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15. 05. 12. - 16:20

Schieder wants technology offensive

Finance Secretary Andreas Schieder has appealed on politicians and businesspeople to ensure that Europeans benefit from technologic developments.

The Social Democrat (SPÖ) said it was essential that the achievements of researchers and engineers were considered on the continent. He said technological advantages in railroad traffic reached by European firms were the reason that trains needed only five hours between the Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai. Schieder told the Kurier: "You need twice as long from (Austrian capital) Vienna to (German capital) Berlin although it is just half the distance."

Schieder said Europe had to support the appliance of its own technology, also financially. The state secretary added that politicians in Europe had to ask themselves why German car manufacturers like Volkswagen (VW) and Mercedes wanted to introduce their new electric cars (e-cars) in China but not in Europe next year. "We have to strengthen the domestic demand too," he stressed.

Domestic debates about railway infrastructure have been dominated by other aspects such as the immense losses of Federal Railways (ÖBB) and the government’s decision to keep subsidising the company. People’s Party (ÖVP) parliament member (MP) Ferdinand Maier called on his party and its coalition partner, Schieder’s SPÖ, to hold referendums on upcoming railway tunnel projects.

Maier appealed on the leaders of the coalition government to walk the talk and underlined that they promised to allow more direct democracy in the country shortly. One of the most disputed rail projects is the construction of the Semmering tunnel. The creation of the 27.3-kilometre tunnel will cost over three billion Euros.

Styrian SPÖ Governor Franz Voves defended the decision to press on. He said the project would secure and create 15,000 jobs. Lower Austrian ÖVP Governor Erwin Pröll eventually backed the project as well after having fought it due to financial and safety aspects.

ÖBB head Christian Kern explained that a train trip from Vienna to Graz, the provincial capital of Styria, would take less than two hours when the Semmering tunnel becomes part of the Austrian railway network.

The ministers of SPÖ and ÖVP decided to make additional debts of 33 billion Euros to guarantee ÖBB’s capitalisation in the coming years. The government hopes that ÖBB will manage to lower its debts from 27 to 18 billion Euros within the next five years. It wants the company to reduce its investments by 920 million Euros between this year and 2017.

This appeal was not enough to silence Maier. The ÖVP official, who voted against the decision to jack up state debts to the benefit of ÖBB, said he would soon resign as MP. Maier accused ÖVP whip Karlheinz Kopf of having kept him from taking to the podium in parliament to voice his disagreement with the decision. Kopf reacted by saying: "He (Maier) planned to resign anyway."

Ex-ÖVP Economy Minister Martin Bartenstein, who followed Maier as ÖVP infrastructure spokesman, defended the under-fire whip. Bartenstein said: "Kopf enjoys strong support (in the ÖVP’s parliamentary faction)."

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