When asked, there was talk of exaggerated excitement, nothing indecent had happened, and the paper had served to protect the then ÖVP boss Sebastian Kurz, so the tenor. Heavy criticism came again on Monday from the SPÖ and FPÖ, but also from the union. As reported, the ÖVP and the Greens have concluded a so-called Siedeletter for the coalition agreement, in which delicate personnel decisions are also laid down in writing.
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“If there’s no law, you won’t get far”
Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler (Greens), who faced criticism from his own ranks today, emphasized on Sunday evening on the ORF program “Im Zentrum” that most of the hitherto partially secret coalition agreements are already in the coalition agreement. When it came to the controversial issue of compulsory headscarves, “the opposite of what the ÖVP wanted was left.” It was clear that such a law “would never have held up before the Constitutional Court”. “If there’s no law, you won’t get very far,” says Kogler.
Regarding the agreements on posts in the state-related economic sector and in administration, Kogler said that it was a “contract on the way of working”. Even as an opposition, the Greens had recognized “that whoever has to make decisions”. More about this in the video:
Tyrol’s Greens club chairman Gebi Mair was rather buttoned up with regard to the cause. He does not get into the “ÖVP spin” of publishing individual things from agreements, said Mair and said: “As far as I know, this is not the entire agreement”. In any case, he passed the ball on to the People’s Party when it came to “Sideletter”. After all, it is “quite conceivable that the desire for non-public agreements came from the ÖVP”.
In Tyrol, where the eco-party is also in a coalition with the ÖVP, the “conscious decision” was made to agree “everything transparently”, i.e. publicly. But in order to make such a decision, “you need two coalition partners”. In addition, he does not want to say anything about the cause, because he “does not comment on individual lines of agreements,” said Mair.
“An unknown level of ruthlessness”
The longtime leader of the Vorarlberg Greens, Johannes Rauch, who had helped negotiate the coalition agreement with the ÖVP, defended the “side letter” to the “Salzburger Nachrichten”. This served to protect the Greens so that they were not ripped off by the ÖVP during ongoing government activities: “We only noticed during the negotiations how Sebastian Kurz ticked. That was a level of unscrupulousness that I had never known before,” he remembered. According to Rauch, it is obvious that the secret paper by Kurz or the ÖVP was deliberately released to the public: “It’s obviously about blundering the Greens before the committee of inquiry,” Rauch suspects.
Helga Krismer, state spokeswoman for the Lower Austrian Greens, was rather relaxed. “Anyone who has been involved with the ÖVP in Lower Austria for a long time, like me, knows that such contracts are a political obligation in order to be able to fulfill the voters’ mandate at all,” she said on Monday when asked. The delegates of the Lower Austrian Greens “gave their consent to the coalition at the federal congress because they have the security with Werner Kogler that the Greens are involved everywhere,” it was also emphasized.
“That doesn’t scare me very much,” said Regina Petrik, state spokeswoman for Burgenland, with a view to the content of the “sideletter”. She emphasized that there was no exchange between content and staffing: “It’s a spin.” As far as the headscarf ban is concerned, she also states that it is “not an agreement”. It was important for the ÖVP to record this. “It’s more of an excitement that’s played up, not a scandal,” said Petrik.
The negotiating team had the pouvoir of the Burgenland Greens and thus also the trust, she feels in retrospect sufficiently involved. She also felt that she was sufficiently informed about the negotiations from Kogler: “The trust was there. It is clear that not every point can be discussed broadly.” Now it’s more about “recognizing” how government negotiations work: “Nothing indecent happened.” In any case, since the side letter appeared in Burgenland, there had been “no excitement” among the Greens, according to Petrik, they were only asking “how that is to be understood”.
“Was known to the committees”
For the Upper Austrian Greens spokesman and provincial councilor Stefan Kaineder, it is customary to set regulations at the beginning of the cooperation, as is the case with the black-green coalition. “Of course, the committees were aware that these regulations existed. The negotiating team and Werner Kogler always openly discussed contentious issues and the need to define personnel issues in the committees,” he said.
“Even if the so-called Page letters was not public, we Greens knew the content and discussed it, for example, in the Extended Federal Executive Committee,” said Styrian Greens spokeswoman Sandra Krautwashl. “As the former ÖVP boss Mitterlehner also confirmed at the weekend, there is probably no coalition government in Austria the last decades, which has not also laid down its planned way of working.” The fact that “some ÖVPlers from the environment of ex-Chancellor Kurz now want to make a scandal out of it” is for Krautwaschl an “easily transparent diversionary maneuver to distract from their own problems”. .
“Too bad and irritating”
Another member of the negotiating team at the time, Birgit Hebein, the former head of the Green Party in Vienna, spoke up on Sunday. “That substantive positions about the Page letters negotiated and presented neither to participants of the negotiating team nor to the delegates of the federal congress is irritating,” she said.
Former Greens club boss Albert Steinhauser made a similar statement. The concealment of substantive agreements is serious and a culture break, even if it is common for other parties. “It’s a shame, it would have been nice if a different policy had also been practically possible,” he said via social media.
“Up to the neck in the swamp of corruption”
The opposition naturally saw all of this even more drastically. “The ÖVP is up to its neck in a swamp of corruption, the Greens have lost all credibility through their deceptive maneuvers and secret agreements,” said SPÖ federal manager Christian Deutsch in a broadcast. For him it was clear that “after all the scandals, the haggling and the never-ending strife, the turquoise-green coalition has no future”.
The chairman of the production union (PRO-GE) Rainer Wimmer describes the agreement to end the deduction-free chipper regulation as “scandalous”. “The Greens have sold hard, long-time workers for a handful of posts. The Greens, who pride themselves on transparency and decency, have lost all credibility,” he explained.
“Neither unusual nor reprehensible”
FPÖ leader Herbert Kickl saw the Greens being held hostage by their former federal party secretary, Lothar Lockl. As campaign manager for Alexander Van der Bellen (and as his external advisor since taking office as Federal President), Lockl is now at the center of the secret side agreements between the Greens and the ÖVP. For Kickl, this urgently needs to be questioned and examined.
Constitutional Minister Karoline Edtstadler (ÖVP) also spoke up. “No, I didn’t know these side letters,” she said on the sidelines of a press conference. Such agreements are neither unusual nor reprehensible.