National Council: Opposition demands that Finance Minister Blümel resign

Motions of censure against Blümel and Nehammer and resolutions of the opposition rejected in special session

Vienna (PK) With the opposition demanding that Finance Minister Gernot Blümel resign, the debate in today’s special session of the National Council turned out to be correspondingly controversial. The basis was the urgent request from the FPÖ to the finance minister entitled “Blümel has gambled away – the ÖVP’s game is over” (see also parliamentary correspondence no. 156/2021) on the occasion of a house search of finance minister Blümel ordered by the economic and corruption prosecutor’s office .

While MPs of the ÖVP insisted that the finance minister should be expressly trusted with regard to facts, data and figures, the opposition was outraged by the current developments. The SPÖ and NEOS lack the political responsibility that the finance minister has to assume, namely by means of resignation. The FPÖ also locates a whole “ÖVP universe” of networks for example with the Novomatic company and, in addition to the urgent request, introduced a motion of no confidence against Blümel, which, however, did not find a majority. Another motion of no confidence by the FPÖ against Interior Minister Karl Nehammer was also rejected.

The Greens strongly criticized their coalition partner ÖVP for “attacks” that were “ridden” against the independent judiciary, but the accused status of the finance minister does not constitute a judgment. From the current point of view, the facts are not such that it would be necessary to approve a motion of no confidence sufficient.

All other opposition resolutions also remained in the minority. The SPÖ wanted the Justice Minister to publish the “Blümel-Neumann-Chats”. All three opposition parties demanded that the three-day reporting period in clamorous cases in the OStA Vienna’s reporting obligations be abolished in those cases in which there is a public interest simply because of the suspect’s role in public life. The Freedom Party in turn advocated the dismissal of ÖBAG board member Thomas Schmid. The NEOS tried to get some of their concerns through with five resolutions. They advocated transferring the competence for player protection to the Federal Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection and creating an independent authority free from instructions for the remaining areas of gaming. In addition, they urged more transparency in party-affiliated associations, the introduction of a criminal offense “illegal party financing” and the full control of party finances by the audit office. Finally, they also submitted their demand for an independent, independent federal prosecutor.

An application for a deadline by the SPÖ also served to set up an independent federal prosecutor. She wanted to give the constitutional committee a deadline of February 23, 2021 to pre-process her application. This application for setting a deadline did not receive the required majority, nor did the request of all three opposition parties to give the committee of rules of procedure a deadline of February 23, 2021 to complete the preliminary discussion of their application to set up their own COVID-19 subcommittee with extensive review powers.

FPÖ locates an “ÖVP universe”; Motions of censure against Blümel and Nehammer

Christian Hafenecker (FPÖ) spoke of a whole “ÖVP universe” in connection with networks, who identified a “general amnesia as in the investigation committee” in the inquiry response by the finance minister and accused the President of the National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka, that Novomatic would use the “credit card” on various occasions pull”. In addition, Hafenecker was concerned with the question of whether and how Blümel could have obtained prior knowledge of the investigations from the investigation committee. In the course of the debate, the Freedom Party brought in a motion of no confidence not only against the finance minister, but also against Interior Minister Nehammer.

Michael Schnedlitz and Susanne Fürst (both FPÖ) hit the same line. Fürst found a disturbed relationship between the ÖVP and the constitution and presented himself to the economic and corruption prosecutor’s office (WKStA). Schnedlitz spoke of a “detective novel”. He denounced the “PR machinery and staging” of the ÖVP and suspected that much more money had flowed for the ÖVP in the election campaign than was previously known.

ÖVP: Clear trust for finance ministers and criticism of the WKStA

Andreas Hanger (ÖVP) sees the arguments of the FPÖ on a “cabaret stage”, as he said. He turned to the Freedom Party in an appeal to stick to facts, data and numbers. He could not see the same as the basis in the motion of no confidence. Particularly with regard to the excellent work done in the pandemic, the Finance Minister should be clearly trusted. With € 32 billion in economic aid that has been made available since the beginning of the pandemic, Austria is at the forefront in Europe, for example, in helping to overcome the crisis.

Criticism of the work of the WKStA on the part of the ÖVP was expressed in particular by Michaela Steinacker and Christian Stocker. Steinacker missed objectivity in the investigation and located “technical errors” that were not to be accepted. Blümel learned from the media about his status as a suspect and the leaks would hugely curtail the rights of the suspect, she argued. She also considers the basis for the house search to be insufficient. The WKStA influences political decisions, Stocker explained the lack of trust of the ÖVP in parts of the WKStA and recalled in this context, among other things, secret tape recordings and advertisements against unpleasant media reporting by the authority. The search of Minister Blümel’s house would not be the last that could be illegal, he said.

