The municipal union has set the course for replacing its controversial president Alfred Riedl (ÖVP): A charter reform allowing a vote on the president was unanimously approved on Friday. Riedl only suspended his office in the summer amid allegations that he benefited financially from a property deal in the Grafenwörth community thanks to rezoning. The community association continues to hope that Riedl will refrain from voting by resigning.
The new charter provides, among other things, that in the future it will be possible to vote for a president with a two-thirds majority and a two-thirds majority. Additionally, the federal executive board, consisting of 64 mayors from across Austria as well as the general secretary of the municipal association, agreed on the timetable for the election of a new president. “Before Christmas, regional associations will be invited to develop candidacies for the post of president,” the vice presidents of the two municipal associations, Andrea Kaufmann and Erwin Dirnberger, said in a broadcast. The date of the next federal executive board meeting, where the new president will be elected, was agreed between the parties on February 26, 2024.
The purpose of the appointment is to give state associations time to prepare their election proposals. The aim is to present a unanimous proposal to the new president. If Riedl doesn’t vacate the field by then – as we hope at the community association – he too will be voted out there. However, it is assumed that Riedl will leave beforehand. Recently, he had continued to insist that he first wanted to wait for the results of the audit procedures from the State Court of Accounts and the District Governorate.
According to media reports, Dirnberger and Kaufmann will continue to run the business as vice presidents until new elections, but neither is seeking the presidency. The Municipal Association of Lower Austria offers good opportunities to Johannes Pressl (ÖVP) – not least because Lower Austria accounts for a quarter of the members of the federal executive board. In principle, ten state presidents can participate in elections (Vienna is not represented in the municipal association, but Lower Austria and Burgenland each have their own ÖVP and SPÖ state association, note), Kaufmann is the only woman among them.
Riedl has been president of the union of municipalities since 2017 and was a member of the Lower Austrian state parliament from 1998 to 2018. He has been mayor of Grafenwörth (Tulln district) since 1990. Controversial property sales in his area have put Riedl under pressure since the summer. Described in the media as the “mini Dubai of Weinviertel”, the “Sonnenweiher” project includes more than 200 houses around the foil lake. Reports say Riedl is said to have made over a million euros from the sale of the property, and further deals were announced in the summer. Riedl himself has always denied the allegations.
Green Party Secretary General Olga Voglauer harshly criticized Riedl in her broadcast on Friday. The charter change is “the culmination of a harrowing escalation” that he could have avoided at any time by resigning in time. “In each case, a responsible approach to one’s office looks different.” The FPÖ generally criticized the lack of a resignation culture in the ÖVP and found that Riedl and National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka contradicted the party’s code of conduct adopted in 2012 following corruption scandals in government-related areas. “Climate terrorists are trapped in the streets, ÖVP corruptors are trapped in their offices,” said FPÖ Secretary General Michael Schnedlitz.
In addition to changes to the charter – virtual federal board meetings and representation of the president are now possible without a long absence or illness – fiscal equalization and municipal finances were also among the topics of Friday’s meeting. “We know that more and more municipalities are reaching their limits when preparing their 2024 budgets. The number of municipalities that cannot balance their budgets will increase,” Kaufmann and Dirnberger said. It was therefore decided to hold discussions with the federal and state governments quickly.