Eurozone troubles pose bigger risk than EE, says Treichl

Erste Bank boss Andreas Treichl has revealed he is more concerned about developments in the Eurozone than about developments in Eastern Europe (EE).The banker said today (Fri): “The biggest risk for us, the financial service providers, is the insecurity about the debt rates in the Eurozone and how they can be covered in the coming years.”The term Eurozone refers to the 16 countries out of the overall 27 European Union (EU) member states which have adopted the Euro as their currency.Eurozone member Greece received billions of Euros of credit from fellow EU members for around half a year. Ireland, another Eurozone country, applied for subsidies from the 750-billion-Euro European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) last month. Some analysts have warned that Portugal, Spain and Italy were the next Eurozone states in line to ask for financial support.Speaking to the Kurier newspaper, Treichl also said the first economic crisis which hit EE around two years ago was “overrated”. He said: “I don’t think there will be a second ‘crisis wave’  in Eastern Europe.”Treichl explained that federal governments in EE were introducing harsher measures much earlier on to tackle economic difficulties than their counterparts in Western Europe. He also claimed westerners were mostly living on the expenses of the next generation in contrast to EE citizens.The businessman appealed to the Austrian government to “step on the gas” next year to avoid Austria losing its triple A rating. The current AAA credit rating means Austria can borrow money with low interest rates on the international financial market. The international agency’s top estimation also means the country is considered as a good place to make investments due to its excellent solvency.”I see that high risk Austria may fall behind compared to other countries, especially to our neighbours in the East,” the Erste Bank head warned.Speaking about the recently presented Austrian state budget for 2011, Treichl said: “Many people are disappointed by the government. I do hope that this was a singular incident and that it (the government) steps on the gas in 2011.”Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) have been attacked for deciding not to increase investments on the education sector. The SPÖ-ÖVP coalition also came under fire for slashing family and student subsidies. The government agreed on higher car fuel taxes and a new flight ticket levy.Some economists warned the coalition may be forced to raise the value-added tax (VAT) in a few years time for failing to reform the country’s bureaucracy which is considered as bloated and inefficient by many experts and citizens.Treichl told the Kurier: “A future direction is missing. What does our government want? Where should Austria find itself in five years time? Austria has enormous potential to become a centre for education of the whole Central and Eastern European (CEE) region.”The banker claimed many companies would be willing to pay some kind of additional tax if revenues were spent on education.Treichl previously called on the government to use the 500 million Euros it will rake in annually thanks to the new bank solidarity tax from next year to improve the Austrian education system.Former SPÖ Finance Minister Hannes Androsch announced recently he has started preparing a federal referendum on the state of Austria’s education sector. The industrialist said the referendum would start some time next year.The SPÖ-ÖVP coalition has been criticised by Austria’s leading bankers to put thousands of jobs in the country’s financial sector at risk with the levy which will force banks to hand over 0.055 per cent of their annual total assets.Treichl revealed in July that Erste Bank planned to pay back the 1.2 billion Euros in state aid it received after the credit crunch kicked in as early as next year. The announcement came shortly after his pledge to return the state subsidies “in tranches before 2014”.Walter Rothensteiner, head of Raiffeisenzentralbank (RZB), stressed that Austria’s financial institutes did not cause the economic crisis but were asked to help restore the state finances nevertheless.SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann argued the bank tax was justified since the country’s biggest institutes were bolstered by billions of state aid and credits during the past one and a half years to ensure they do not collapse in the credit crunch.Rothensteiner also attacked the government over revelations that Austria’s nine provincial governments will receive around 150 million Euros of annual bank levy revenue.Most bank bosses made clear they will pass on additional costs caused by the new tax to their customers. Analysts expect interest rates on credits and activity costs to edge up as an effect.Erste Bank is one of the main players of CEE’s banking sector. Its operating result improved by 9.1 per cent year on year in the first nine months of 2010 to three billion Euros. The Vienna-based institute’s total assets climbed by 2.4 per cent to 206.5 billion Euros.