Gusenbauer on Harvard and Eurozone turmoil

Alfred Gusenbauer has revealed details of his engagement at one of the best universities in the world.

The former Social Democratic (SPÖ) chancellor told newspaper Die Presse yesterday (Mon) he was about to become a permanent lecturer at Harvard University. The institute – which is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States – is widely considered as one of the best universities in the world. Harvard topped various researches on the globe’s best higher education institutions in the past decades.

Gusenbauer explained he would spend one week per month at the university to hold workshops and lectures and to do research. “I am more interested in research, but lecturing is more fun,” he said, adding that he considered his life as “interesting, exciting and challenging.”

The ex-SPÖ boss said he would speak about the current crisis in the Eurozone and developments in the global economy at Harvard. Gusenbauer revealed that his research project would be about Social Democratic projects in Europe and Latin America.

Asked why he decided not to give his opinion on Austrian politics ever since he was replaced as chancellor by current SPÖ chief Werner Faymann three years ago, Gusenbauer told Die Presse: “I am focusing on working at universities and in the international economy now. I don’t see any point in commenting on Austrian interior politics. (…) I’ve got a different life now.”

Gusenbauer made clear he would not disclose his point of view on the current situation at Austrian universities. The government coalition of the SPÖ and the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) is at odds over how to cope with the strong increase of students and whether the reintroduction of tuition fees might be a solution. However, Gusenbauer claimed Austria would be well advised to spend more money on a better general university education system.

Die Presse confronted the former chancellor with his previous stance on the issue since he claimed Austria did not need elite universities while he is now teaching at one. Gusenbauer explained he used to support the idea of a creation of European elite universities. “Europe could cope with 15 to 20 top universities,” he said, adding that this number of top-class higher education institutions was “urgently needed”.

Gusenbauer also pointed out that “excellence cannot be bought but the necessary financial measures are a requirement for success. This is evident to me.” Gusenbauer said Harvard was the best example for this fact. He added that the quality of teaching was high and the perspectives of research good due to strong funding.

Speaking about elite universities and the right of everybody to receive the best-possible education, the former SPÖ leader and head of a SPÖ-ÖVP coalition told Die Presse: “I don’t think that equality and elite are contradictions. Top performances in sports are accepted too – the same applies to research. (…) It is inexplicable to me why it should be different considering intellectual achievements.”

Gusenbauer’s one-and-a-half-year term as chancellor was tarnished by conflicts within his party and between the Social Democrats and the ÖVP. He is part of the supervisory boards of some of the most powerful Austrian companies such as real estate developer Signa Holding and Strabag SE, the country’s biggest building firm. Many Social Democrats were angered when it emerged that Gusenbauer agreed to work as a personal advisor to Nursultan Nazarbayev, the autocratic president of Kazakhstan.

Gusenbauer recently caused controversy by dismissing a suggestion by his successor as SPÖ boss and Austrian chancellor. Faymann claimed the federal government and state leaders of the 27 European Union (EU) member countries should meet more often to debate how to get through the current economic crisis. Gusenbauer told magazine News last month: “They gather quite often anyway. A few times more will make no difference.”

The former chancellor said speaking to the Kurier newspaper last Sunday that it would by an “incontrollable disaster” if Greece exited the Eurozone, the union of the 17 EU members which use the Euro as their currency.

Asked what would happen if Greece got kicked out of the Eurozone due to its immense debts and extremely weak economy, Gusenbauer told the Kurier: “One after the other Eurozone country would be attacked as a consequence. This would lead to the end of the Euro – which would be a catastrophe for Germany and Austria because we need solid relations with our trade partners.”

Gusenbauer claimed the Euro would rise in value too strongly in value after a Greek exit for the domestic export industry to cope with.

Some of the continent’s most influential economists like German Hans-Werner Sinn have suggested the Eurozone should be split into two parts. Sinn argued the EU would have fewer problems helping the weaker southern states to recover if they formed a separate group while the northern Eurozone members – including Austria – stayed protected from the economic turmoil in Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

Austrian National Bank (OeNB) Governor Ewald Nowotny has stressed several times over the past weeks he considered talks about a possible state bankruptcy of Greece as “totally inappropriate” at the current stage despite gloomy news considering the country’s economy. Only yesterday, the Greek government admitted the country would not meet the initial targets as agreed with the EU, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Meeting these requirements considering the country’s plans to make cuts and achieve economic growth were seen as a requirement to receive further billions of Euros in guarantees from ECB, IMF and the 16 other Eurozone countries.

More and more analysts and traders expect that ECB and IMF will agree with Greece on a remission of some of their debts. Asked by the Kurier whether Austrians would be affected by such a measure, Gusenbauer said: “A waiving of debts would first and foremost affect Greece’s creditors which are big internationally operating banks. (…) Taxpayers would not be affected – unless these banks get into trouble and need to be rescued by the states.”

Gusenbauer’s claims that taxpayers may not feel a Greek insolvency comes just days after Viennese research group Karmasin announced one in two Austrians think the debt-stricken country should leave the Eurozone. The agency, which spoke with around 500 people, said 50 per cent of Austrians were in favour of a Greek exit. Just 34 per cent opposed such a move, Karmasin explained. The institute conducted the study for political magazine profil.

Around half a year ago, nearly six in 10 Austrians (58 per cent) told Karmasin they were certain that the Eurozone would manage the economic downturn. Freedom Party (FPÖ) boss Heinz-Christian Strache – who has called on the SPÖ-ÖVP administration to consider reintroducing the Schilling as currency in Austria – can be certain of growing support nevertheless. The opposition party could win the next general election, according to surveys.

Austria has coped comparably well with the credit crisis. However, the country is challenged in numerous regards at the same time. The European Commission’s (EC) most recent forecast on EU members’ debts and economic performances revealed that the alpine state’s public debt could resemble 75.4 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) next year. The Eurozone’s Maastricht agreement says members’ rates must not surpass 60 per cent.

Only last week, Austria’s leading think tanks warned that the country’s GDP would grow weaker than initially expected from this to next year. The Institute for Economic Research (WIFO) said on Friday the Austrian GDP would improve by 0.8 per cent. Bernhard Felderer’s Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS) announced it expected a 1.3 per cent increase. WIFO said in July that a 1.8 per cent improvement from 2011 to 2012 was possible. In the same month, the HIS explained that a 2.1 per cent jump was in reach.