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04. 01. 12. - 15:35

Prhauser rejects Kruter's jet sale suggestion

Günther Kräuter, the general secretary of Austria’s Social Democrats (SPÖ), is facing friendly fire after suggesting selling the country’s fleet of fighter aircraft.

Kräuter said at the weekend the government coalition of SPÖ and People’s Party (ÖVP) should discuss a sale of the army’s 15 Eurofighter jets to save money. He claimed Austria could try to create alliances with neighbouring countries over protecting its airspace.

SPÖ Defence and Sport Minister Norbert Darabos said on Monday he was against the plan. Darabos explained he fully supported Austria’s neutral state which included the duty to guard its airspace without the involvement of other nations. He said Kräuter may have had good intentions but also criticised his idea as "not elaborate".

Now the party’s army and defence issues spokesman, Stefan Prähauser, hit out at Kräuter. Prähauser said yesterday (Tues) Kräuter should have consulted experts on the issue before expressing such suggestions.

Prähauser recently clashed with Darabos because of the minister’s U-turn regarding Austria’s conscription system. Prähauser said he always supported the model and would not change his mind overnight. Darabos caused controversy by suggesting discussing the issue without any taboos due to changes Europe had gone through in past decades.

The minister withdrew from fully supporting the army’s conscription programme in October 2010 shortly after SPÖ Mayor Michael Häupl spoke out in favour of a scaled-down military consisting of professional soldiers only. Häupl claimed young men’s time and public money was wasted by the current procedure of asking them to serve for six months.

Darabos was harshly criticised by ÖVP officials since he stressed several times that the mandatory service system was "carved in stone" and would not be reformed during his term of office. His change of opinion marked him as a lame duck, according to political commentators. Polls show that Darabos’ credibility suffered immensely. He is not expected to be part of the next government coalition but considered as a hot contender to succeed Hans Niessl as governor of the province of Burgenland.

Darabos suffered a humiliating defeat in November when Army Chief of Staff Edmund Entacher got his job back almost one year after being sacked by the minister. Entacher was fired after doubting the reasonability of the defence minister’s reform plans. The general said he did not understand why a functioning system should be replaced with another model. Entacher said the reform could pose financial trouble for the army which has an annual budget of 2.1 billion Euros.

Darabos had to reengage Entacher after a disciplinary commission considered the decision to dismiss him as unjustified. The defence minister – who was asked to resign as a consequence by opposition officials – reacted by revealing plans to minimise the chief of staff’s areas of responsibility. Entacher vowed to cooperate with Darabos but also made clear he would not abstain from expressing concerns about the envisaged army reform. Only a few days ago, Entacher said he "fears the worst" for the military after checking details of the minister’s professional army project.

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