election promises

Corporate Austria Demands Changes

dpatopbilder epa05312283 Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern arrives for his inauguration in Vienna, Austria, 17 May 2016. Christian Kern has repleced former Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann. EPA/CHRISTIAN BRUNA +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern arrives for his inauguration in Vienna.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Austria is on the verge of electing a right-wing populist president. If the mainstream parties cannot modernize the economy, they risk sliding further into irrelevance.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Christian Kern became chancellor after his predecessor Werner Faymann resigned earlier this month.
    • Mr. Faymann quit after Austria’s two major political parties, Mr. Faymann’s center-left SPÖ and the center-right ÖVP, suffered embarrassing defeats in the first round of presidential elections.
    • Mr. Kern, who had headed the country’s railways, was sworn in earlier this week, ahead of the second round of presidential elections Sunday.
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    Audio

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A new Austrian chancellor hasn’t received this much praise from the business community in decades. There is a deep longing for a head of government who understands the worries and problems of companies in the often staid Alpine republic. So there are huge expectations for Christian Kern, a former railways boss.

Both foreign firms like Siemens, Henkel and Boehringer-Ingelheim and domestic Austrian companies all have long wish lists for the new chancellor. The demands range from rapid dismantling of bureaucracy to flexible working hours and improvements in research and development all the way to business-friendly tax policies.

There is enormous pressure on the freshly-baked chancellor and his coalition. Austria has seen its competitiveness decline in recent years. German investors avoid it and its own companies prefer to expand abroad, for example the steel giant Voestalpine. For a good while, economic growth has been significantly beneath the E.U. average.

Mr. Kern sees himself not as a classic chancellor, but as the chief executive of Austria Inc. and is not afraid to openly talk about the country’s economic problems. 

The no-nonsense chancellor is frank in his assessment of the negativity that extends from Lake Constance on the east to Neusiedler Lake in the west. He says there is an obsession with power and an obliviousness toward the future that has harmed the country. But cheap cliches won’t be enough to change the mood in the country. After years of difficult relations and poor communications with government, the business community wants to see concrete actions.

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