Vienna mayor against changing president’s role

Michael Häupl, the mayor of Vienna, has spoken out against a political reform affecting the presidential office.

The head of Vienna’s Social Democrats (SPÖ) said yesterday (Tues) the functions and responsibilities of the president of the Republic of Austria could only be changed by holding a referendum since the position’s duties and responsibilities were part of the constitution. “I would vote no in such a referendum,” the political heavyweight revealed.

Häupl’s statement came one day after Lower Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) Governor Erwin Pröll suggested to get rid of the position in its current form. Pröll said Austria could be represented abroad by members of the government’s cabinet of ministers or high-ranking members of the federal parliament. He said such a reform could help Austria to a more efficient and less expensive political system.

Pröll also called for an open debate about a reform of the federal council (Bundesrat). The influential conservative added he was in favour of reducing the number of parliament delegates from 183 to 165. SPÖ Styria chief Franz Voves expressed similar ideas at the weekend. Voves refused to comment the ongoing debate, underlining that he laid down his ideas already on Sunday. However, the left-winger declared he was against a reform of the president’s role.

Häupl is a personal friend of Pröll and an essential force when it comes to defining the SPÖ’s agenda. Similar attributes are expressed about Pröll, the uncle of former ÖVP chairman, Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Josef Pröll. SPÖ Infrastructure Minister Doris Bures admitted being surprised of his idea for a reform of the president’s function since it was Pröll who considered running for president one and a half years ago.

Incumbent President Heinz Fischer – who currently serves a second and final term – said possible changes to his function were a matter he was not thinking about. This short statement follows his appeal from 2010 to increase the president’s legislature by two years to eight years. Fischer suggested running for a second term in office should be made impossible at the same time.

ÖVP Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger – a protégé of Pröll – refused to comment the Lower Austrian governor’s proposal. The vice chancellor and party leader only said the idea could be discussed as part of a “broader debate” about possible reforms of Austria’s political system. Austria spends around seven million Euros on the presidential office a year. The federal president earns nearly 329,000 Euros before tax annually.

There is more accord considering a reform of the Bundesrat. The institution is seen as expensive and inefficient by many politicians and political commentators while some constitutional experts make aware of its important role in the current political system. The council can reject laws passed by the parliament. However, rules mean that the parliament can pass the same laws without further intervention from the Bundesrat in a second round of voting.

Voves said the number of Bundesrat members should drop by 10 to 52.  The governor of Styria agreed with Styrian Deputy Governor Hermann Schützenhöfer of the ÖVP to lower the number of members of the provincial parliament. The extensive reform of Voves and Schützenhöfer also included the disputed decision to freeze public servants’ wages.

SPÖ Salzburg Governor Gabi Burgstaller declared her willingness to speak about a reform of the Bundesrat yesterday. Carinthian Governor Gerhard Dörfler of the Carinthian Freedom Party (FPK) told a news programme on radio channel Ö1 today he preferred dissolving the Bundesrat. Dörfler claimed that the political institution “is nothing else but an extension of the parties”. He claimed hardly any Austrian knew the name of the Bundesrat’s head, let alone the one of any other member of the institution.