Austrian magnate's new party wants to dump euro

 

THE BILLIONAIRE Austro-Canadian car parts magnate Frank Stronach has burst into Austrian politics with a call to abandon the euro, probably turning parliamentary elections due next year into a de facto referendum on the country’s role in Europe.

The man who emigrated to Canada as a 22-year-old pauper and made a fortune by building the Magna motor supply empire has come home with a bang, insisting it is time to restore the schilling national currency as quickly as possible.

The party of Mr Stronach (79) is so new it still has no name and its support remains so far in single figures, but he is already drawing on the discontent over the cost of euro zone membership which is spreading in the bloc’s wealthier members.

The latest Gallup opinion poll gave the party 8 per cent support – still far behind the governing Social Democrats, their conservative coalition partner the People’s Party and the Eurosceptic opposition Freedom Party.

However, with the right-of-centre parties weakened by corruption scandals, Mr Stronach has managed to drag the political debate in his direction just as more Europeans question whether the euro project can be saved in its current form.

“The currency is the economic reflection of a nation . . . You can create prosperity only by having your own currency in individual countries,” he told Austrian broadcaster ORF.

Mr Stronach left Austria in the early 1950s when it had yet to recover from the second World War and remained under allied military occupation. As he built his business empire in Canada, Austria joined the strong European economies now funding bailouts for the euro zone’s weaker members. There is increasing evidence of bailout fatigue in the well-off countries, so having solidly pro-Europe Austria waver in its commitment would be an ominous sign for the currency.

Finland’s foreign minister said last week that officials had prepared for the possible collapse of the single currency. Dutch voters go to the polls next month in an election dominated by the euro debt crisis and austerity measures.

“Clearly this is not just an Austrian development but more representative of the so-called stronger countries which have the highest credit rating,” said Zsolt Darvas, research fellow at the Brussels-based Brugel think tank.

“In Germany, Finland or the Netherlands you see exactly the same or similar movements.”

Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, whose party is polling at about 21 per cent, is calling for the euro zone to be reduced to a group of strong members such as Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. – (Reuters)