Coalition accelerates anti-corruption ambitions

The government is intensifying its attempts to pass a transparency package in parliament.

The Social Democrats (SPÖ) and their coalition partner, the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), arranged meetings with representatives of the parliament’s three opposition factions to debate details about the planned amendment. The law is set to create stricter rules regarding the subsidisation of parties. SPÖ and ÖVP need a two-third majority for some of the detail aspects of the reform. This means that at least one opposition faction must give the go-ahead.

The coalition intends to make changes to the current restrictions regarding donations by individuals and firms to political movements. Current rules say that Austria’s parties must inform the Federal Audit Office (RH) about donations of 7,260 Euros and more. The law does not force the parties to reveal where the money came from. SPÖ and ÖVP suggested to slash the limit to 5,000 Euros.

Especially the Green Party is applying pressure for a further lowering. Greens vice leader Werner Kogler warned that his faction would certainly not approve the draft bill in parliament if it lacked convincing rules against corruption and abuse of office by political decision-makers.

Kogler said there had to be full transparency about donations of 500 Euros and more. The provincial parliament of Salzburg recently unanimously agreed on a 500-Euro limit. The Salzburg department of the RH checks all donations and voters can find information about the transactions on the internet. Parties caught breaching the new law – which will become effective in 2013 – face fines and a reduction of public subsidies. The provincial parliament of Vorarlberg passed a similar law affecting donations of 1,000 Euros and more.

SPÖ State Secretary Josef Ostermayer will head the Social Democrats’ team of negotiators in the upcoming transparency law talks. His party and the ÖVP also want to set up a federal regulation under which politicians must fully clarify their incomes from all private sector activities.

This measure is seen as a reaction to the increasing influence of lobbyists. Promotion agencies, marketing companies and some of the country’s most infamous lobbyists could have – according to revelations by the parliament’s anti-corruption commission – raked in millions of Euros by masterminding illicit arrangements between companies and lawmakers.

A poll by OGM has shown that a majority of 73 per cent of Austrians are convinced that corruption happens on a regular basis in politics. Only 22 per cent told the Viennese research group that the recently uncovered cases were not representing the general circumstances in their opinion.

OGM also found that 84 per cent of Austrians put no hope into politicians regarding the creation of clearer party subsidisation regulations. Just nine per cent said they were certain that the parliament’s parties would finally manage to create stricter, convincing rules.