Kopf shrugs off Maier exit

The People’s Party (ÖVP) is in turmoil after the resignation of Ferdinand Maier.

Maier announced in a radio debate he would retire next month instead of in autumn. The controversial parliament member (MP) was not allowed to express his critical opinion regarding the decision of the government to make debts of 33 billion Euros to guarantee the capitalisation of Federal Railways (ÖBB).

Maier criticised ÖVP whip Karlheinz Kopf for ordering him not to speak out regarding the issue. Kopf said in a reaction to Maier’s attack: “He planned to resign anyway. The way he chose to it is not worth commenting. Maier will soon be history.”

Martin Bartenstein, who succeeded Maier as ÖVP spokesman for traffic and infrastructure concerns, defended Kopf. Bartenstein told newspaper Die Presse: “Kopf enjoys strong support (in the ÖVP’s parliamentary faction). Maier’s points are not endorsed by anyone else.”

ÖVP Environment Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich pointed out that Kopf had a difficult task to care of as he “must ensure agreement among delegation members”. Maier criticised Kopf for “failing to react coolly” to news that prosecutors want to launch investigations against Werner Amon.

The ÖVP MP came under fire when it emerged that the Federal Workers’ and Employees’ Association (ÖAAB) received 10,000 Euros from a lobbyist in 2007. Amon was secretary of the ÖAAB at that time. The sum was put down as support to cover expenses caused by the production of a magazine published by the ÖAAB. Amon faces money laundering charges but refused to resign as head of the ÖVP’s anti-corruption commission delegation.

Kopf attacked Viennese state prosecutors for starting to examine the case. He claimed they only did so because Amon criticised them in connection with alleged cover-ups in the Natascha Kampusch kidnap case.

Bartenstein told Die Presse he “regrets” that all of these developments led to Maier’s resignation. The former economy minister pointed out that he had understanding for Maier’s sceptical approach to the 33-billion-Euro debt decision in favour of ÖBB.

Maier was invited by the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) to join its faction in parliament, according to Die Presse. The BZÖ formed a government coalition with the ÖVP between 2005 and 2007. It garnered 10.7 per cent in the general election of 2008 but might not be part of the parliament after next year’s ballot. Polls shows that just three to four per cent of Austrians plan to support the right-wing party. Four per cent are needed to make it into parliament.

The latest conflict in the ÖVP could worsen the party’s reputation among voters. Just 23 to 25 per cent of Austrians intend to back the party in the next nationwide election. Its coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), has the support of 28 to 29 per cent. The Freedom Party (FPÖ) of Heinz-Christian Strache is about to overtake the SPÖ, according to some surveys.