Mikl-Leitner denies lack of reforms

Johanna Mikl-Leitner has defended the government’s disputed pension system agenda.

The interior minister dismissed accusations that the recently presented budget consolidation agreement featured too many open questions. Mikl-Leitner told Die Presse that substantial structural reforms would be achieved if the average retirement age rises from the current 58 to 61 or 62 in 2020.

The Social Democrats (SPÖ) and Mikl-Leitner’s People’s Party (ÖVP) want to expand already existing sickness prevention and health awareness campaigns for employees to lower the worryingly high number of invalidity pension cases. Labour market experts are at odds whether the overall unemployment rate will rise if the government succeeds.

Asked whether the new austerity and reform package failed to consider a system of bonus payments for people willing to work longer than they have to, Mikl-Leitner argued that not all of her party’s visions could be turned into reality due to coalition-internal pressure and disagreement. ÖVP chief Michael Spindelegger campaigned in favour of a model of which included lower pensions for people who quit before the regular retirement age for weeks. The ÖVP chairman suggested that employees ready to stay in their jobs longer should strongly benefit financially after retirement.

SPÖ and ÖVP said earlier this month that no Austrian younger than 50 must retire due to invalidity anymore. Unionists criticised the plan and claimed that doctors’ expertise would be put into question this way. Researchers fear that the young generation would have to bear the brunt for the soaring costs of Austria’s healthcare and pension structures – regardless of short-term decisions and planned reforms.

Mikl-Leitner said yesterday (Sun) it was not true that the latest budget consolidation programme failed to include any kind of structural reforms regarding Austria’s public sector. She underlined that public institutions would soon stop hiring staff. Mikl-Leitner also emphasised that her ministry’s asylum issues department would be drastically restructured shortly. She explained that nearly 200 authorities were dealing with immigration concerns at the moment. The ÖVP official said that the plan was to create one central institution with nine provincial representations.

Asked how her ministry – which is also in charge of the federal police – plans to cut costs in the next years, the former Lower Austrian social affairs councillor revealed that older police officers would be offered timeouts to go on longer holidays or sit different courses instead of being paid for doing overtime. Mikl-Leitner told Die Presse that young policemen and policewomen would continue the full financial compensation for extra work.

Mikl-Leitner, who succeeded Maria Fekter as interior minister last April, also called for full transparency about Austria’s system of political movements’ subsidisation. Constitutional experts are crying for reforms of the current regulation and make aware of the comparably high sums the state transfers to established parties. Political scientist Fritz Plasser said the current restrictions and monitoring mechanisms were “totally pointless”. He told the Salzburger Nachrichten that a reform was urgently needed to create Western European standards in this concern.