ÖVP rattled by rising rival party rumours

Designated People’s Party (ÖVP) chairman Michael Spindelegger may be forced to change his party’s strategy as rumours about the looming foundation of a new party are growing.Newspapers report that Veit Sorger, head of the Federation of Austrian Industries (IV), considers setting up a new political movement. The businessman – who has hit out at the government about a lack of progress in getting essential reforms underway – could team up with former Böhler-Uddeholm AG (BUAG) boss Claus Raidl and ex-Social Democratic (SPÖ) Finance Minister Hannes Androsch in establishing the party.Sorger refused to rule out such plans in recent interviews, while Spindelegger vowed to set the ÖVP’s focus on families and citizens “who work hard and achieve a lot for themselves, their families and our country.”These announcements are considered as an attempt to make the ÖVP more attractive for civil servants and private economy employees. The conservative party has always been aligned to industrial company executives. The incoming ÖVP leader’s bid to up its focus on the needs of families and staff may be thwarted by the speculations that his party is about to face fresh competition from a new political group headed by Sorger.The ÖVP looks shaky after polls of the past months identified a lack of popularity while coalition partner SPÖ remained relatively stable. Some surveys suggest that the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) could overtake the ÖVP to claim second place in the next general election.Spindelegger is nevertheless tipped to garner wide acclaim by delegates at a party summit in Innsbruck tomorrow (Fri). The foreign minister is considered as the logical successor to Josef Pröll as party chief and vice chancellor. Pröll stepped down last month. Spindelegger is expected to gain more than 90 per cent of votes when party members are asked to name a new leader tomorrow.Asked whether he planned to react to rumours that a new economic-orientated party was about to challenge the ÖVP, he told the Kurier newspaper today: “I will add the demands of the economy to my agenda and I will offer the ÖVP as a partner. The ÖVP has a tradition and competence as a party of the economy.”The foreign minister refused to say whether speculations about Sorger’s plans could force him to throw the recently promised focus on family issues overboard. Spindelegger came under fire last month when he decided to erase the position of family affairs state secretary to establish a secretary for integration.Spindlegger is understood to be on good terms with SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann, but reports also have it that the coalition-internal climate was worsening once more because of some SPÖ appeals considered as populist by ÖVP officials. The Social Democrats have called for a new tax on financial transactions across Europe and a levy on assets of Austrians. The party also wants to get a referendum on the future structure of the Austrian army underway while the ÖVP prefers to hold further talks about this hot-button issue.Sorger and Raidl, the potential leaders of a new party, are regarded as opinion leaders of the Austrian industry. Both have bemoaned a political standstill and lack of courage to carry out unpopular cost-cutting measures numerous times in the past years.