The rascals from the first bench

European Diary, 16.9.2020: My first cinema experiences were “Hurray, hurray the school is burning” and “The rascals from the first bench”. To funny box office hits of German 1960s cinema that told the adventures of spoiled brats from well done families that you somehow liked anyway. No rebels in fact. When it came to real problems, the rich father of the young “hero” bribed the director of the school. That was funny.

Not funny, however, is what the schoolboys in the Austrian government do today. They can’t even send a halfway plausible application to the EU Commission, in order to help the Austrian economy, hit by the pandemic, with extra subsidies that are conflicting somehow with fair competion rules in the EU. Actually, this is important enough to make a bit of an effort.

Already a few days ago, Minister of Finance Gernot Blümel once again scolded the EU for blocking the extension and expansion of the generous economic aid to ailing companies (fixed cost subsidies). Now they yesterday met in Vienna, interestingly enough in front of invited press representatives, to discuss the disagreements with the EU representative in Vienna, Martin Selmayr. Did Mr. Blümel in erneast thought he could publicly embarrass the EU representative.

Thanks to the Austria Press Agency and the Standard, we were able to get a closer look at an utterly failed exercise in Message Control. Martin Selmayr was obviously not amused, partly because he was the last to speak instead of being allowed to explain the EU’s objections. The rascals from the first bench first had to present to the press their own interpretation of the sinister EU machinations. Martin Selmayr, himself a rather conservative politician, visibly had to stick to himself. And then calmly pointed out to the schoolboys that they simply had to submit a legally compliant application.

And that actually “today”, that is now yesterday, was the last day to do that. Time enough to do the homework had been indeed since the beginning of August, when the concerns of the EU Commission were communicated politely to the Austrian Minister of Finance. “If today the notification takes place as suggested by Mrs. Vestager (the Commissioner for Economic Affairs) last Friday, then it will be done tomorrow,” Selmayr said. A correct application could be done, “if three intelligent people get together, within half an hour”. He hopes that the Ministry of Finance and the Commission will “get it done this afternoon”. And he offered effective tutoring: There are three possible solutions, he said, even “if it is quite tight on the last day”. Then Selmayer insisted on tearing up Blümel’s original application in detail and demonstrating in public what an unprofessional sloppiness had been delivered. Which in turn did not amuse Gernot Blümel and Minister of Tourism Elisabeth Köstinger.

Selmayr explained to them coram publico how to write a proposal. What was possible in times of lockdown, namely to blame everything on a natural catastrophe and to pretend that there were no sales at all, that no longer corresponds to the circumstances. The basis for the application must now be a reference to the severe economic crisis that triggered the pandemic: “Then the Commission can approve immediately.”

The caught Blümel became impudent. “I ask you, stop with these paragraphs; I already know that one must pay attention to legal things”, so Blümel. “It is about Austrian, not European tax money that is to be used.”

Martin Selmayr continued to show his patience and advised once again to simply work together instead of stubbornly sticking to an application that could not be approved. And he also agreed with the company representatives present, who complained about their suffering, and repeated time and again that they were entitled to be helped, even in the amount they ask for. The schoolboys in Vienna would just have to do their homework “properly”, just like everyone else.

Gernot Blümel showed himself obviously disinterested in the fact that common and legally effective rules in the EU also apply to Austria, even when it comes to “Austrian tax money”. This is exactly what these common rules, from which Austria has so far benefited particularly in the Eastern and Central European markets, are made for.

Or is this loutishness calculation, the desire to play with fire in order to continue to stir up anti-EU sentiment. And as the already running program of financial aids for businesses is not really working smoothly – isn’t it better to blame Brussels for the mismanagement of the Austrian government and its authorities anyway? After all, their is an election campaign running in Vienna. Mr. Blümel is number one on the right wing-conservative party list.
And if nothing helps, daddy can bribe the director after all.