12, 2023; 17:40 ♦ (Vindobona)

For about 25 years, Othmar Karas, the first vice president of the EU Parliament, was a weighty member of the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) in the European context. His withdrawal from the EU election and the associated clear criticism of his party caused a political stir in Austria.

In a personal statement, Othmar Karas announced his withdrawal from the EU Parliament due to the long-standing differences between him and his party, the Austrian People's Party. / Picture: © EPP Group / Flickr Attribution (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)

Karas' decision to withdraw from the EU Parliament is not based on a spontaneous impulse but is the result of an estrangement that has lasted for some time. The experienced politician vehemently criticizes the realignment of the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), which, in his opinion, has abandoned its position as a "force of the center." Especially the topics of asylum and migration, as well as the discussions around them, caused tensions and revealed an unwillingness to work on common solutions at the European level.

"The ÖVP is no longer the same European party that I once helped to create," Karas declared, representing his reckoning with the ÖVP, although he wants to remain a member.

Political polarization and emotional charge

Karas is also angry about the current political discourse, which is characterized by "senseless emotionalization and polarization." He was particularly harsh in his criticism of the use of strategically deployed, emotionally charged issues such as the cash debate, which served to stir up uncertainty among the population and merely played into the hands of forces that did not want to offer solutions.

The strategy of "strategically necessary nonsense" (SNU) is a point that particularly bothers Karas because, in the end, it is mainly the "nonsense" that remains and poisons the political climate.

Not only substantive but also stylistic changes within the ÖVP are no longer acceptable to Karas. Until recently, there was always a basis for dialogue despite differences in content. This has changed and has been replaced by a communication that Karas describes as "dehumanizing" and "unworthy" of a party that supports the state. Explicit criticism was also leveled at a statement by ÖVP Secretary General Christian Stocker, who called Karas a "saboteur" for calling for consequences for illegal pushbacks.

Political future

Even if Karas retires from the EU Parliament, his political career is not over. He intends to remain politically active, even if he forgoes his list and leaves open whether he will run in the National Council election or the next federal presidential election.

Karas, despite distancing himself from the current orientation of the ÖVP, remains a political fighter, as he claims. His appeal is aimed at developing a new understanding of politics that puts responsibility above party tactics and focuses on the well-being of future generations. It remains to be seen whether and how his swan song for the ÖVP and, at the same time, his wake-up call for Austrian politics, especially about a constructive European policy, will be received.

Reactions from the political landscape

Reactions to Karas' decision and criticism of the ÖVP vary, as reported by ORF. While NEOS leader Beate Meinl-Reisinger shows great respect for Karas and the SPÖ expresses its regret and at the same time shows him political openness, the FPÖ locates the "next round in the disintegration process of the ÖVP." The ÖVP itself is rather distanced and takes "note" of Karas' decision, while internally the discussions about the future line-up of the party in the EU elections continue.

Othmar Karas