Spindelegger takes over from Pröll

Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger is set to become the new chairman of the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP).The board of the party – which forms a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPÖ) on federal level – unanimously chose Spindelegger in a meeting this morning (Thurs). The panel was pressed to act after Finance Minister Josef Pröll announced his resignation from all political functions with immediate effect yesterday.Pröll had suffered two episodes of thrombosis in the past months before he was diagnosed with pulmonary embolism last month. The former agriculture minister, 42, explained his move to leave politics was a “decision in favour of my family.” Pröll took over from Wilhelm Molterer as party leader after the ÖVP garnered just 26 per cent in the general election of 2008, down by 8.3 per cent compared to the ballot of 2006.Spindelegger – a father-of-two from Lower Austria – is the ÖVP’s 15th chairman since the end of World War Two (WWII) in 1945. No one was longer at the helm than Wolfgang Schüssel who retired after having been in charge for 12 years in 2007. Schüssel is a member of the federal parliament in Vienna and part of German energy sector giant RWE’s supervisory board nowadays.Spindelegger was hotly tipped to succeed Pröll as party boss and vice chancellor ever since rumours that the finance minister may not return to politics after recovering from pulmonary embolism started. Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner and Interior Minister Maria Fekter were also in for a chance to take over. While Spindelegger can pride himself with being one of the most popular members of the SPÖ-ÖVP administration, Fekter’s far-right approach to immigration and crime issues has sparked mixed reviews among Austrians.All, Pröll, Mitterlehner and Spindelegger are considered as relatively liberal members of Austria’s conservative circles. However, none of them spoke out against Fekter when the interior minister linked more immigration with rising crime numbers.Spindelegger, 52, has been praised for shunning a populist approach to foreign affairs by many, while his critics claimed Austria’s profile regarding international issues was “non-existent” since he was sworn in three years ago.ÖVP Burgenland boss Franz Steindl said the decision to pick Spindelegger was “excellent”, while Economy Chamber (WKO) chief Christoph Leitl stressed he would have appreciated a debate considering the ÖVP’s future strategy before the nomination was made.Freedom Party (FPÖ) chairman Heinz-Christian Strache said he wanted to wait and see whether Spindelegger manages to “tear down walls” the ÖVP is barricading itself with before judging him. A spokesman for the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) branded the new ÖVP boss as a “guardian of standstill.”Greens chief Eva Glawischnig said she has experienced Spindelegger as a “friendly and calm dialogue partner”. Glawischnig may have to brace herself for party-internal criticism by claiming that Spindelegger has not made any mistakes in his role as Austria’s foreign affairs minister.The coalition has not yet made clear who will follow Pröll as finance minister as Spindelegger remains foreign minister while taking over as ÖVP boss and vice chancellor from Pröll. ÖVP MPs Günter Stummvoll and Michael Ikrath’s names have been mentioned by commentators, while ÖVP Financial Affairs Secretary Reinhold Lopatka is regarded as another option. Reports also have it that outgoing BAWAG PSK bank board member Stephan Koren could imagine launching a career in politics.