Federal Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein won’t ask for special favours at an EU summit next Sunday (30 June) aimed at appointing the new President of the European Commission, except when it comes to one thing: Austria’s next EU Commissioner. An analysis by Herbert Vytiska for EURACTIV Germany.
The new Austrian cabinet that will be in place after the 29 September general election will take care of all political matters related to the EU, said the interim government.
However, there is one issue on which the provisional head of state will make an exception: the appointment of Austria’s new EU Commissioner, which needs to happen before the September general election.
In that regard, Interim Chancellor Bierlein said she will try to find a consensus with the Austrian Parliament. By the end of July, a decision should be made, according to the interim government.
The Austrian Socialist Party (SPÖ) has rejected suggestions that Johannes Hahn could serve a third consecutive term at the European Commission. The socialists are keen to recall that only politicians from Austria’s people party (ÖVP) have been sent to Brussels since Austria’s accession to the EU in 1995.
However, finding a candidate who is acceptable to both the ÖVP and the SPÖ will be difficult as one of these parties will certainly belong to the next government.
No candidate is capable of reaching a majority
Bierlein took a backseat during her first appearance at the European Council last Friday. The next European Commission President will need to find support from a broad majority in the European Council and the European Parliament, Austrian diplomats said, repeating a message conveyed by Paris and Berlin.
Bierlein does not even want to suggest any potential candidates for the job. In response to the recurring question of whether Angela Merkel should take on the Commission presidency, Austrian diplomats stressed that the German Chancellor is unlikely to change her mind.
The Austrian chancellor only spoke up on one issue: climate protection. After the EU summit last Friday, she publicly regretted that EU heads of state and government could not agree on achieving climate neutrality by 2050. “I would have wished for more,” she said.
A month ago, Brigitte Bierlein was not known to many. On 3 June, Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen swore her in as interim Chancellor.
In less than three weeks, however, she has become the most popular politician in Austria.
Despite her modest political ambitions, Bierlein has seen an unexpected success. She does not give interviews and doesn’t organise press conferences after ministerial meetings.
“You know, we have an extraordinary situation. We are not a government in the usual form because we have the mandate of the Federal President, not a direct one from the Austrian voters,” she said.
For this reason, interim ministers have received a clear instruction: “The Federal Government and its members are exercising restraint and modesty in the performance of their duties within the ministries as well as in their external appearance.”
The Republic will only be managed
Until a new government is formed with an electoral mandate, the interim government will only propose laws aimed at “averting damage to the republic,” Bierlein said.
In a rare departure from her formal humility, Bierlein did admit that she was surprised about the large amount of government bills that remain to be passed in Parliament.
The transitional government actually only wanted to update the budget decided by the former ÖVP-FPÖ cabinet. However, the latest decisions would burden the budget with an additional €100 million.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]