Lufthansa-AUA deal 'catastrophe' for Austria

VIENNA: Budget airline owner Niki Lauda portrayed Lufthansa's takeover of Austrian Airlines as a catastrophe for Austria, after it made large concessions to secure the deal, in an interview published Sunday.

"I'm surprised that Mr. Proell (Austria's finance minister) is now selling this as a big success," the former Formula One world champion turned entrepreneur told the daily Oesterreich.

"This is the biggest catastrophe (for Austria) since World War II," he added.

"It takes no skill to give away an airline and then still pay 500 million euros on top of that."

Finance Minister Josef Proell spoke Friday of a "great success", after the European Commission gave a conditional go-ahead to Lufthansa's takeover of Austrian Airlines (AUA).

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann told national television ORF however that the deal was an "emergency solution" but no "great victory."

"When the taxpayer has to pay 500 million, that's no success story," he said, although he added he was relieved the deal had gone through.

Lufthansa signed a deal last year to acquire a 41.6-percent stake in the loss-making AUA from the Austrian state holding company OeIAG for a symbolic one euro cent per share -- or just over 366,000 euros (518,000 dollars) in all.

Meanwhile, the Austrian state pledged to absorb 500 million euros -- or just over a third -- of AUA's debts to facilitate the takeover.

Despite his harsh words towards Proell, Lauda expressed his satisfaction with his part of the deal. It gives his budget airline Niki seven new take-off and landing slots in Germany, and will allow him to expand next year.