Faymann pursues no-show policy

Political opponents and some fellow party members are expected to turn their guns on Social Democratic (SPÖ) chief Werner Faymann once more as the chancellor skipped an arranged meeting with the president of Poland.

Faymann was expected to welcome Bronislaw Komorowski for a brief chat at his office in Vienna on Wednesday. However, the meeting was cancelled at short notice. Asked why Faymann was unable to receive the president of the country which recently took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) from Hungary, a spokesman for the chancellor mentioned an “insurmountable conflict of appointments.”

The Faymann office official eventually explained yesterday (Thurs) that the chancellor went on a four-day holiday with his daughter when rumours about his reasons for staying away spiralled in the press. The spokesman for the SPÖ leader argued he used to spend a few days with his daughter from his first marriage every year. They allegedly had to alter their plans this time around. This enforced change meant that Faymann was kept from welcoming Komorowski, according to the chancellor’s spokesman.

Left-wingers who have been accusing the former SPÖ Vienna councillor of neglecting international policies may feel confirmed as much as his critics from the political right. Analysts and some SPÖ officials have claimed Faymann is more interested in next day’s headlines and short-term successes in domestic politics than reaching long-term goals which would get Austria forward internationally.

Faymann said last year he had no plans to hold any further editions of the tradition-rich European Forum in Lech am Arlberg, Vorarlberg. The chancellor claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin may attend the gathering before he called it off in March 2010. Faymann also tried to seal the attendance of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, none of the influential leaders accepted his invitations to the 2010 edition of the once prestigious event which had not taken place the previous year either.

Green members of the federal parliament (MPs) voiced concerns considering high cancellation costs when it emerged in May of last year that Faymann eventually decided not to travel to Australia to meet the country’s political leaders. A few months earlier, Austrian and international politicians promoting the spirit of a united and peaceful Europe criticised the ex-infrastructure minister for failing to show up at the official opening of the European Union’s (EU) new representation in Vienna. European Commission (EC) chief Jose Manuel Barroso and a number of other influential decision-makers gathered in the Austrian capital to attend the ceremony. In the weeks leading up to the occasion, the right-wing Kronen Zeitung branded the building as a pompous waste of taxpayers’ money. The tabloid daily has sided with Faymann for years.

Those critical of Faymann questioned his decision-making last month when he found the time to meet with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Vienna – shortly after staying away from various international summits in Europe and in the United States he could have represented Austria at. Schwarzenegger has no political function after his second term as governor of the US state of California ended in January. The movie legend visited his homeland for the first time in one and a half years to speak at the Vienna Energy Forum 2011, an event organised by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), to meet with old pals and go cycling in Salzburg.

Komorowski tried to offer a cool and relaxed approach when being informed that Faymann was unable to meet with him on Wednesday. “I’m in Austria on invitation by the president. I’m the president’s guest,” the Polish president said.

Komorowski was welcomed by Austrian President Heinz Fischer in Vienna on Wednesday. The politicians travelled to Mauthausen in Upper Austria yesterday to attend the town’s former Nazi era concentration camp. Komorowski – who also met with representatives of the Austrian economy on Wednesday – is the first Polish president to visit the memorial site. Most of the people executed by the Nazis in the site’s gas chambers were Poles.

Political commentators think Faymann already has the next federal election, which is scheduled for 2013, in mind when it comes to arranging his schedule. Polls have it that the chancellor – who has been accused of giving in to the demands of the People’s Party (ÖVP), the SPÖ’s coalition partner, too often – may fail in trying to retain his party’s top position in the upcoming ballot. Both the SPÖ and the ÖVP suffered bitter losses in the most recent general vote in 2008 – in which Austria’s right-wing opposition forces, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), increased their number of seats in parliament.

Nineteen per cent of Austrians prefer Faymann as chancellor, according to a recent survey by TV station ATV. FPÖ boss Heinz-Christian Strache has the approval of 17 per cent of people eligible to vote. However, his party is seen on top by several surveys with 27 to 30 per cent, followed closely by the SPÖ.

The ÖVP is struggling to keeping up with the FPÖ and the Social Democrats despite a recent change of leadership from Josef Pröll to Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger. Asked by pollster Karmasin earlier this month whether the conservative party did better for Austria in the government since Spindelegger took over in April, 34 per cent of respondents said no. Only 24 per cent of interviewed Austrians were of the opinion that it was a change for the better. The fact that 42 per cent of polled people admitted having no opinion seems to confirm the alleged increase of a lack of interest in political occurrences among citizens due to ongoing bickering and a lack of convincing reforms.