Governor Thomas Stelzer of Upper Austria on the crisis of the ÖVP and Karl Nehammer. He is skeptical about the correctness of the Russian measures.
As one of the few ÖVP state governors, he can be relaxed. Eleven months ago, Upper Austria voted. At that time, there was still a small plus for Governor Thomas Stelzer. Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Wilfried Haslauer and Anton Mattle can only dream of that. In the summer interview “Krone” he talks about the sanctions and the ÖVP.
„krone“: You scored a plus in the state elections eleven months ago. Probably the last time for the ÖVP for a long time. Are you lucky the moment was on your side?
Thomas Stelzer: (laughs). As ÖVP we are almost as strong as the second and third together. And if I’m very honest: Yes, I’m glad I’m in an ongoing legislature.
Her predecessor Josef Pühringer told the federal ÖVP in 2014 that “something urgently needs to be done”, it is not enough to “hang” with 20 percent. Now the ÖVP is in a similar situation. No question to consolidate the federal ÖVP?
We have had a permanent crisis operation for two and a half years. Taking the main responsibility in this situation is something that was previously unknown. You must regain confidence by fulfilling your duties, even when the headwind is fierce.
Are surveys more of an afterthought for you in such a situation?
Of course all politicians look at polls. In the end, it is the election day results that count. And we are still a long way from an election day in the federal government. We have to take on the tasks and the responsibility in such a way that people respect it and say: they are good at their job.
But it is also a fact that the poor poll numbers are also due to the ÖVP scandals. Was Sebastian Kurz’s stage a win for the ÖVP or a huge loss?
Yes, we flew high. We now have a very different situation and legacy to deal with. This is self-evident and should be made transparent. But there’s no point in saying that, we had over 30 percent and the chancellor acted differently. We live in today and people still expect solutions to their problems today.
Does Karl Nehammer not deal with this legacy enough when he says the ÖVP has no corruption problem? Her colleague Wilfried Haslauer said in the “Krone” interview that the ÖVP must also ask itself: what is legal, but what is not done?
Politicians have always had higher expectations. That is why you have to question every act, is it arranged down to the last detail what the law says and what does it look like in the eyes of the beholder? But if the rule of law controls the causes, then the legal framework must also apply to the political representatives. The assessment must not be based on a two-class system.
Will Chancellor Karl Nehammer be the ÖVP’s top candidate in 2024?
He is our federal party chairman, he is the chancellor during this period. As always, we discuss and decide together what to do in an election.
Can’t decide now?
We’ve seen how quickly things change in politics. I am happy that he is Chancellor, that he is doing his job very well and that he must continue to do so during this period.
You even have an image problem with the subsidies for the Seniors’ Association. In Vorarlberg there is the Wirtschaftsbund scandal. Shouldn’t the ÖVP give itself new transparency rules?
What is certainly true is that things evolve. The practices that were lived and accepted in the past no longer fit in the present time. I’m also a big believer in adapting it to the current times and taking steps forward. I don’t know if you always have to put that in rules. It is important that we look closely at the selection of personnel. It is important that we look closely at what works and what does not.
Let’s go to Corona: In Upper Austria, Corona rules were often stricter than in the rest of Austria, such as the extended lockdown in 2021. They called for the end of the quarantine. Are you really comfortable with that decision?
The virus remains. Whether we feel comfortable or not, we have to accept it. Now we also have more ways to protect ourselves. The question of quarantine goes deeper for me. In a nutshell, quarantine means: the state locks you up. I am always amazed at how easily it is said, let’s extend this state of affairs. These are our most fundamental rights. That weighs a lot to me. Therefore, the state must weigh up the extent to which the state can interfere with private life in order to protect the general public.
When Dr. Lisa-Maria Kellermayr committed suicide after constant attacks from vaccine opponents and anonymous haters, you were surprisingly unresponsive, not even on social media. Shouldn’t you have worked harder to fight hate on the internet?
This suicide is a terrible tragedy. We quickly expressed our condolences through the Health Council. I am also a big proponent of raising awareness that not everything can and should be said in society. And we need to equip the executive with better capabilities. The case showed that we are reaching the limits that a government agency cannot cross. That is why the laws here need to be tightened up.
The FPÖ, your coalition partner in Upper Austria, is tough on sanctions against Russia. Is that a contentious issue for you and Manfred Haimbuchner?
We discuss it, but this is not an issue that will cause us problems together. Obviously the sanctions hit us too, that’s a price we all pay together to hopefully bring about peace. That is why it is also important to continue to monitor the sanctions. Do they still have the effect of creating peace, or are they more likely to fall over and turn against us and against the progress of our economy, against social cohesion? And that’s why for me the current effective sanctions are not set in stone forever, but you should always look to improve them or increase accuracy.
Just as important as the sanctions is the goal of gaining independence from Russia. Upper Austria could make an important contribution with the decommissioned coal-fired power station of Riedersbach…
We are also currently investigating the possibilities of putting the decommissioned coal-fired power station in Riedersbach back into operation.