We sent a sign of life from social democracy today, albeit in small Burgenland.” Governor Hans Peter Doskozil showed understatement on the evening of January 26, 2020. After a series of SPÖ election defeats, above all the crash in the 2019 National Council election, he had in Burgenland for the SPÖ with plus eight percentage points on the election Sunday with almost fifty percent of the votes won the absolute majority for the SPÖ.Two years later he initiated a number of projects, such as the minimum wage of 1,700 euros net in the state service and employment caring relatives are expensive, but are also well respected beyond the “small” Burgenland.
This was accompanied and overshadowed nationwide by constant shots being fired at SPÖ federal party leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner, who was at his side in the red election triumph in Eisenstadt: a public power struggle that Doskozil even shook his head and even angered among supporters in the SPÖ.
The state SPÖ, led by the 51-year-old ex-defense minister, is facing the next election this year. On October 2nd, municipal councils and mayors will be elected by a quarter of a million eligible voters in the state’s 171 municipalities. Also in Neutal in the district of Oberpullendorf. The world is deep red there. Mayor Erich Trummer was directly elected mayor in 2017 with 84 percent. He is head of the SPÖ association of community representatives and sees two main reasons for Doskozil’s success: “He reaches out to where the people really need it. According to the motto: it doesn’t work, doesn’t exist,” analyzes Trummer, ” you have to be willing to break new ground.”
This is what is happening with the housing initiative, with which the SPÖ-led state is setting up activities to help people for whom housing is becoming more and more expensive. In the spirit of left-wing politics, the state itself is getting involved in social housing through a subsidiary of Landesimmobilien-GmbH in order to set up pilot projects in each of the seven districts. At the same time, the governor’s party is stepping on the toes of existing non-profit housing associations. If they want to continue receiving funding, they must adopt new funding guidelines. The nationwide system for non-profit housing no longer meets the goals for him.
“Poached” at minimum wage on union territory
That is why the SPÖ state leader wants to enable the purchase of residential property on “fair terms”: Rental apartments should be able to be purchased at any time from the first rent. The acquisition of residential property was previously a declared ÖVP goal, the SPÖ dogmatically fought nationwide primarily for improvements and the lowest possible rents. According to the concept in Burgenland, the basis for the purchase price of the apartment should be the construction costs and not the market value of the residential property.
It is true that social democratic interlocutors, including Trummer, concede that the role of the SPÖ as an opposition party at federal level cannot be compared with that in the federal states. In these, the SPÖ, in addition to the Burgenland in Vienna with Michael Ludwig and in Carinthia with Peter Kaiser, is the head of the state. Nevertheless, an SPÖ politician, who follows social democracy at federal and state level and has fought many a struggle with Doskozil himself, testified in an interview with the “Wiener Zeitung”: “In terms of real politics, he is by far the strongest.” Not only that: “Doskozil also breaks with dogmas and existing power structures.” So he does not shy away from the housing associations. Many in the SPÖ are only concerned with administration, Doskozil has an agenda and is tackling it offensively.
As far as the entry and intervention of the state or the state is concerned, the power-conscious in Burgenland is steering a left course that cannot be overlooked and has a broad impact. This also applies to one of the first projects that Doskozil implemented. A minimum wage of 1,700 euros net was initially implemented for the state service, as well as for the hospitals located in the state area, and most recently also for foster parents. In addition, the basis was created for the communities to be able to use the model as well.
Doskozil not only clashed with the SPÖ federal party leader, who preferred to reduce working hours and switch to a four-day week as proposed by the unions. Union representatives were angry behind the scenes because the governor was “poaching” in the ÖGB’s very own territory, wage policy at social partner level.
Beyond what he called “small” Burgenland on the evening of the election, the employment of caring relatives who look after people at home aroused interest. Even TV teams from abroad came to see it. While at the federal level a care reform has only been announced by the turquoise-green federal government since the beginning of 2020 and the federal SPÖ as the opposition party could only demand a billion in care, in Burgenland a hand was lent a hand. The fact that only a good 220 members of the state were employed via this care model and even social democrats in other federal states emphasized that this was just one piece of the jigsaw within the framework of a comprehensive care reform did not detract from the broad attention. Burgenland is spending a lot on social policy, as the state audit office recently noted with reference to the “dynamic” increase in costs.
Red cloth for the left wing in the SPÖ
Because critics in the country even speak of communism because of the “nationalization”, the SPÖ deliberately refers to initiatives in the economy for tradespeople and small businesses that are often overlooked. The palette ranges from the craftsman bonus to the upswing in tourism to the rescue of companies. In spring 2020, for example, the insolvent pharmaceutical company Sanochemia in Neufeld an der Leitha with around 120 employees was taken over by the state of Burgenland with partners. In the meantime, not only the number of employees has increased. Since Christmas, PCR tests have been evaluated in Burgenland’s own laboratory and consideration is being given to withdrawing from the state participation.
Conversely, with his clearly right-wing course in migration and asylum policy, Doskozil has made enemies among the left in the Social Democrats and in the federal party. It was only Doskozil’s level-headed, determined appearance as Burgenland’s state police director that made him known throughout Austria during the 2015 refugee influx on the border with Hungary. In 1989 he joined the police service in Vienna and then completed a law degree at the same time. Years later, as governor of the SPÖ, he not only caused controversy by flirting with preventive detention, which was also being considered by the ÖVP-FPÖ federal government.
However, the absolute red regent in Burgenland regularly made headlines everywhere for a second reason. In the past two years, Doskozil has missed few opportunities to openly oppose the line of federal party leader Rendi-Wagner. This did not change even after he announced and then completed his departure from the SPÖ federal party executive in the spring of last year. On the contrary: It was only at the beginning of January this year that his absence from the meeting of the SPÖ presidium in Krems, although all SPÖ state leaders had been invited, led to a rebuke from Rendi-Wagner, who accused him of “lacking solidarity” in his behavior. Doskozil’s answer was that the next day he presented a new concept for coping with the pandemic for his state in view of the Omicron Corona variant. It was no coincidence that Eisenstadt was exactly one day earlier than the turquoise-green federal government in Vienna.
However, Doskozil’s cross-shots and especially the public war with Rendi-Wagner put a strain on the nerves of even his well-disposed comrades. For many it is not clear whether Doskozil, as he has repeatedly assured, will remain in Burgenland or whether he is ready to take over the federal party and as an SPÖ candidate for chancellor in the next national elections. The SPÖ therefore says that the personnel issue and the content must be clarified this year. The fact that the federal SPÖ, despite the violent turbulence of the ÖVP and the allegations of corruption against ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, is only just ahead of the ÖVP in polls is not considered good evidence for Rendi-Wagner and her environment in the federal SPÖ. “With what happened, we should be at 30 percent if we didn’t do anything,” analyzes an SPÖ politician with a clear side swipe. In addition, there is the question of whether to compete with the Greens and Neos for voters or, as Doskozil has demonstrated, to make more efforts to attract voters from the ÖVP and FPÖ clientele deep into the middle class.
Investigations into allegations of false testimony
However, above all and thus above Doskozil’s political career, investigations into a possible false statement in the investigative committee of the Burgenland state parliament in the Commerzialbank Mattersburg case are hanging like the sword of Damocles. It’s about who made the first call when the bank was closed on July 14, 2020. The ÖVP found a contradiction between Doskozil’s description and the statement by the head of the Financial Market Authority, Helmut Ettl, and then filed a complaint. Doskozil vehemently denies the allegations. After the business and corruption prosecutor’s office was already in favor of an attitude, the senior public prosecutor’s office in Vienna ordered further investigations in November of the previous year. The wait has been going on ever since.