Waving Habsburg appeal angers conservatives

A Social Democratic (SPÖ) member of the Austrian parliament (MP) has waded into controversy by suggesting asking the Habsburgs to wave from the balcony of a tourism hotspot.

SPÖ whip Josef Cap said in parliament yesterday (Thurs) members of the Habsburg family – who ruled vast parts of Central Europe for decades – could “wave from the balcony of Schönbrunn Palace a bit.”

Cap argued that the Austrian tourism industry would benefit from such activities. Schönbrunn Palace is one of the most popular attractions of Austria. Located in Vienna-Hietzing, thousands of holidaymakers visit the former family residence of the once powerful dynasty each day.

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner was outraged by Cap’s remarks. The People’s Party (ÖVP) official hit out the Social Democrat, arguing that “there is no place for that kind of sarcasm in parliament.”

MPs of the Freedom Party (FPÖ) and Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) also criticised the SPÖ member for his remarks.

On the same day Cap made his disputed statements, parliament passed a bill which will allow Habsburg family members to run for president in upcoming ballots.

Ulrich Habsburg-Lothringen, a former councillor of the Austrian Greens, wanted to become federal president last year. Habsburg-Lothringen planned to call on the Constitutional Court to overrule the law and give the green light to his candidacy. However, he failed to collect as many signatures as needed to get his campaign underway. Every person interested in becoming president of Austria must garner at least 6,000 statements of support to officially run in ballots. Habsburg-Lothringen was unable to meet this criterion.

The now defunct Habsburg article was meant to keep members of the aristocratic family from reclaiming the vast estate they owned before World War One (WWI) in case they succeed in presidential elections.

Former SPÖ MP Heinz Fischer claimed nearly 80 per cent to win the presidential election in 2010. The vote marked his second term as Fischer beat ex-ÖVP Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner for the position in 2004. Fischer won 52.4 per cent in the election seven years ago. The FPÖ’s candidate, ultra-conservative MP Barbara Rosenkranz, received only 15 percentage points of all votes last year.

Some ÖVP officials said it was a mistake not to nominate an own candidate to challenge Fischer in the ballot. ÖVP Lower Austria boss Erwin Pröll showed little ambition to deny his ambitions ahead of the ballot.

Reports have it that Erwin Pröll’s nephew Josef Pröll rejected suggestions to nominate a member of the ÖVP. Josef Pröll headed the ÖVP at that time. Some commentators claimed he rated his chances to become Austria’s next chancellor higher with a Social Democrat in the presidential office. The ex-ÖVP chairman allegedly feared many Austrians would back the SPÖ in the next general election to create a certain kind of political balance had his uncle won the presidential ballot. Polls have shown that Erwin Pröll was the only conservative candidate with potential to force Fischer into a second round of voting.

The federal parliament also agreed yesterday to reform Austria’s postal voting system. Citizens’ absentee ballots had to arrive within eight days after election day under the previous law. This system posed a loophole many voters reportedly took advantage of.

The change MPs agreed upon yesterday means people’s postal votes must arrive at election authorities’ offices by the regular election day to avoid a ticking of boxes after the announcement of the preliminary results of the ballot on the evening of that day. The restriction will apply to federal ballots, elections of provincial parliaments and presidential votes.