Schwarz takes over from Mikl-Leitner

Barbara Schwarz succeeds Johanna Mikl-Leitner as Lower Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) councillor.Schwarz – mayor of the town of Dürnstein – takes over her fellow party member’s agendas as of now, it was announced today (Tues).ÖVP Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said earlier this month Mikl-Leitner will succeed Maria Fekter as federal interior minister days after he was named new ÖVP chief himself. Spindelegger was elected by the party board after Josef Pröll resigned as chairman, vice chancellor and finance minister due to “health warning signs.”Pröll suffered pulmonary embolism and two thromboses in the past months. He is hotly tipped for a top job at the Raiffeisenzentralbank (RZB), one of Austria’s leading financial institutes. The RZB has always had strong ties with the ÖVP.Mikl-Leitner is – like Fekter, Austria’s new finance minister – regarded as a hardliner when it comes to immigration policies. Fekter angered non-government organisations (NGO) and the Green Party last year by making clear that she did not want “unskilled, illiterate farmers from some mountain villages” to settle in Austria. The ÖVP vice chairman promised to “scale down” her rhetoric when she addressed staff at the finance ministry last week.Lower Austrian ÖVP Governor Erwin Pröll is widely regarded as the driving force behind the rise of Mikl-Leitner. Some commentators have claimed that the influential conservative – who is the uncle of Josef Pröll – also spoke out in favour of Spindelegger as new ÖVP boss to thwart possible ambitions of the foreign minister to become his own successor.Fekter and Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner were also rumoured to become new ÖVP chairman before the party’s federal board picked Spindelegger in a brief meeting. Economy Chamber (WKO) President and ÖVP member Christoph Leitl criticised the quick decision. Leitl argued the party should have discussed what it was standing for and in which ways its policies should be altered in times of various sociologic and economic changes before naming a new leader.Several political analysts warned the recent replacements of ministers were already the ÖVP’s final chance to recover as surveys show that the Freedom Party (FPÖ) of Heinz-Christian Strache would overtake the ÖVP to come second were Austrians asked to elect a federal parliament later this year. The next general ballot is scheduled for 2013, but the coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the ÖVP may call for early elections if they fail to find an agreement in the ongoing debate on how to reform the army.