Cap calls for parliamentary reform accord

Social Democratic (SPÖ) whip Josef Cap has said he is optimistic about strong support for a reform of the parliament by all represented factions.

The long-time member of parliament (MP) said today (Fri) he was certain that the opposition would approve plans for a reduction of the federal parliament too “if the concept is convincing”. Cap told the Kurier that the time was right to lower the number of parliamentary seats from 183 to 165 after the coming election. “I see this as a chance to start a reform process. The people are demanding such steps,” he said.

Cap made clear it had to be ensured that the performance capacity parliament’s various special commissions and investigative committees – which are formed by MPs – must not be negatively affected by the possibly upcoming reform. He pointed out that there were 40 commissions and several extraordinary committees – which were set up to examine alleged cases of abuse of office and corruption – at the moment.

Barbara Prammer, the president of the parliament, made a similar appeal earlier this week. The SPÖ board member admitted that she would not have suggested a planned reform the government coalition of SPÖ and the People’s Party (ÖVP) presented earlier this month. Some political commentators and the Green Party reacted critically to the project too. They expressed concerns that the plan was nothing but a populist attempt to secure voters’ support in next year’s general election.

A reduction of members of the parliament and the federal council (Bundesrat) poses a savings potential of up to five million Euros a year, according to experts on Austria’s electoral right and the constitution. SPÖ and ÖVP agreed to save 26.5 billion Euros by 2017 by passing a set of tax hikes and spending cuts in parliament later this month or next month. Most of the austerity package’s measures will come into effect in mid-2012.

Speaking to the Kurier, Cap suggested the government and opposition should try to agree on higher funding of MPs’ work as part of a reform of the parliament’s structure. He pointed out that Austrian MPs received low subsidies to pay office staff in European comparison.

SPÖ Vienna Mayor Michael Häupl recently called a reduction of the number of seats of the federal parliament as a “symbolic act” to prove to voters that lawmakers were willing to cut costs and raise efficiency. Häupl revealed he could imagine lowering the number of Viennese city parliament delegates by 20 to 80 in a few years’ time “if other provincial parliaments do the same”.

The federal SPÖ-ÖVP administration decided to present plans for a reform of the parliament after Franz Voves, who heads the SPÖ’s Styrian department, said the number of seats could be reduced. Erwin Pröll of the ÖVP in Lower Austria and other provincial governors also appealed on federal decision-makers to restructure the parliament and the Bundesrat.

Some regional political leaders even suggested abolishing the Bundesrat. Others said the disputed political institution’s importance should increase to justify its existence. Prammer admitted that the Bundesrat “is kept from working efficiently” at the moment due to its size and structure.

Voves said the federal government should consider his province as a positive example for how sensible reforms can be carried out without coalition-internal fights. The Styrian SPÖ-ÖVP coalition decided already last year to lower the number of provincial government and parliament members to reduce Styria’s debts. The parties also lowered public subsidies for cultural institutions and reintroduced kindergarten fees. Earlier this week, Voves and ÖVP Styria boss Hermann Schützenhöfer announced that the number of public servants in Styria would be reduced by 700 to 6,500 by 2015.