The Flapping of Wings: Eurofighter Uproar Puts Strategy at Risk

Discussion has quieted down on the referendum on military service; the Eurofighter is embarrasing everyone

Opinion | Anneliese Rohrer | December 2012 / January 2013

Scarcely anyone is talking any more about the referendum on mandatory military service that is to take place in January. For both coalition partners, the debate on possible bribes by Eurofighter manufacturer EADS (European Aeronautic Defence Space Company) is coming at the wrong time – as, in fact, the reminder that Economics Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner was once convinced that all was well with the deal.

Tough luck, one could say. The two events coming one right after the other – the renewed allegations of foul play in the Eurofighter deal and the referendum on military service scheduled for 20 Jan. 2013 – must indeed be aggravating for the Austrian government.

Neither Social Democrats nor Conservatives have shown particular enthusiasm in promoting their respective positions for Austria’s first-ever nationwide plebescite. The issue of national defence has now been forced on the coalition; still, no one wants to spend money on issues campaigns so close to next year’s elections, as they are likely to be overshadowed by further cover-ups and the possible allegations of bribes.

Essentially, the SPÖ has evidently given up on the idea of a professional army, which can be inferred from their silence and lack of any lobbying. This will certainly make matters easier for the party in other respects.

The recent developments have hit the ÖVP much harder.  They have apparently assumed that through the military service referendum, they have avoided a painful defeat at the hand of the SPÖ. However, more cases of corruption from the ÖVP-FPÖ era are certainly getting in the way of coming out whole, as the suspicion of bribery cannot be swept under the carpet.

Meanwhile, Eurofighter manufacturer EADS has set up an independent enquiry of "the internal procedures relating to anti-corruption measures", and CEO Tom Enders is taking the accusations seriously.

In the shadow of the Eurofighter wing, there is also a play for the party chairmanship going on inside the ÖVP, but it isn’t without a certain amount of humour. In Austria, theater is usually comedy:  In a recent interview with Oberösterreichische Nachrichten, Economics Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner admitted that "all was not on the up and up" during the Eurofighter deal back in 2005. This is especially interesting because should Michael Spindelegger lose his grip on either his party or on reality, Mitterlehner will surely have his eye on the ÖVP leadership job.

After all, it’s all a matter of 20-20 hindsight for the Economics Minister, because five years ago, as a committee member of the Eurofighter Enquiry in the Austrian Parliament, Mitterlehner was still convinced of the opposite. The ÖVP’s 2007 minority report from the Enquiry claimed, among other things, that "the suspicion that the pay-back trades were bogus was refuted." Everything was declared clean as a whistle; the bribery was flatly denied. Soon after, the newly elected Social Democratic-Conservative coalition called an end to the ­Eurofighter Enquiry.

In reality, a new Parliamentary Eurofighter Enquiry should be launched immediately. "Team Stronach", the newest political party in the Austrian Parliament, would, for one, be able to demand it. The only problem is, when it comes to pay-back trades, Frank Stronach’s firm Magna, too, is under discussion.

Longtime journalist Anneliese Rohrer is a leading political commentator for the Austrian daily Die Presse, where she once worked as an editor of Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs from 1974 to 2005. From 2006 to 2009, she was a commentator for Kurier. Two years ago, she returned to Die Presse, where this article appeared on 17 Nov as "Die mit den Flügeln schlagen: Eurofighter-Lärm vernichtet Strategie". Translated by Mona Tömböl with the permission of the author.

See also "Rohrers Reality-Check" at:

Correction: the date of the referendum listed in the print edition has been corrected to 20 Jan., 2013.

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