VIENNA Dec 12 Austria's mainstream pro-Europe
parties entered the final stretch of coalition negotiations,
aiming to cap weeks of talks and announce a deal on Thursday to
extend the government that has ruled since 2006, party sources
Last-minute haggling over privatisation policy and how to
plug fiscal gaps in the prosperous euro zone country continued,
but was not expected to scupper an accord between the
centre-left Social Democrats (SPO) and conservative People's
The goal was to have the new government sworn in on Monday
and announce its official programme on Tuesday, one source close
to the talks said.
Striking a deal on Thursday would avoid having the coalition
come together on Friday the 13th, one source noted, an
inauspicious start for a partnership that many Austrians have
criticised for lacking the ambition to adopt radical reform.
"What can coalition negotiations bring when an impotent
version of neoliberalism wrestles with a spineless version of
socialism?" columnist Armin Thurnher asked in Falter magazine, a
comment typical of scathing media coverage of the talks.
Voters punished the two heavyweights in September elections
that bolstered the eurosceptic far right, giving historically
low support to the parties that have dominated post-war
That prompted both parties to promise a new, progressive
approach to politics and a more constructive tone after years of
squabbling and policy paralysis.
Critics say Austria needs to reform public finances and
pensions and cut a swollen bureaucracy to ensure living
standards in a country with the EU's lowest jobless rate. Other
sticking points have been education reform and child benefit.
Details of the new political programme were still under
wraps, but people familiar with the talks said the SPO, which
campaigned as a defender of Austria's generous social safety
net, had fended off an OVP push for aggressive pension reforms.
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, an SPO source said.
On the other hand, the SPO was unable to impose a new tax on
millionaires. Instead, taxes are set to rise on tobacco, alcohol
and new cars in what Finance Ministry State Secretary Reinhold
Lopatka has said will cost Austrians 10 euros a month.
While most cabinet posts will not change, local media have
speculated that OVP leader Michael Spindelegger, now foreign
minister, may switch to the finance ministry, replacing Maria
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
A Spindelegger move could pave the way for rising OVP star
Sebastian Kurz, just 27, to take over as foreign minister.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Hugh Lawson)