Not a week passes without yet another revelation: “Having trouble making sense of it? Here is a reference guide to the biggest scandals in Austria,” announcesFalter. The Vienna weekly has published a special edition devoted to 35 major affairs that have emerged in the Alpine republic over recent years, which are beginning to undermine Austrians’ confidence in their democracy.
Five ministers in the coalition governments formed by former chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel’s conservatives and Jörg Haider’s extreme right FPÖ party have been implicated. The text book cases include the 2004 BUWOG affair, one of the largest privatisations in the country since WWII, for which the minister of finance at the time was later accused of favouritism. Then there is the 2002 Eurofighter affair, which highlighted the payment of kickbacks from EADS to the minister of defence, who subsequently awarded the largest ever defence contract under the 2nd Republic to the European corporation.
These political leaders “reinterpreted Schüssel’s campaign slogan — ‘less state, more private initiative’ — as an invitation to enhance their personal wealth,” notes Falter. However, the current chancellor, social-democrat Werner Faymann is also under investigation for “purchasing a positive image” in the pages of several Austrian newspapers, notably the all powerful Krone, when he was minister for transport.
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“The vast majority of the scandals implicated neo-liberals,” remarks Falter’s editor in chief, who argues that “in an era focused on individual performance, the guys who made it allowed themselves to be tempted to seek personal gain. They were caught red-handed, participating in what was in fact a widespread practice. ”
Although it remains pessimistic, Falter calls for Austria’s citizens to take action. However, former leaders from all of the country’s parties, who have launched a “final campaign” in the form of the My Austria initiative, have already come together to address the issue. The retired politicians want to hold a referendum that would pave the way for more direct democracy and political transparency.