ÖVP – We instead of I

The requests and requests of various party leaders at the 40th party congress of the ÖVP to support Karl Nehammer in these difficult times have borne fruit. The Federal Chancellor was elected chairman of the People’s Party with 100 percent. 524 delegates cast their votes in the Helmut List Hall in Graz on Saturday – and 524 voted for him. Not even Sebastian Kurz managed that (he scored 99.4 percent in St. Pölten last August). And the remarkable thing about it: Nehammer was not so much the focus, but: the People’s Party. After the short years, the ÖVP now seems to be repositioning itself.

If the ÖVP had elected its chairman by decibel level, an accident would almost have happened and Wolfgang Bowl would now be party leader again. Because the former chancellor had been put aside for Kurz at his farewell performance in front of the delegates. Instead of a speech by the turquoise luminary, which could perhaps cast too much shadow on his successor, only an interview on the stage was planned, with two former officials at the same time. for safety’s sake. But instead of the interview, there was a combative speech by Schüssel to the People’s Party: “We don’t need to fear anyone!” cheers. Kurz then seemed almost colorless, distant from politics and somehow out of place after this short but political fire speech by his predecessor.

Ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also appears in Graz.  - © reuters / Lisa Leutner

Ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also appears in Graz.

– © reuters / Lisa Leutner

how things change

It illustrated how quickly things can change in politics. Under Kurz, the People’s Party had committed itself to its chairman, in reality not quite as completely as some portrayed, but far more than with its predecessors, even under Bowl. This culminated in a party conference in August of the previous year, which had the motto “We for short” because “everyone was against him”. However, as is well known, the functionaries’ defensive wall did not last very long, only until October, when Kurz resigned as chancellor.

This inevitably raised an identity question. What comes next? How can a party that has focused on one person reposition itself. The personnel question was quickly answered in two stages, but that was the easy exercise. The 40th party congress in Graz offered an insight into the new, or at least staged, self-image under Nehammer. And it’s a turnaround. Instead of the pronounced I under Kurz, now a demonstrative We, right at the beginning of a video (“We are Chancellor, We are the government party, We are the People’s Party”), several times by the moderator, then in every statement, and this question also formed that End of Nehammer’s speech: “Who are we?” asked the Chancellor. “We are the People’s Party, we are the first servants of this country.”

From this staging, a clear mandate to the new chairman could also be read: The People’s Party has a responsibility, it belongs in the government. As it has been since 1986. And even if the ÖVP is currently the chancellor, co-government has been called into question for the first time in decades, at least recent polls have made a majority outside of the ÖVP seem realistic.

Ex-Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel was also celebrated.  - © reuters / Lisa Leutner

Ex-Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel was also celebrated.

– © reuters / Lisa Leutner

Nehammer’s defensive speech

However, Nehammer’s announced half-hour programmatic speech did not meet expectations in two respects. First, the Chancellor doubled the time limit and spoke for an hour. Secondly, it was more of a government statement in which Nehammer addressed almost every allegation made by the opposition in recent years, sometimes explicitly, sometimes only with a half-sentence. However, forward-looking announcements and programmatic announcements were almost completely absent, apart from a “transformation fund” filled with billions to phase out fossil energy. “Simplify administration” also came up, but that was about it. Overall, Nehammer’s speech was remarkably defensive and technocratic.

But it is apparently what the People’s Party apparently wants after the short years. At least 100 percent agreement is a very good argument for Nehammer. When welcoming the delegates, host Hermann Schützenhöfer, the Styrian governor, also said that the ÖVP had now arrived in “reality”. Was that aimed at Kurz, the illusionists?

Both Nehammer and before that club boss August Wöginger had tried to emphasize the successes of the work of the People’s Party in the government. And in the communication of government actions, the ÖVP also obviously locates the lever for future election disputes. The motto: Do ​​good and talk about it very often. That was not only an order for Nehammer, but also for the delegates, the mayors, the municipal councils, the small functionaries. In the new old people’s party, you have to take over external communication. Until last year, only Kurz and his team were responsible for this.

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