Labour minister must repair politics’ image

Rudolf Hundstorfer has said that “clarity, transparency and comprehensibility” were needed to improve the reputation of Austrian politics.

The Social Democratic (SPÖ) labour minister was asked to organise the activities of a special group of government members. The panel, which consists of SPÖ whip Josef Cap and People’s Party (ÖVP) Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner among others – is expected to create a new law on the subsidisation of parties and other controversial issues until summer. Greens official Peter Pilz has already warned he would organise a referendum if the government kept delaying attempts to create clearer anti-corruption rules.

Hundstorfer said yesterday (Thurs) he was of the opinion that between one and two per cent of Austrian lawmakers were breaking the rules. He said “juridical certainty” and clear laws were needed to inform politicians about what kind of activities were acceptable and which actions were offences.

ÖVP chairman Michael Spindelegger wants to create a code of conduct for members of his party. The vice chancellor assigned a three-member committee of elder statesmen to establish a set of guidelines. Spindelegger said he wanted to help ÖVP members to act correctly in the various “grey areas” where federal law failed to make clear whether some action was an offence or not.

He said the upcoming code of conduct would be stricter than a similar guide his faction agreed on last year as a reaction to the corruption allegations against former European Parliament member (MEP) Ernst Strasser. Especially provincial politicians such as mayors and local council members expressed fears that they could soon be confronted with corruption and bribery allegations after accepting an invitation to have a coffee or lunch with businesspeople due to the current intense debate.

Former ÖVP chief Erhard Busek reacted critically to Spindelegger’s new ideas. The ex-vice chancellor said the Ten Commandments should be sufficient as a guideline for political decision-makers. Busek claimed that Spindelegger had the “wrong staff”. He appealed to the ÖVP leader to reassess the party’s recruiting policies to avoid a further worsening of its image.

The ÖVP won 26 per cent in the federal election of 2008. Public opinion research group Karmasin said only 24 per cent would support the conservative faction in elections at the moment. The ÖVP’s struggles raise the possibility that the current government parties might be unable to claim more than 50 per cent together in next year’s ballot.

Especially the rightist Freedom Party (FPÖ) seems to benefit from people’s dissatisfaction with the developments in Austrian politics. However, new political movements could also be able to win over significant numbers of voters in the ballot of 2013 who used to support the established parties.

Peter Ulram of public opinion agency Ecoquest said the current circumstances could enable a new party to garner five to 10 per cent next year. Ulram warned that managing to mobilise people on the internet would not be enough to have long-lasting success. He said that a “serious political concept” was of great importance as well.