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Germany

Billionaire car boss joins Austrian political race

A new headline grabber has emerged on the Austrian political stage. He’s Frank Stronach, an 80-year-old auto parts magnate who’s launched a new party that seeks control of the government – and an end to the euro.

Frank Stronach was born not far from Graz, the location of the Austrian production arm of Magna International, a company Stronach formed in Canada after emigrating as a young man.

Stronach made millions in Canada in the auto parts industry, only to return in the 1980s to Austria where he made many more millions.

But as new cars continue to roll off production lines at Magna Steyr in Graz, and parts are assembled at factories belonging to Magna International in 26 countries around the globe, Stronach is now concentrating his efforts on the upcoming general election in Austria.

'Political plus'

At a recent campaign outing, Stronach told journalists that his party wanted to win at least 20 percent of the vote at the 2013 election, and he wanted to become Austria's next chancellor. The latest poll estimates he could receive as much as eight percent of the vote.

Symbolbild Opel GM Logo

In 2009, Magna almost bought out Opel, GM's European arm

Stronach pitches himself as an economic liberal who appeals to the working class. Political analyst Thomas Hofer from h&p consulting says his success in business is a political plus, one that evokes the wave Mitt Romney is attempting to ride in the United States presidential race at the moment.

“Besides [Stronach's] many disadvantages, he has the important advantage of having been successful in the economic world. He has also managed to create jobs in Austria.”

Along with his investments in the auto industry, Stronach has built a major horse racing center in Austria and bought a top-notch soccer team. Most people know his name here in Austria, but there's a lot left to discover.

“The first question he will have to square with the people concerns where his taxes go, if he pays them at all. It is very unlikely that Austrian voters will support somebody who doesn't pay taxes here, and I think when the negative campaigning starts he will have a difficult time.”

Away with the 'monstrosity'

In a recent interview on Austrian state television, Stronach refused to let his interviewer ask a question. The question pertained to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the fund envisaged to help prevent a recurrence of the eurozone crisis, which Stronach adamantly referred to as the EDM, or “European Debt Machine.” [The German word for debt is Schulden. Editor's note.]

Among the billionaire's economic policies are a return to the shilling, Austria's currency before the euro, which Stronach has referred to as a "downright monstrosity." He is also campaigning for a flat tax rate of 20 percent.

“For us it's crystal clear that wealth grows with competition," Katharin Nachbaur, head of the Frank Stronach Institute, told DW. "Whenever competition is crushed, then the prosperity of the people suffers. And that's what we're facing in Europe as a result of the common currency.”

So can an 80-year-old who lives around half of the year in Canada really shake-up Austria's political establishment? Thomas Hofer says the governing coalition parties, the Social Democrats and People's Party, have little to fear. But Stronach is likely to take voters from the Freedom Party and another small right wing party, the Alliance for Austria's Future.

It's rumored that Stronach is prepared to put up 25 million euros of his own money for election campaigning. That would be more than all of the other parties could raise together. The official launch of the still nameless party is scheduled for September.