Austrian politicians ‘too stupid’ to understand economy

A top banker has been accused of “showing personal characteristics of greed and arrogance” after he branded Austria’s political elite as “too stupid and cowardly.”Erste Group Bank AG (Erste Bank) boss Andreas Treichl incited an intense discussion about the decision-making of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) when he claimed at a business event in Salzburg on Friday evening that Austria’s politicians were “too stupid and cowardly.”Treichl lashed out at the coalition for facing strict regulations when it comes to granting credits to small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) while little has been done to stop some highly risky speculative deals.”The next crisis will come and it will be worse than the current one,” the banker warned.Treichl called the contradictions regarding rules for SME-linked lending activities and speculations on a volatile financial market “a disgrace and a big mistake.”He added: “Our politicians are too stupid and cowardly to understand that because they have no idea of the economy. Austria will suffer because of that and we will fall behind compared to other countries.”SPÖ State Secretary Josef Ostermayer said yesterday evening (Sun): “It does not make a good impression if you ask politicians and the people for help, only to show personal characteristics of greed and arrogance after being helped.”Erste Bank received 1.2 billion Euros of state aid to get through the credit and debt crisis which kicked in around two and a half years ago. Four other Austrian banks have been financially supported in the past months by the Austrian National Bank (OeNB) after the SPÖ-ÖVP administration granted the institutes’ appeals for aid.Treichl showed no intention to take back any of his disputed statements today. “My wording may have been a bit harsh, but it might bring results,” he said.The Erste Bank chief argued the banking sector has tried to make politicians aware of the points he raised “for years” to no avail.Veit Sorger, head of the Federation of Austrian Industries (IV), announced yesterday he also recognised “a certain standstill” in politics. Economy Chamber (WKO) Christoph Leitl has been calling on the government for months to spend more on the research and education sector to avoid a worsening of Austria’s reputation in the world of science and labour.Josef Bucher, head of the right-wing Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), said he was “surprised” why a banker insulted politicians after banks were “massively supported” by them.Harald Vilimsky, general secretary of right-wing rivals Freedom Party (FPÖ), claimed: “He (Treichl) didn’t mean us (the FPÖ).”Vilimsky claimed the Erste Bank head was referring “to his own political associates, the ÖVP finance ministers.”Greens MP Werner Kogler announced there was a “true core” to Treichl’s controversial statements. Kogler claimed some aspects raised by the banker were reasons for the economic crisis.Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) President Erich Foglar said he considered Treichl’s attacks as “utterly inappropriate,” but added that he agreed with some of the points of views voiced by the Erste Bank CEO.Vilimsky criticised the Erste Bank executive chief for “paying out millions of Euros in wages to himself.”The right-winger referred to news revealing that Treichl received 2.79 million Euros of regular income and bonuses last year. Treichl was paid only half that amount in 2009 when Erste Bank as well as various other leading financial institutes suffered due to the global economic downturn.Treichl came under fire only last week when it emerged that the Erste Bank supervisory board will get 700,000 Euros for its work in 2010, twice as much as in the previous year.Small investors labelled the decision as a “disgrace”. One Erste Bank shareholder said: “Greed seems to be back as the crisis is behind us.”Treichl vehemently defended the decision to pay more. He argued that there was more responsibility to being member of a supervisory panel nowadays than in the past.Erste Bank is one of Austria’s main private employers. The bank, which focuses on business in Eastern Europe (EE), dominates the domestic bank sector neck and neck with Raiffeisenzentralbank (RZB) and Bank Austria (BA), an affiliate of Italian bank UniCredit.