Government’s subsidisation reform suffers setback

The government has failed to reach an agreement with the coalition concerning a reform of Austria’s party subsidisation system.

Representatives of the government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) held talks with Green Party members, Freedom Party (FPÖ) officials and members of the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) delegation in parliament in the past days.

SPÖ and ÖVP hoped to get the go-ahead for its concept but failed. All opposition parties demand a lower limit for when political movements must guarantee full transparency regarding donations from companies and individuals. The coalition suggested to lower the limit from around 7,000 to 5,000 Euros – a proposal all opposition factions rejected.

Now ÖVP leaders signalise willingness to debate the matter again in what is seen as an attempt to avoid further damage to the party’s reputation. The conservative faction failed to get closer to the SPÖ since Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger took over as chairman from Josef Pröll one year ago. Instead, it dropped to third place in public opinion polls behind the right-wing FPÖ.

The recent dispute between government and opposition lowers the coalition’s chances to pass a party donation regulations amendment in parliament in the coming weeks. SPÖ and ÖVP initially envisaged 1 July as a possible date for when the stricter law could come into force.

It is still unclear whether the system of subsidies by the state will also be reformed. The federal parties get 7.3 Euros per voter a year while their Viennese sections rake in 28.9 Euros. Parties represented in the western province of Vorarlberg only receive 13.4 Euros per registered voter. This is the lowest figure among the country’s nine provinces. Upper Austria is almost as generous as Vienna with 21.1 Euros of subsidies per registered voter while Lower Austria (14.6 Euros) and Tyrol (14.8 Euros) spent comparably little each year.

Another hotly discussed topic is the Austrian system of financial compensations to parties after elections. Depending on their performances in provincial, national and European ballots, the country’s political organisations receive certain amounts of money from the Republic of Austria. All these actions help the country’s parties to an annual windfall of 170 million Euros, according to experts.

Former ÖVP Vice Chancellor Erhard Busek – who calls for a reform of the electoral system, more efficiency by public service institutions and the stop of political interference at national broadcaster ORF – said there was lots of savings potential within the parties. He branded the traditional structure and planning of election campaigns as outdated and underlined that a front runner’s bad performance in a live TV discussion had the potential to throw back a party in polls regardless of how much it spent on posters and newspaper insertions.

Busek also demanded an end of political games when it comes to assignments in the public sector. The ex-ÖVP chief’s increasingly popular Mein Österreich (My Austria) movement has, according to analysts, good chances to take the four per cent hurdle into parliament in next year’s elections if it decides to compete.