Fekter faces the axe, papers claim

Rumours that People’s Party (ÖVP) Finance Minister Maria Fekter will soon have to go are increasing following the most recent budget dispute.

The finance minister was seen as a contender for ÖVP leadership following the resignation of Josef Pröll as chairman, vice chancellor, and finance minister last year. Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner was given good chances to become the new head of the conservative party too. But it was Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger who took over. Spindelegger stressed that he never aimed at becoming head of the party.

Fekter acted as interior minister at that time. She had excellent popularity figures in polls thanks to her down to earth approach to complex issues. Many Austrians signalised being pleased with Fekter’s work, also due to her law and order approach to crime and the ability to explain tricky problems in simple words in speeches and interviews – in contrast to many fellow government members.

Now it seems that party-internal support for the finance minister is waning. Viennese newspapers like Kurier and Die Presse report today (Weds) that the team of Spindelegger is ready to remove Fekter from power. The former interior minister and vice chief of the ÖVP upset her party’s influential pro-European Union (EU) movements by choosing harsh words after international meetings about the future of debt-ridden member state Greece and the future fiscal agreement of the EU-27. She also seems to be about to lose her final remaining allies among provincial decision-makers after occurrences around Easter.

Fekter upset Austria’s nine provincial governments by informing the press about her plans for the financial agreement between the state and its regions before contacting them. The finance minister provided newspapers and TV stations with information about the tighter budget regulations on Easter Monday. The provinces’ governors and financial councillors heard of all the details for the first time when radio and television reporters asked them for comments.

Analysts point out that not only Social Democrats (SPÖ) and Carinthian Freedom Party (FPK) Governor Gerhard Dörfler chose harsh terms to attack Fekter. Provincial ÖVP chiefs bluntly criticised the finance minister as well. Fekter revealed on Monday that, according to the SPÖ-ÖVP government’s budget pact – the provinces would soon face fines of 15 per cent of their deficits if they failed to stick to the more stringent restrictions. The government’s plan also includes other controversial details such as the rule that the state may make higher debts than the provinces. Austria’s towns and communities must not cause any deficits as of 2016, according to the draft bill.

SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann and the party’s financial secretary, Andreas Schieder, were allegedly not informed by Fekter about her decision to address the media concerning the coalition’s intentions. Former Böhler Uddeholm boss Claus Raidl might soon be contacted by Spindelegger to find out whether he could imagine becoming finance minister, according to reports. Raidl previously rejected taking over as head of the ÖVP’s Viennese department. Fekter might succeed under-fire ÖVP whip Karlheinz Kopf while Science Minister Karlheinz Töchterle is seen as a possible future presidential candidate of the conservatives.