Frank Stronach came to Canada from his native Austria in 1954 with little but the drive that helped him build a one-man tool-and-die shop into a global auto parts giant. Now, the 79-year-old Magna International founder is back in Austria and launching a new political party that aims to dump the euro, reform the country’s tax system and cut down on bureaucracy.
Voters in the European Union’s wealthier nations have become increasingly vocal about having to bail out poorer members such as Greece, Spain and Portugal. Stronach told Austrian broadcaster ORF, “The currency is the economic reflection of a nation….You can create prosperity only by having your own currency in individual countries.”
The new party has yet to be named, but even so, a recent Gallup poll reported Stronach had 8% of voter support, compared to 28% for the governing Social Democrats (SPO), 21% for its conservative coalition partner the People’s Party (OVP), and 20% for the opposition Freedom Party (FPO). Stronach has said he hopes to win a 10% share of the vote in next year’s general election, which could translate into considerable leverage in a coalition government.
“The current political situation in Austria is a culture of mistrust against traditional parties,” says Peter Filzmaier, a political science professor at Danube University in Krems, Austria. “Any new party has a real chance. You just have to be different.”
Former Austrian chancellor Franz Vranitzky points to the Pirate Party in Germany as an example of new political movements growing across Europe by focusing not only on the euro’s challenges but issues like education and immigration. “All through Europe, you will find a number of factions, parties and groups emerging,” says Vranitzky, who served on Magna’s board of directors from 1997 to 2011. “When it comes to showing solidarity with the poorer countries in the Mediterranean, parts of the Middle East and in Africa, they succeed in persuading people that it’s all taxpayer money being given to other people who don’t deserve it.”
Despite his close working relationship with Stronach on Magna’s board after serving as chancellor from 1986 to 1997, Vranitzky would not comment on the businessman’s ambitions. He did say, however, that he still supports the EU. “Yes, 100%, of course.”
Filzmaier says nothing Stronach has said so far has not already been voiced by opposition parties, particularly the far-right Freedom Party. But he adds that Stronach has the name and financial clout to make an impact. “It is realistic that Mr. Stronach’s new party will gain seats in Parliament, though he will need a lot of good luck,” he says. “But in the end, is he really interested in five years of sitting in the very last row in the houses of parliament?”