MEPs are clueless, says minister

A conservative opinion leader has been accused of “having no idea” about the situation in his homeland after calling for more support for a budget increase of the European Union (EU).

Othmar Karas, the head of the delegation of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in the European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg, France, recently said that a five per cent budget increase “is the minimum.” The former member of the federal parliament (MP) in Vienna argued: “More Europe costs more money.”

His appeal came shortly after Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission (EC), suggested to raise the EU budget by five per cent to 1.025 billion Euros. Speaking about the financial frame for a six-year period starting in 2014, Barroso pointed out that 95 per cent of EU funds would be returned to its 27 member states in form of various subsidies. The EC plans to cut back agricultural funds while increasing sums spent on competitiveness, science and research.

Now ÖVP Finance Minister Maria Fekter claimed “no one in Austria” had understanding for a higher EU budget. The minister pointed out that the government coalition her party forms with the Social Democrats (SPÖ) was in favour of a freeze of EU funds until 2013. She stressed yesterday (Tues) that federal governments across the country were currently forced to fork out extra money to stabilise their economies.

Referring to Karas, Fekter claimed that members of the EP (MEPs) had “no clue” about the situation in Austria. She argued the coalition saw itself forced to reduce state pensions and family issues expenditure in its budget for 2011.

Karas – who has acted as MEP since 1999 – has not yet reacted to Fekter’s statements. The rift erupted when he accused Michael Spindelegger of making “short-term populist demands” when the ÖVP boss labelled his five per cent budget increase suggestion as “unacceptable.”

It is not the first time that Karas clashed with ÖVP chiefs. He did little to hide his disappointment when then ÖVP leader Josef Pröll asked Ernst Strasser to head the party’s campaign in the EP election 2009. The decision sparked a comeback in politics of Strasser who was the country’s interior minister for four and a half years until 2004.

Strasser received little support from the ÖVP’s regional departments on the campaign trail. Nevertheless, the conservative party came first in the ballot with a share of 29.98 per cent – also thanks to the 112,000 preference votes Karas managed to bag. Strasser resigned as MEP and head of the ÖVP delegation in Strasbourg after being hit by corruption claims earlier this year. Viennese state prosecutors and the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF are currently investigating against him.