* Coalition accord set to be announced within days - sources
* No major changes planned by two big parties
* Still not clear who next finance minister will be
By Michael Shields
VIENNA, Dec 10 The two big pro-Europe parties
that have dominated post-war Austrian politics are closing in on
a deal to extend their coalition government by eschewing major
change in favour of largely staying the course.
Barring last-minute surprises, Chancellor Werner Faymann's
centre-left Social Democrats (SPO) and their junior partners,
the conservative People's Party (OVP), will unveil a deal in
days to extend the coalition that has governed since 2006.
Voters punished the two heavyweights in September elections
- which bolstered the eurosceptic far right - by giving them
historically low support.
But they appeared set on a broad continuation of existing
policy in the Alpine republic, one of the European Union's most
affluent and stable member states - although not without a need
for some reforms.
"There is no big Social Democrat or People's Party project
that is going to be realised. In all the important political
areas we met in the middle and found a compromise," one SPO
source said, declining to be named as talks were continuing.
Critics say Austria needs to reform public finances and
pensions and cut a swollen bureaucracy to ensure prosperity in a
country with the EU's lowest jobless rate. Other sticking points
have been education reform and child benefit.
Christoph Leitl, head of the influential Chamber of Commerce
and an OVP negotiator, criticised the two parties for, as he put
it, simply scratching together what they could to yield budgets
for 2014-15 without taking a longer-term view.
"At the moment I don't get a sense of the fresh start that
was promised. I don't see the earth-shaking reforms that this
country would need," Leitl, who had sparked a pre-vote debate by
complaining Austria was "going to the dogs", told ORF radio.
The SPO, which campaigned as a defender of Austria's
generous social safety net, fended off an OVP push to start
raising the official retirement age of 60 for women earlier than
in 2024, as now planned. Instead the parties will focus on
raising the actual average retirement age of around 58.5.
Despite OVP lobbying, the accord will not name companies
like OMV, Telekom Austria or Austrian Post
as candidates to have their state stakes reduced to
blocking minorities, the SPO source said.
Instead the parties agreed to revamp the OeIAG state holding
company and let it propose buying or selling stakes.
The parties still need to agree on cabinet posts. Local
media have speculated that OVP leader Michael Spindelegger, now
foreign minister, might switch to the finance ministry,
replacing Maria Fekter.
Fekter had suggested last month that her days as finance
minister were numbered, which would rob her euro zone peers of a
plain-speaker who has stepped on many toes - including
The next finance minister faces a tough task in cutting
state debt and deficits while still propping up ailing banks
like nationalised Hypo Alpe Adria.