Prammer backs Bundesrat reform

The president of the parliament has suggested setting up a commission to discuss the latest ideas about how Austria’s political leadership could prove the willingness to economise.

Barbara Prammer of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) said in a radio interview this morning (Thurs) she welcomed plans to reform the federal council (Bundesrat). “The Bundesrat is currently kept from acting efficiently,” she told Ö1 when being asked why a restructure of the institution would make sense.

Prammer said a special committee could be created to establish reasonable reforms affecting the Bundesrat’s structure and competencies. The former minister for women refused to disclose what she had in mind for the political institution’s future. Prammer said she preferred discussing future steps after an “overall concept” was on the table.

The Bundesrat is a federal institution which is being given comparably little attention by the public. It has the power to reject laws passed by parliament. However, the parliament has the chance to pass the same regulations in a second try without any chances for the Bundesrat to interfere.

The Bundesrat consists of 62 members while the parliament counts 183 delegates. Styrian Governor Franz Voves, who also heads the SPÖ’s Styrian department, said on Sunday the number of delegates of both institutions should be reduced. He said such a step would make sense as part of the upcoming package of savings measures by the federal government coalition of Social Democrats and the People’s Party (ÖVP).

Gerhard Dörfler, the governor of Carinthia and deputy leader of the Carinthian Freedom Party (FPK) even said the Bundesrat should be dissolved. Salzburg’s SPÖ Governor Gabi Burgstaller and SPÖ Burgenland boss Hans Niessl declared their willingness to help restructure the political institution. Niessl said he could imagine assigning provincial parliament members for the Bundesrat. The governor of Burgenland added that such a reform seemed sensible.

Experts think that reducing the number of members of parliament by 18 would help the state to save around five million Euros a year – a sum many Austrians could consider as irrelevant considering the government’s plans to save 10 billion Euros over the next five years. However, lawmakers’ willingness to consider their own areas of operation when it comes to making cuts may improve the decreasingly bad reputation of the political elite.

Lower Austrian ÖVP Governor Erwin Pröll said on Monday he agreed with Voves considering lowering the number of parliamentarians to 165. Pröll also spoke out in favour of a reform of the Bundesrat council. His appeal to get rid of the position of the federal president as it is now, sparked critical reactions among top-tier members of the SPÖ.

SPÖ State Secretary Andreas Schieder said he considered the idea as “rather bizarre” while SPÖ Traffic Minister Doris Bures said it was “interesting” that it was Pröll who expressed such suggestions. Pröll hinted in a series of interviews in 2010 that he could imagine running for president. Polls conducted at that time showed that he had chances to beat Heinz Fischer, the incumbent president. Pröll eventually scrapped his ambitions after the federal ÖVP failed to show unequivocal support.

Pröll suggested on Monday that members of the government could take turns in acting as federal president. Speaking to the Salzburger Nachrichten, constitutional expert Heinz Mayer stressed that the president “is regarded as a fire fighter for crisis times. The question is: who would fulfil this function (after a reform)?”

Mayer pointed out that the federal president was a “counterweight” to the government. The person in charge has the power to stop laws from becoming effective. The president of the Republic of Austria can dissolve parliament and call for new elections. Overall, his range of responsibilities is nevertheless dominated by representative functions with little direct impact on politics of the day.