VIENNA, March 25 Austria may buy the Essl clan's
modern art collection to bail out the family's home improvement
business and save 4,000 Austrian jobs at risk, government
ministers said on Tuesday.
At issue is whether the state will help prop up the Baumax
group, which overextended itself with a push into eastern
Europe, by acquiring a 7,000-piece collection including works by
Oskar Kokoschka, Franz West, Hermann Nitsch and Cindy Sherman.
"If the conditions are defensible then I would be in
favour," Culture Minister Josef Ostermayer said after a cabinet
meeting, noting experts would meet next week to see whether the
plan is feasible at a time of tight budgets.
"I think the state is prepared to play a part," Labour
Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer added.
Company founder Karlheinz Essl told broadcaster ORF that
proceeds from any sale could help save jobs in Austria, where
4,000 of the Baumax group's 9,000 staff are based. What happens
with foreign units remained unclear.
"Every single country is under review. We will have to close
one or two. We will see whether it comes to an insolvency
there," he said.
Baumax has 158 outlets in nine countries as far afield as
Turkey but ran into trouble when the financial crisis crimped
demand for DIY supplies in eastern Europe.
Saving jobs is a top political priority in Austria, which
has the lowest jobless rate in the European Union.
(Reporting by Michael Shields, editing by Louise Heavens)