Cash Off as Usual – Austrian Parliamentarians Hide Additional Earnings Still

11 11 2007

Photo: For President of the Austrian Parliament, Barbara Prammer, catching a chicken seems evidently easier than having her colleagues agree to publish their additional sources of income.

This time, the debate – or better non-debate – was short-lived: On Oct. 29, 2007, First President of the Austrian Parliament, Barbara Prammer (Socialdemocrats), presented her ideas of improving the parliamentary debates and reforming internal procedures. Among the suggestions voiced was the mandatory registration and publication of MPs additional sources of income (German: Nebeneinkünfte) and make them accessible to the general public via Internet. Prammer referenced the German model, where Members of the German Bundestag have to publish a detailed account in their biographies on the website of the parliament.

On Nov. 10, 2007, the Conservative ÖVP set an end to the debate by rejecting any changes to the income procedures or the publication of its findings of Austrian MPs. “The Austrian Enviousness-Society (Neidgesellschaft) would react negatively to this transparency initiative. It is simply not common to talk about the salary here” said Michael Spindelegger (ÖVP), Second President of the Austrian Parliament, in Der Standard. “If we would like that, all tax statement of every (Austrian) citizens must be made public as well.” And the Socialdemocrats were not far behind, with Josef Cap, Speaker of the Socialdemocrats, adding that the current listing, kept confidential at the Presidential Parliament Office, is “absolutely sufficient.” Prammer consequently insists, nevertheless, to make the current listing publicly available, though it only shows from which companies an Austrian MP received EUR 1,300 or more annually.

Indeed, the biography section of the Austrian MPs on the Parliament’s website is rather poor in comparison to the German counterpart. Werner Amon, MBA (Conservative ÖVP), for example, adds to his income as MP – currently EUR 8,023.60 gross earnings per month (14 times a year) – that of the Secretary General of the ÖAAB, the party’s workers and employees organization. I should stress that this organization, and those of other political parties, send elected representatives to the Arbeiterkammer, the Austrian non-governmental body that represents about 3.2 Million employees on professional and consumer matters. Membership for the Arbeiterkammer, as for any other representational, non-governmental body is mandatory, and elections are held every four years. In the 2004 elections, the ÖAAB secured with 24% of the total votes the second place, the Socialdemocrats lead with 63%.

In other words, Amon receives as an MP an additional income, not published, and also adding a possible conflict-of-interest. However, looking at the financial issue only, the total earnings can only be estimated, and therefore I refrain from speculations. In Amon’s defense, I should mention that he also represents his party as a Speaker of Social Affairs in the Austrian Parliament. Nevertheless, he also occupies further positions within the ÖVP – he is the native of Styria, representing also the local party section of the town of Knittelfeld, as well as being a committee member of the provincial party in Styria. It is unclear whether those are voluntary positions, though traditionally, party committee members receive some financial compensation.

Nevertheless, Amon is by far an isolated case and the extent reaches across the large political parties. And the issue of holding (at least) one other additional position alongside the obligations of an MP has put particularly the Socialdemocrats in the 1990s on the spot with an extensive financial and political scandal.

By contrast, the discussion in Germany about additional income of MPs reached a climax in 2005, when the left-wing government of Gerhard Schröder passed a law that requires every member in parliament to make the additional sources of incomes, as well as other political and honorary positions clear in their biography of the Bundestag website. After a High Court ruling of Jul. 4, 2007, the information is released via Internet to the public. A declaration of incomes is required from EUR 1,000 per month (or EUR 10,000 p.a. respectively), defining three levels (see the website of the German Bundestag for the full description here). Violations are fined up to EUR 42,000.

As an example, the German Conservative MP Ilse Aigner (CSU, Bavaria) mentions in her biography alongside her official parliamentary positions (Mitgliedschaften in Gremien des Bundestages) also all – in this particular case – voluntary (ehrenamtlich) positions, not immediately connected to her work as MP (Veröffentlichungspflichtige Angaben).

Why do Austrian politicians in general, and Austrian MPs specifically fear that glance of transparency? Because, unlike in most of other European countries, the inter-linkage between a parliamentary seat with other public positions is very common, particularly true for the two large parties SPÖ and ÖVP, something that evolved since the end of World War II, when both parties accumulated most of the country’s political and economic power. Any attempts of unraveling that traditional relationship is always countered with the argument of “envy versus responsibility.” The question, however, is how much responsibility is humanly possible? And how well do MPs represent Austria in parliament?

Resisting more transparency, Austrian politicians risk of getting booted from their seemingly secure positions by people abstaining from voting. As goes the popular saying: “Politicians are always corrupt and can arrange it themselves.” Killing a political initiative for more transparency about their additional sources of income, Austrian politics has yet seen another setback and decline in political culture.

As a former local politician, I have more to add to this topic soon, so please keep reading and commenting.

Here is a list of the current earnings of Austrian politicians.

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4 responses

13 11 2007
A Politician’s Income on Public Display « Music & Politics in Vienna

[…] Nov. 10, the debate seemed over. As indicated my recent blog entry ‘Cash Off as Usual‘, I reported on the unwillingness of either of the large parties, SPÖ or ÖVP to change […]

15 11 2007
Cash Off as Usual – Austrian Parliamentarians Hide Additional … | Political news - democrats republicans socialists greens liberals conservatives

[…] post by mwurz1975 This was written by . Posted on Sunday, November 11, 2007, at 3:45 pm. Filed under […]

16 11 2007
Cash Off as Usual – Austrian Parliamentarians Hide Additional … | Political news - democrats republicans socialists greens liberals conservatives

[…] post by mwurz1975 This was written by . Posted on Sunday, November 11, 2007, at 3:45 pm. Filed under […]

4 05 2008
Ragnar

Then they have this in common with members of the European Parliament, who vote to keep secret their sources of income – many of which are on a large scale and involve swindling the taxpayers they are supposed to represent.

Take their ‘contributory’ pension scheme for example.

Your blog (not a word I like, and your work deserves a better title) is very enlightening for a non-Austrian such as myself. I found it b y mistake but will always drop by now.

Where I live (the UK) coverage of foreign countries is variable. I find that France gets a good deal of space, especially when compared to Germany, for which reporting is sadly meagre given its size and importance. As for Austria, it has been largely ignored and would be still but for Natasha Kampusch and now the current horror story.

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