Brauner denies VIA switch as campaigning intensifies

Social Democratic (SPÖ) Vienna financial affairs councillor Renate Brauner has rubbished rumours she was set to enter Vienna International Airport’s (VIA) board.Speculations Brauner would leave politics to become a member of the board of Flughafen Wien AG, the company managing VIA, have lingered on for weeks as decision-makers at the airport have come under pressure from an Audit Office (RH) report.RH investigators found significant problems concerning the construction of VIA’s new Skylink terminal already existed when the project got underway five years ago. RH experts further stressed in their secret preliminary reports – leaked to media earlier this week – that VIA bosses should have ditched initial error-laden plans immediately instead of sticking to them to avoid delays.Skylink was set to open for the Euro2008, and building work was stopped around half a year ago when magazine profil discovered costs may soar to around 900 million Euros after VIA bosses announced in 2005 expenses would not exceed half the amount. VIA’s supervisory board said recently it was convinced the terminal will go into operation in 2012.The blunders are expected to have an impact on the 10 October Vienna vote since the city holds a 20 per cent interest in Flughafen Wien AG.City dailies have claimed Brauner was already planning to leave the SP֒s Viennese department after having been active for decades to join Flughafen Wien AG in order to improve its decision-making and management processes.But the city councillor – who has been friends with SPÖ Vienna Mayor Michael Häupl since their time at the Socialist Students’ Union (VSStÖ) – denied she was on her way out. “I can only laugh about all these rumours,” she said today (Weds), adding she had no plans to bid farewell to politics especially shortly ahead of a crucial election.Opposition parties have however increased pressure on Brauner over a series of controversial investments.The SP֒s Viennese department decided to spend 4.7 million Euros on a museum, a restaurant and a watchtower at the building site where the city’s new main train station will start operating in 2015 earlier this year.Opposition party chiefs were angered by the decision, especially since the SPÖ failed to reveal what the 67-metre wooden tower will be used for afterwards.The new main station’s concept has also been criticised since it will lack direct access to a public transport underground.Reports also have it that the space of the station itself has been reduced in the planning process over the past few months to make way for more housing estate and office buildings. Representatives of local residents attacked the city government for failing to inform them about any changes of infrastructure considering the thousands of new tenants who will settle down in the area.The Vienna SP֒s alleged excessive spending policy has so far played a significant role in political rivals’ campaigning before next month’s ballot.The party – which has an absolute majority in the city parliament after garnering 49.1 per cent in the 2005 ballot – holds stakes in various media companies, advertisement firms and other businesses. Its opponents have accused the SPÖ of having financed itself by using these firms to produce its magazines and flyers and to advertise and organise its own PR events.Immigration and crime issues are nevertheless dominating the current campaign. The right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) of Heinz-Christian Strache claims it would care about residents’ safety, while the SPÖ focuses on “mass immigration”.FPÖ Vienna official Johann Gudenus said yesterday: “Many are concerned about extreme ‘Islamisation’.”Gudenus – who has used terms which are understood by neo-Nazis to be codes referring to prohibited propaganda, according to experts – added: “Young Turks unwilling to integrate are the problem. They are more violent and ready to carry out crimes.”The Documentation Archive of the Austrian Resistance (DÖW) has criticised Gudenus several times over the past few years for his choice of words and his links to far-right activists.Asked for his opinion about the NGO’s accusations, Gudenus told newspaper Die Presse: “Who’s the DÖW? (…) I think that (name) sounds a bit stupid. It’s a private organisation. There are 20,000 private organisations (in Austria).”FPÖ boss Heinz-Christian Strache has, meanwhile, claimed the upcoming election was a “duel” of him and Häupl for the mayoral post – despite his party’s failure to win more than 14.8 per cent in the most recent Vienna ballot.