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Frank Stronach: from autos to Austrian politics at 80

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Aged 80, billionaire Frank Stronach has achieved in his native Austria what he failed to do in Canada, the country where he built his fortune: make a splash in politics.

On Sunday, "Team Stronach", the eurosceptic party that the Magna auto parts titan created only last September, won around 10 percent of the vote in two state elections.

This, he hopes, is just a foretaste of what he can achieve when the whole of European Union and eurozone member Austria goes to the polls in September or October.

"Team Stronach's focus is on the federal elections. State elections... are pure test runs for us," he told the Oesterreich daily.

Whether his party can build on Sunday's performance and really challenge the established political parties is uncertain, however.

An attempted entry into politics 25 years ago in Canada, where he moved six decades ago and created Magna International, North America's biggest auto parts company, failed.

For one thing, Stronach's policies remain unclear, with a detailed manifesto not due until late March.

But Stronach believes that his prowess in business -- not only with car parts but also in horseracing -- give him the basic skills for running a country.

Owing money, for example, is bad. Ditto bureaucracy, taxes, and the euro.

"The eurozone, as it is at present, doesn't work," he told a packed news conference at a former imperial palace in Vienna launching his party in September, saying he felt a calling to fix his "homeland".

"One of Austria's biggest problems is that it has too much debt. Debt is bad.... Every farmer knows that if he spends more than he earns then he will lose the farm."

In an accent more Canadian than Austrian, he added confidently: "I am sure that today, September 27, will go down in the history of Austria as a very important day, and in the history of the world."

On the outside, at least, Austria's more established political parties appear unruffled.

"I think that people who vote for Stronach are protest voters," Social Democrat Chancellor Werner Faymann said on Sunday.

"I have met Frank Stronach and he strikes me as someone who will not stick around if he is not successful. He is not someone who should shape the future of Austria."

"You can buy lots of things with money," agreed Michael Spindelegger, head of Faymann's coalition partners the OeVP. "Yes, it was a successful election result for him (Stronach), but it wasn't that brilliant either."

David Pfarrhofer from polling institute Market was also unsure whether Stronach's party can ever become more than a bit player.

"For many Austrians, Frank Stronach has led an impressive life and he talks about issues that interest people," Pfarrhofer told AFP.

"But his aim is to become chancellor and for his party to be the biggest. That remains unrealistic."

Stronach "is not yet playing with the big boys," said an editorial Monday in the Kronen-Zeitung daily.

"His young team is going to have show quite a bit more before it can become a real factor in national politics."

stu/boc

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130304/frank-stronach-autos-austrian-politics-at-80