Austrians call for right to name EC president

The vast majority of Austrians would appreciate the planned European Parliament (EP) voting law reform, according to a new study.

The Austrian Society for European Policies (Österreichische Gesellschaft für Europapolitik, ÖGfE) announced today (Fri) that 60 per cent of Austrians wanted to elect the next president of the European Commission (EC) in a direct ballot. ÖGfE interviews show that almost seven in 10 (68 per cent) of Austrians are in favour of a change of voting regulations to be allowed to name the Austrian representative in the EC in the next EP vote set to take place in 2014.

This news could shake up the People’s Party (ÖVP). ÖVP chief Michael Spindelegger was criticised only a few weeks ago for claiming that Austria should be ready to forgo naming a European commissioner. Spindelegger suggested that countries should take turns in nominating the EC’s members in what could be a significant move towards a more efficient EC.

Austria is currently represented in the EC headed by former Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Barroso by Johannes Hahn. The ex-ÖVP science minister is in charge of the commission’s regional policy. He succeeded Benita Ferrero-Waldner who served as the European commissioner for external relations and European neighbourhood policy  for five years until 2009 before heading the EC’s trade and European neighbourhood policy department between 2009 and 2010.

Newspapers claimed that the Austrian Social Democrats (SPÖ) of Chancellor Werner Faymann left it to their coalition partner, the ÖVP, to decide who should represent Austria in the influential European institution. Critics of Faymann felt confirmed by these rumours. The chancellor was accused of opting for an overly critical course regarding European issues for a long time before he carried out a U-turn during the continent’s most recent financial crisis. The former infrastructure minister described himself as an “enthusiastic European” in a recent interview.

The SPÖ suffered devastating losses in the most recent EP vote. The party’s share dropped by 9.6 per cent to 23.7 per cent in the election which took place in June 2009. The ÖVP fared badly in the ballot as well. The pro-European Union (EU) movement achieved 30 per cent, down by 2.7 per cent compared to its performance in 2004.

The ÖVP’s campaign was headed by Ernst Strasser. The ex-interior minister had to leave the EP when investigative journalists exposed his willingness to influence decision-making procedures in the EP for money. Strasser denied the Sunday Times reporters’ allegations despite several secretly filmed conversations in which he described himself as a lobbyist with several clients. Strasser said he was investigating against corrupt businesspeople undercover and about to inform anti-corruption authorities when the British newspaper published the controversial story in March 2011.

Hans-Peter Martin’s Liste Martin faction was the big winner of the latest EP election. The ex-SPÖ front runner bagged 17.7 per cent, 3.7 per cent more than in 2004. His campaign found strong support by Austria’s most popular newspaper, the Kronen Zeitung. Martin – who caused scandals over the years by secretly filming members of the EP (MEPs) of different nationalities and political movements to disclose their alleged abuse of various privileges – faces charges of serious fraud, embezzlement and abuse of public subsidies. He is suspected of having pocketed one million Euros of subsidies by setting up a complex system of letterbox companies and promotion agencies.