Above all, the resignation of Agriculture Minister Elisabeth Köstinger (ÖVP) put Nehammer under pressure. A withdrawal of the confidants of ex-chancellor and party leader Sebastian Kurz was expected, the timing of course surprised political observers and – according to media reports – also Nehammer himself.
It did not suit Nehammer that “the handle of action was snatched from him before the ÖVP party conference,” says political advisor Thomas Hofer to ORF.at about Köstinger’s surprising resignation at the time. “But he reacted quickly, you have to add that positively,” said Hofer. In addition to Köstinger, Economics Minister Margarete Schramböck resigned on Monday. She has long been considered a shaky candidate in the ÖVP government team.
“Leasehold” of the Farmers’ Union
When it comes to the replacements, “of course there is an internal party logic,” says political advisor Hofer, even if the ÖVP denies this. Köstinger’s successor will be Norbert Totschnig, director of the ÖVP Farmers’ Association. “It is clear that the farmers’ association has a ‘heritage lease’ on the Ministry of Agriculture,” says Hofer.
Analysis of the new government team
ZIB head of domestic policy Hans Bürger analyzes the new government team after Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) press conference.
Hofer sees the appointment of Susanne Kraus-Winkler, the former head of the tourism division in the Chamber of Commerce (WKO), as Secretary of State for Tourism as a sign to the ÖVP Economic Association. The tourism agendas migrate from the agricultural to the newly created economic and labor department. The non-party Martin Kocher will head the “super ministry”. The economist and former head of the Institute for Advanced Studies was previously Minister of Labor.
“Smack of party compromise”
The political scientist Peter Filzmaier also points out that Totschnig, an East Tyrolean, is moving into the government. With Köstinger, the farmers’ association has lost a minister, with Schramböck the Tyrolean state ÖVP. The replacements had “already the aftertaste of the classic party compromise and not a sole decision of the Federal Chancellor,” said Filzmaier.
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If you follow this logic, the Tyrolean People’s Party will have a state secretary in addition to a minister: Florian Tursky, previously office manager of Governor Günther Platter, will take over the digitization agenda. Secretary of State for Youth Astrid Plakolm (ÖVP) will also have additional responsibilities. In the future, she will be responsible for community service and voluntary work, areas of responsibility previously assigned to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Cooker as Nehammer’s personal choice
In the case of “Superminister” Kocher, Filzmaier sees the case differently: “With Kocher, who as a minister does not have the classic roots in the ÖVP, Nehammer rather made his personal choice through,” said the political scientist. There is also another argument behind the decision: Kocher is the ÖVP minister with the highest level of trust in the population.
For the political scientist Laurenz Ennser-Jedenastik, the fact that a non-partisan is given such an influential department does not contradict the logic of the People’s Party. “Even recently, the ÖVP was always willing to give ministerial responsibility to people without very close party ties,” said Ennser-Jedenastik. As an example, he cites the judge and former Justice Minister Claudia Bandion-Ortner.
Personnel debate ticked off
In any case, it is crucial for Nehammer to have ticked off the personnel debate before the party conference on Saturday, emphasizes Filzmaier. Nehammer must use the stage at the party congress to sharpen his political profile. “It sounds strange for a Federal Chancellor, but we still don’t know exactly what kind of overall political concept he has,” states Filzmaier. For Nehammer, it’s about “moving away from the Kurz era, but not about a U-turn,” says Filzmaier. “An immediate U-turn would split the party emotionally.”
The party has already had the logo revised, and it could be seen behind the chancellor when the new ministers and state secretaries were announced in the ÖVP Political Academy in Vienna.
Nehammer’s announcement that the profits of state-owned companies, which benefited disproportionately from the energy crisis, would be skimmed off by law, also caused unrest within the party. Political advisor Hofer nevertheless expects that Nehammer will be elected federal party chairman with a result of well over 90 percent. The ÖVP will not damage itself here.
However, Nehammer has only limited control over the long-term calm in the party, according to political scientist Ennser-Jedenastik, referring to the ongoing investigations in the ÖVP environment. “Up to a certain point, the party leadership is just a passenger if it doesn’t break away from certain people and practices with a hard cut,” says the political scientist. Otherwise, one is always driven by what may come to light and possibly lead to charges.