Raidl snubs ÖVP hot seat offer

The Viennese People’s Party (ÖVP) tried to persuade an industrialist and conservative opinion leader to take over as chairman, it has emerged.

Claus Raidl – who formerly headed tool steel manufacturer Böhler Uddeholm – confirmed today (Thurs) that he was approached by Vienna ÖVP officials about whether he could imagine becoming the party’s new leader. Raidl, a member of the Austrian National Bank’s (OeNB) board, told Die Presse that he had refused the job offer. Raidl is an outspoken critic of the federal government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the ÖVP for its failure to carry out reforms of the country’s health sector and administration. He refused to make any further statement on the Viennese ÖVP’s attempts to nominate him as successor of interim chief Gabriele Tamandl.

Raidl’s refusal may worsen the condition and reputation of the conservative party’s Viennese department. Christine Marek became its chairwoman in March 2010 following Johannes Hahn’s nomination as European Commissioner for Regional Policy. She received 96 per cent of delegates’ votes. “Together we are strong,” Marek said in her inaugural speech at an assembly held to find a new leader. The German-born politician reportedly had to be persuaded for a long time by party officials to give up her post as state secretary for families in the economy ministry to become leader of the ÖVP in Vienna.

Marek’s nomination occurred around half a year before Viennese headed to the polling booths to elect a new city parliament. The ÖVP – which, especially in Vienna, always experienced difficulties in finding its way between conservative paths and attempts to attract young voters – garnered only 14 per cent in the ballot. It has been the worst result for the party in city parliament elections since the end of World War Two (WWII). The Viennese ÖVP branch bagged almost 19 per cent in 2005 when Hahn was in office.

Marek complained about “constant attacks from within the party” when she revealed her decision to quit last September. Marek claimed she wanted to “fully engage” in reforming the party. Critics questioned her credibility since her pledge to give the Viennese ÖVP faction a more modern image followed a law and ordered an election campaign.

Analysts said voters were uncertain about what kind of ideals the party represented. They explained that most of those in favour of a crackdown on crime and stricter immigration policies eventually endorsed the Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) agenda. The right-wing party, which campaigns against “mass integration” for many years, claimed almost 26 per cent in the city election in October 2010. The FPÖ won only 15 per cent in 2005 in a vote which came shortly after the federal FPÖ nearly collapsed.

ÖVP State Secretary for Integration Sebastian Kurz is now seen as the most likely successor of Tamandl. Kurz, currently deputy chief of the struggling ÖVP Vienna, made clear many times that he had no intentions to become new boss of the party’s Viennese department – despite public appeals by ÖVP Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger to take over.

Only yesterday, Othmar Karas announced that he rejected the ÖVP Vienna board’s approaches. The party wanted the head of the ÖVP’s delegation in the European Parliament (EP) in the French city of Strasbourg to take over. Karas angered Tamandl by disclosing news that talks were ongoing to the press before a decision was reached. The interim ÖVP Vienna head admitted that she was “not amused” about his actions before Karas made clear that he was not interested.

The veteran ÖVP official reportedly wanted a position in the federal government had he said yes to the offer considering the leadership of the ÖVP in Vienna. Such a step may have worsened the relationship between Karas and Spindelegger. The member of the EP (MEP) accused the ÖVP leader and ÖVP Finance Minister Maria Fekter of acting in a “populist” way after they had rejected significant increases of the European Commission’s (EC) budget.