Kosmodromio spoke with Jörg Lichtfried, member of the National Council, former MEP and former Minister of Transport, Innovation and Technology of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) about the pandemic management in Austria, the crisis of the european social democracy and the EU’s attitude towards Russia and Turkey.
Could you provide us some context about the Kurz government response to Covid-19 and the thesis of the SPÖ towards the pandemic generally and the restrictive measures specifically?
The Austrian government did quite a bad job of managing the Covid-19 crisis. Although there was some success in the spring of 2020 to contain the infection rate, the government failed to implement an effective plan in the following months. The consequences were several severe lockdowns, a very high mortality rate last autumn, and serious social and economic consequences, for example the highest unemployment rate in 50 years. The Coronavirus vaccination process is also not as fast as it could be, or as fast as it is in many other countries. Last summer, the government determined a budget limit for the procurement process of vaccines, so the administration staff couldn’t order as many doses as necessary. This is the main reason why Austria’s vaccination campaign isn’t that successful.
During the last months, watching poll results, we saw on the one hand the decline of the sympathy for the ruling coalition and on the other handa slow but steady rise of your party. How, from your point of view this change in electoral behavior can be explained?
Many people are very disappointed by the way chancellor Sebastian Kurz is conducting his politics. He promised a lot, for example, “in April all citizens over 65 will have a vaccination” and couldn’t fulfill it in the end. Also the economic consequences of the government policy are massive. In addition, Sebastians Kurz’s People’s Party is dealing with a corruption scandal in which bribery and illegal party donations are at the focus of investigations. The finance minister, a close personal friend and a long-term colleague of Kurz, is also involved.
As “Politico” analysed: “Instead of the ‘new style’ Kurz promised, Austria now faces a shrewd behind-the-scenes operator willing to do whatever it takes to push through his agenda, whether dealing with the Catholic Church, doling out political favors or taking on rivals”.
In comparison, our party leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner is a good crisis manager who continually presents fact-based solutions to tackle the pandemic, but also to fight unemployment and stimulate the economy. The combination of the above I think answers to your question why the gap between the two parties is closing.
The last decade we have seen the decline of social-democratic political parties in Europe a phenomenon now widely known as pasokification. What do you think is the reason behind this development? Is this course reversible for the European social democracy?
The decline of centre-left, social-democratic political parties in Europe is a phenomenon of the last few years, but there are some rays of hope like Portugal or Denmark where social democratic parties have won elections. So, I am a positive thinking man and yes, I would say that this course of decline is reversible for European social democracy. I am convinced that the social democratic parties in Europe have better ideas to rebuild Europe’s economy and provide new jobs.
And also as the Corona crisis with his consequences shows us, Europe needs policies with social footprint, policies focusing on a strong public health care, public investions eg.in research and measures againt unemployment.
I would also like your comment on the U.S.-Russia relations and EU’s attitude towards Turkey’s aggressive behaviour in the Eastern Mediterranean.
On the one hand the European Union has the challenge to be a peacekeeper in the world. On the other hand, the European Union itself currently has a strained relationship with Russia. I think the point is to find a balance between these two trends. When it comes to the issue of Turkey’s attitude, I would consider it important for the European Union to speak with one voice on such issues and not to adjust its attitude according to individual state interests.