Pröll proposes presidential reform

Erwin Pröll has suggested not forgetting about the office of the federal president when it comes to making cuts.

The provincial governor of Lower Austria – one of the most influential members of the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) – said yesterday (Mon) Austria should consider introducing a model similar to the one used in Switzerland. Pröll said high-ranking members of Austria’s established parties could take turns in representing Austria. He also suggested shortening the presidential legislature drastically at the same time.

The federal president of Austria’s term lasts six years. Presidents may run for a second time in office. Heinz Fischer did so in 2010 after winning against ex-ÖVP Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner in 2004. Fischer claimed 52.4 per cent in the election battle against the conservative diplomat before he celebrated a landslide victory six years later. Nearly 80 per cent of Austrians who participated in the ballot of 2010 made their cross next to Fischer’s name in the polling booth.

Fischer – a former member of the parliament (MP) and Social Democratic (SPÖ) science minister – benefited from the ÖVP’s decision not to nominate a candidate at the most recent presidential election. Pröll hinted in a series of interviews published in good time before the vote that he could imagine running for the position. The Lower Austrian governor decided not to get on the campaign trail after his party failed to unanimously endorse a possible campaign.

Especially Erwin Pröll’s nephew Josef showed some hesitance in supporting the idea of nominating a conservative candidate. Josef Pröll was head of the ÖVP, vice chancellor and finance minister at that time. He resigned from all functions last April due to health concerns. However, his decision to say farewell to Austrian politics was allegedly also linked to ongoing friendly fire from Lower Austria.

Erwin Pröll did not disclose yesterday whether he had plans to run for federal president in 2016 but raised further ideas how Austria could economise. The governor of the province of Lower Austria said the number of MPs could shrink by 18 to 165. Pröll made this suggestion just one day after Styrian SPÖ Governor Franz Voves expressed similar proposals. Both political heavyweights said they would support a reduction of seats of the federal council, the Bundesrat, as well. Pröll said there was enormous savings potential if the state’s nine provinces send delegates into the Bundesrat.

Pröll argued institutions like the Labour Chamber (AK) and the Federal Economy Chamber (WKO) could raise their efficiency by focusing on closer cooperation among their provincial departments when it comes to using bookkeeping software and various other devices and resources. Pröll’s government recently restructured Lower Austria’s public sector. New civil servants receive higher salaries at the start but benefit less strongly from automatic pay rises throughout their careers than colleagues which were hired in the past decades. The reform was found to be of great help in spending less on the public sector in Austria’s largest province.

Voves is under fire by political opponents for reducing various social sector payments. His SPÖ-ÖVP coalition also slashed payments on Styria’s culture and event scene. Furthermore, the governor decided to reintroduce kindergarten charges and a ban on begging. The number of seats of the Styrian parliament was reduced as part of the extensive efficiency initiative.