Hollande’s growth appeal ‘nonsense’, says Fekter

Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) Finance Minister Maria Fekter has launched an attack on the new French president.

The former interior minister branded Francois Hollande’s targets as “nonsense”. Speaking to the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten newspaper, Fekter said ambitions to add aspects guaranteeing economic growth in struggling countries to the planned European Union (EU) fiscal pact were outdated.

This statement follows a rift with Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg. Fekter claimed in an interview that the head of the EU’s group of Eurozone countries cancelled a press conference because he had kidney stones. Fekter denied that Juncker was angered with her for revealing details about what the Eurozone finance ministers had agreed on before he had the chance to address the media. The Austrian finance minister later apologised to Juncker.

Fekter was seen as a potential threat for ÖVP Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger’s leadership of the party for some time before she caused controversy on European level. Public opinion researchers explained that many Austrians appreciated Fekter’s blunt language and down to earth approach to explaining complex issues before a significant switch took place. Now polls identify her as one of the least popular members of the government.

Spindelegger promised last week that the EU would not let debt-ridden Greece down under any circumstances. The foreign minister claimed that there was no other option but helping Greece to get through the crisis. The ÖVP chief said Europe’s political leaders were not debating a departure of Greece from the Eurozone or the EU. “The European Union has no revolving door,” he said.

Austria’s leading tourism agency, the Verkehrsbüro Group, said the number of Austrians planning to travel to Greece this summer was 21.6 per cent lower at the moment than at the same time in 2011. Nevertheless, the southern country remains the third-most popular summer holiday destination among Austrians opting for a trip abroad. Turkey is ahead, with Spain in second, a Verkehrsbüro Group spokesman explained.

Greece – where public servants, ferry staff and bus drivers held several strikes in the past months – is challenged by a high public debt rate and soaring unemployment figures. At the same time, the Austrian economy is doing comparably well.

The Vienna-based Institute for Economic Research (WIFO) said the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 0.2 per cent from the final quarter of 2011 to the first quarter of 2012. WIFO analysts explained that this meant an increase of 1.9 per cent from the first quarter of 2011 to the same period in the current year.

The European Commission (EC) said in its latest economic forecast that the economy in the 17 Eurozone states would decline by 0.3 per cent on average in 2012 compared to 2011. Experts of the political institution, which is headed by Jose Manuel Barroso, said Austria’s GDP could achieve an annual growth rate of 0.8 per cent this year.