Defending Schüssel's Legacy
German language media translated for TVR's Media Monitor
One of the great three. Sept. 8.
by Andreas Khol, former ÖVP Club Secretary and Speaker of the Parliament
[Wolfgang Schüssel's] coalition with the FPÖ broke more than one taboo. He didn't head the winning party, but came in third in the elections. In this case, he had promised to go into opposition. He stuck to it for several months, then public opinion dragged him into coalition talks with the SPÖ. The FPÖ shot to the top of popularity surveys. As negotiations with the SPÖ broke down after three months, Schüssel broke another taboo: within ten days, he agreed to form a government with the FPÖ under his leadership. [...]
In 1999, Austria was a rescue case: in the eurozone debt listing, the country stood on the penultimate place, behind Greece, before Portugal. The tax rate was nearly 45%; the country groaned under the debt, the people under the high taxes. The need for restructuring was immense, but the "grand" coalition had exhausted its creativity. [...]
Wolfgang Schüssel, supported by the FPÖ's leading lady Susanne Riess-Passer, rolled up his sleeves: in spite of international pariah-status, one reform followed the next. With a narrow majority in Parliament, the country was restructured [...]
The reorganisation of state-owned industry under the Austrian Industrial Holding (ÖIAG) was a sustained success. [The steel companies, ed.] Voest and Böhler-Uddeholm, the oil industry OMV, the post, and telephone: In 2000, they had almost 130 billion shillings debt. Schüssel partially privatised them, and kept shares for the state. He de-politicised the executive and supervisory boards. Today, the debts have been completely repaid, and the shares retained by the state are worth as much as all the enterprises together before their privatisation, while instead of paying debt interests, the state receives respectable dividends.
While Schüssel couldn't change the collective agreement for civil servants, he saw through an administrative reform that brought in €20 billion over seven years. The tax rate sunk from 44.8% to 41.7%. The budget was put in order, once managing a zero-deficit. In the debt listing, Austria moved up to 8th place.
Schüssel was not only a reformer of the economy and the state's finances. [...] The SPÖ [...] had put off confronting the open questions regarding the robbed and persecuted Jewish Austrians. Schüssel solved them bravely. Through a newly founded reparation fund, about a hundred thousand victims received a gesture of recognition of the injustice they had suffered. [...] Stolen works of art and real estate were returned. [...]
[His detractors] are now trying to turn the Telekom-scandal into a Schüssel-scandal. [...] No serious critic doubts his personal integrity: few had a more modest appearance and life style than he. His political responsibility will likely be discussed by an eventual parliamentary inquiry. In Austria, in contrast to Germany, there is the principle of ministers' responsibility. [...] As such, the minister of finance, who was responsible for Telekom, will more likely be the focal point. His name: Karl-Heinz Grasser. [...]
Along with Julius Raab and Bruno Kreisky, Wolfgang Schüssel is one of the three great post-war chancellors. Posterity will decide about his achievements and his role in Austrian history. Today he is still in the cross-fire of opinion. He will survive it.