SPÖ: disregard for democracy and the rule of law by “turquoise ÖVP”

Jörg Leichtfried (SPÖ) accused the “turquoise ÖVP”, its members of government and the Federal Chancellor of a political development that was characterized by “disregard for parliamentary democracy, disregard for the rule of law and disregard for decency”. For the finance minister, the presumption of innocence applies, but it needs political responsibility and a finance minister who is capable of acting, especially in the current crisis. “What do you think you are going to stay in office?” Said Leichtfried angry at Finance Minister Blümel.

Like the other parties, including the Greens, Christoph Matznetter (SPÖ) rejected the ÖVP’s criticism of the WKStA and made it clear that criminal law and political responsibility are two different things. Selma Yildirim (SPÖ) warned against damaging the judiciary and accused the ÖVP of acting biased against the WKStA. The Social Democrats fear that Finance Minister Blümel will now primarily have to deal with his past instead of looking at the future in order to cope with the greatest economic crisis since 1945. Blümel has left too many questions unanswered in the eyes of the SPÖ, as Karin Greiner (SPÖ) explained.

NEOS criticizes the moral image of “feeding” and calls for resignation

Similar to the SPÖ, Beate Meinl-Reisinger (NEOS) criticized that Finance Minister Blümel did not take any responsibility in view of the situation due to the lack of resignation and instead attacked the public prosecutor’s office in the greatest crisis in the republic. Austria had also come through the crisis much worse than other countries, she replied to the ÖVP. Meinl-Reisinger also spoke of a “state drama” in recent years and said: “The Novomatic pays all three: SPÖ, FPÖ and ÖVP” – whereby the ÖVP is “right in the middle instead of just being there”. The moral image of a kind of “systematic feeding” of politicians and parties that she has seen in connection with the Ibiza committee of inquiry in recent months is the mixture in which said chats or conversations appear. Overall, the opposition must now clearly say: “There is a lack of trust – step back, Mr. Blümel.” Meinl-Reisinger demanded that the minister should at least immediately hand over supervision of gambling.

Her club colleague Stephanie Krisper took full protection from the WKStA. It would have been a misconduct if the WKStA had not investigated the suspicion, she said. A house search only takes place if there are serious allegations in the room, she contradicted ÖVP MP Steinacker. “In Austria, corruption is not fought, but corruption investigations,” was her summary. With regard to the “Project Ballhausplatz”, Helmut Brandstätter (NEOS) located the turquoise party under Kurz near Orban and Berlusconi. For this reason, Nikolaus Scherak (NEOS) called for a transparency package and party financing law to be taken seriously. He demanded that the Court of Auditors had full rights of inspection and auditing of party finances, as well as real sanctions if the electoral campaign cost ceiling was exceeded, as well as its reduction and the creation of a criminal offense of “illegal party financing”. All party affiliated associations should also be taken into account in order to avoid circumventing the law.

Greens: The facts are not enough to approve the motion of no confidence against Blümel

Sigrid Maurer (Greens) emphasized that the rule of law, the constitution and the independence of the judiciary are central concerns for the Greens. Unfortunately, she got the impression that the coalition partner had an ambivalent relationship to the rule of law, for example with regard to “attacks” by the ÖVP against the corruption prosecutor. The facts are not sufficient to approve the motion of censure, said Maurer. Should this harden, however, the resignation would be necessary, she said. The rule of law also applies to this situation: Blümel is listed as a suspect, but that does not constitute a judgment. It is now important to continue working on transparency as a whole, Maurer announced early proposals for freedom of information and for stricter rules for party financing.

David Stögmüller (Greens) admitted he was having a hard time voting against the motion of no confidence today. But he wants the promised transparency package to be implemented and the issues to be dealt with independently. He described the Federal Chancellor’s attacks on the WKStA as “terrifying”; for him they only showed the nervousness of the ÖVP. Stögmüller emphasized that he would definitely examine the files and the SMS in the investigative committee, especially the files on the “Project Ballhausplatz”. Georg Bürstmayr (Greens) warned against undermining trust in the judiciary and thus in a central institution on the part of politics, and referred to developments in the USA. The Greens would not allow that, he affirmed, they would always stand before the judiciary. For the finance minister, as for everyone else, the presumption of innocence applies. (Final National Council) mbu / jan

NOTE: Meetings of the National Council and the Federal Council can also be followed via livestream and are available as video-on-demand in Parliament’s media library.


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