Lack of reforms ‘will impoverish middle class’

Austria’s middle class will impoverish if the country’s leaders fail to make any progress in reforming its bureaucratic, healthcare and pensions system, an opposition party chief has claimed.Josef Bucher, who heads the right-wing Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), told the Die Presse newspaper today (Fri): “If we keep carrying on this way, it will create new poverty in the middle class. This would be an immense problem because the members of this social class achieve important things for this country.”Bucher criticised that hardworking middle class members were paying taxes that are too high – an estimation shared by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and numerous economic experts.Recent research revealed that around one million of the country’s 8.5 million people are at risk of becoming impoverished. Statistics also show that 10 per cent of Austrians own nearly 60 per cent of the country’s private assets. Six per cent of Austrians are categorised as poor by international standards while the country ranks among the world’s 10 wealthiest nations.The BZÖ chief vowed to become “even more courageous” when it comes to highlighting Austria’s most significant problems. He said: “We will have to up our efforts in identifying topics widely regarded as a taboo such as the possibility of mergers of small towns and communities.”Bucher – a former member of the Austrian parliament (MEP) of right-wing rivals, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) – said such political activities could help his faction to prove it was the “true conservative and economic-orientated” party of the country in contrast to the People’s Party (ÖVP).The ÖVP, which cooperates with the Social Democrats (SPÖ), in a federal government coalition has looked shaky in the past months amid growing rumours that conservative opinion leaders and industrial trailblazers could establish their own party.Veit Sorger – whose term as chief of the Federation of Austrian Industries (IV) ends next year  – is understood to hold talks with influential businesspeople about setting up a new political movement. The IV chief said in a recent TV interview he has observed a “certain standstill” in federal politics. Sorger had criticised the government before about its apparent inability to reduce the sums that are poured into the public sector and its healthcare system which is considered as excellent but too expensive.Bucher claimed his own party had good chances to win over conservative Austrians disappointed after having supported the ÖVP in the past, in coming elections.The BZÖ garnered 10.7 per cent in the most recent general election which took place in 2008. Late party founder Jörg Haider acted as front runner of the party at that time. The BZÖ has suffered a series of devastating defeats in various ballots ever since. Pollsters see the party at just four per cent at the moment while the FPÖ (17.5 per cent in the federal ballot in 2008) of Heinz-Christian Strache is neck and neck with both the SPÖ and the ÖVP.The SPÖ has reacted to the soaring popularity of the FPÖ by calling for higher taxes on wealthy citizens and a levy on financial transactions in Europe. The ÖVP hit out at its opposition partner over its “cheap political style” and its “populist bid to proclaim itself as the Robin Hood for Austria’s needy.”Some political commentators have stressed that the FPÖ keeps getting more popular despite having little to offer when it comes to reasonable concepts regarding economic issues. The party has warned of a “benefits tourism” from Eastern Europe (EE) to Austria and rising crime rates created by “mass integration.” It also suggested Austria may be better off by reintroducing the Schilling as its currency. The country has been using the Euro since 2002.Strache caused a stir a few days ago by claiming top-tier businesspeople and bankers have expressed their will to become finance and economy ministers if the FPÖ re-enters the government after the next federal vote. The FPÖ chief explained he could not give the managers’ names as this would harm their “excellent reputation” at this stage due to attempts by some newspapers and TV and radio stations to create a hostile climate towards his party.