Muzzled MP quits

The crisis of the People’s Party (ÖVP) seems to worsen as inner conflicts are escalating.

Ferdinand Maier announced he would resign as ÖVP parliament member (MP) in May. “I am already preparing my farewell speech,” Maier – who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the ÖVP’s various leaders of the past years – said in a platform discussion aired by radio channel Ö1 yesterday evening (Weds).

Maier accused ÖVP whip Karlheinz Kopf of being incapable. Kopf controversially rejected Maier’s request to hold a speech in parliament regarding a disputed decision of the government earlier this month. The coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and ÖVP agreed about making new debts of 33 billion Euros to continue the financial support of Federal Railways (ÖBB). The railroad company has debts of around 27 billion Euros.

Maier was outraged about the news. He intended to express his disagreement in a discussion in parliament but was not allowed to enter the podium. Maier said this interference by Kopf made him retire. He explained that he initially planned to resign in autumn. The latest developments mean that he will leave the parliament for good already next month, Maier added.

The ÖVP MP justified his criticism of the 33-billion-Euro debt decision by underlining that the sum surpassed the public budget and the extent of the recently passed 26.5-billion Euro austerity and tax pact. Maier served as ÖVP infrastructure spokesman for only a few months due to his tendency to criticise mutual moves by the leaders of SPÖ and ÖVP. Former Economy Minister Martin Bartenstein succeeded Maier as spokesman for infrastructure and traffic issues.

Maier’s move followed harsh criticism by MPs of all five parliamentary factions of the decision to reduce the number of MPs in 2013. SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann, ÖVP Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger and the government’s ministers agreed that the parliament should consist of just 165 from next year. Its five factions currently share 183 seats.

Constitutional experts attacked the government for pressing on with the idea instead of involving the whole parliament. They were little impressed by the decision to set up an investigative group formed by MPs of all parties. The panel will debate the matter in the coming years.

Experts on the Austrian electoral system said that a reduction of the number of parliament delegates of an extent as planned by the government would mean annual savings of not more than five million Euros. The savings potential could be even lower as opposition politicians call for more financial support to employ assistants. They warned from being unable to inform themselves properly about the various federal and European draft bills and reforms the parliament has to debate all the time.

Several MPs are part of more than one investigative committees. Experts appealed on the government to carry out a reform which frees them from some of the additional pressure to avoid a worsening of decision-making procedures. Becoming a politician must remain an attractive option to young people, they said – and made aware of polls revealing that the number of citizens interested in political procedures was waning. The “populist decision” to abstain from upping MPs’ salaries for a fourth year in a row will be of little help to improve the general situation, political scientists and constitutional experts claimed.