In Austria, the Christian Democratic People’s Party confirmed Chancellor Sebastian Kurz as chairman with a practically closed majority. In St. Pölten, Lower Austria, Kurz received 99.4 percent of the delegate’s votes at a party conference on Saturday. It was the first time that Kurz had to face re-election since he took over the party leadership in 2017. At that time he had already convinced 98.7 percent of the delegates present.
Since then, however, there has been an early National Council election, from which the ÖVP emerged as the strongest force for the first time since 2002, a center-right coalition with the FPÖ that broke up in the Ibiza affair and another ÖVP election victory, after which the Greens won the FPÖ as a coalition partner. In addition, there was the pandemic with three lockdowns and public prosecutor’s investigations against several FPÖ and ÖVP representatives – including Kurz himself – on suspicion of false statements in the investigative committee. In view of numerous calls for resignation and speculation about a new election, the party congress result means that the ÖVP is building a wagon castle around its chairman.
In the meantime, Kurz thought of resigning
Kurz, who has always denied the accusation of an intentional false statement, addressed it in his speech by describing the past few months as “challenging” for him personally. The attacks of the political opponents would be more personal and harsher and would be carried out “recently” with “constant reports to the public prosecutor”. Kurz indicated that after the investigation began against him, he played with thoughts of resignation: he asked himself whether “I’m really right there” and whether he could continue to expect this from his family. The backing of his own ranks made him move on, but in retrospect (the investigations are still ongoing) the burden “made him stronger and, above all, more determined”.
In the contributions of other speakers and in film recordings, the effects and side effects of the Ibiza affair, which, especially in the U-Committee, were increasingly directed against ÖVP staff, were portrayed as politically motivated by the opposition. The unifying motive of the “united opposition” was: “Shortly has to go”, it was said several times. The social democratic SPÖ regards the Federal Chancellery as their “hereditary farm”. Kurz referred to the former ÖVP boss and Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, whom he had asked if “that” would never stop. Schüssel stated dryly: “Yes. If the VP is no longer in the first place, then that will be better. ”However, it was noticeable that – unlike in some earlier statements – there were no allegations of bias against the media or parts of the judiciary.
Otherwise, Kurz refrained from attacking political opponents. In terms of content, too, he remained without any surprising announcements. To combat the pandemic, he said: “Vaccination is the answer, not the lockdown.” The skeptics should be educated and convinced, but not dismissed. He emphasized freedom as the “greatest good of democracy”, personal responsibility, and that working out comes before distributing as basic values.
Against the “car hostility” of the coalition partner
Kurz announced programmatically that, despite the pandemic, the tax relief it had begun on small and medium-sized incomes would continue. When it comes to greening, climate protection should not be played off against the economic location and social security. This can be seen as a cautious pointer to the green coalition partner, especially since a key motion against “car hostility” (not discussed further at the party congress) took a stand. Kurz said: “What is needed is progress and innovation and not regression and prohibitions.”
Kurz presented digitization as the greatest challenge for the future, where it is important to be at the top. Europe is lagging behind America and China in this regard. Infrastructure, research and administration should be digitally expanded in this regard. Students should be equipped with tablets or laptops from this fall. This is “the biggest school reform since the introduction of the free textbook,” said Kurz, referring to the educational reforms of the 1970s. Kurz has often referred to the then Social Democratic Chancellor Bruno Kreisky as one of his role models.
Kurz only briefly touched on the hotly controversial issue of migration in the “turquoise-green” coalition, specifically the reception of Afghan refugees. He sees it as Austria’s “Christian social responsibility” to “help on site”. Development aid has increased tenfold under his responsibility. But Austria also made an “unbelievable” contribution to the reception of refugees. Austria already has the “fourth largest Afghan community” with more than 40,000 people. One should not “take in more people than we can integrate”.
Shortly before the party conference, the Tyrolean Greens chairwoman Ingrid Felipe had once again confirmed the sharply opposite position of the Greens. They hope for a signal against the “inhuman course of the turquoise top” on the Afghanistan question, namely a “not that great vote for Kurz at the federal party conference”. The ÖVP delegates in St. Pölten obviously saw things differently.