Glawischnig says government acts in populist manner

The government is confronted with mounting criticism after presenting plans to lower the number of parliamentary delegates (MPs).

The government coalition, formed by the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), said earlier this month the number of MPs should shrink by 13 to 165 after the coming election. Viennese SPÖ Mayor Michael Häupl admitted that such a step was a “symbolic act” with little savings potential but also signalised understanding for the decision. Häupl reacted by declaring his willingness to reduce the Viennese parliament’s number of members by 20 to 80 in the coming years.

SPÖ and ÖVP are bullish about the envisaged parliamentary reform which could also include changes to the role and standing of the federal council (Bundesrat) – despite experts’ claims that not more than five million Euros could be saved a year that way. Only last weekend, SPÖ MP Sonja Ablinger expressed cautious criticism by underlining that the measure was not spoken about in any of her party’s institutions. ÖVP MP Ferdinand Maier said he wondered whether the idea was a joke the government decided to tell to mark the carnival season.

Now Greens chairwoman Eva Glawischnig announced that the planned restructuring of the parliament was “of course populist”. She told the Kurier today (Tues) that the state and its people would benefit more from stricter anti-corruption rules and a directive which provided the Audit Office (RH) with more privileges. Glawischnig said the RH should be allowed to examine decision-making procedures at firms in which the Republic of Austria held a stake of 25 per cent or more.

The chairwoman of the left-wing opposition party recently also harshly attacked SPÖ and ÖVP for most of their savings package. Glawischnig deplored a lack of structural reforms and said the government must offer more information on how much money it intended to spend on education initiatives and scientific projects. Her party also called for a higher tax burden for Austria’s richest residents and more pressure at European Union (EU) meetings for a tax on financial transactions. Glawischnig claimed that health sector reforms – such as mergers of Austria’s 19 public health insurers – and measures on the education sector would help the state save half a billion Euros a year.

Her party supported the Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) appeal for an extraordinary summit of the federal parliament to speak about the various cutbacks Austrians must cope with in the coming five years. The FPÖ said it would only give the go-ahead to the government’s parliamentary reform if SPÖ and ÖVP accept “more direct democracy”. The FPÖ wants to lower the bureaucratic burdens for people planning to organise referendums. The right-wing party is expected to reject the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition’s budget consolidation package when it is presented next week. Glawischnig has not yet disclosed whether the Greens would vote in favour of the parliament reduction bill.

ÖVP Finance Minister Maria Fekter and SPÖ Finance Secretary Andreas Schieder recently assigned constitutional experts to finalise the formulation of the planned reforms to ensure that none of the government’s competitors succeeded by launching legal action against any of the measures. The package includes a temporary increase of wealthy Austrians’ income tax rate as well as an agreement about not hiring new staff for the public sector wherever this is possible.

SPÖ boss Werner Faymann said labour would be taxed less, if his party had a majority in seats in the parliament while ÖVP chief Michael Spindelegger said his faction would not have given the green light to any of the various tax hikes if its faction featured more than 50 per cent of MPs. Fekter said on Sunday she could imagine introducing a tax reform to lower the pressure on families as early as next year. Schieder said his party would keep concentrating on initiatives for higher taxes on assets and less strain for workers and low-tier employees.