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Reckless fuel pricing must mean prison, says BZ÷

An opposition party wants jail sentences for energy sector businesspeople while the government plans to increase the financial support of drivers.

Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) head Josef Bucher announced yesterday (Weds) stricter penalties were needed to stop mineral oil firms from not passing on international trading developments to customers. Bucher said Austrian law should include the chance to speak out prison terms against entrepreneurs in cases of market manipulation and excessive car petrol price increases.

The Freedom Party (FPÖ) called for a reform of the subsidisation programme for people getting to work by car. Austrians can make a certain share of their automobile expenses deductible if they have to cover long distances by car to get to the office. The regulation is linked to the taxation of incomes. FPÖ head Heinz-Christian Strache said the government should correct this ruling to ensure that people with low wages who are not paying any taxes on their earnings would benefit as well.

People’s Party (ÖVP) Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner revealed in a podium discussion yesterday evening that he approached ÖVP Finance Minister Maria Fekter to check the potential for money. Speaking on radio station Ö1, the economy minister indicated that his party might soon present a concept for a reform of the current regulations. Mitterlehner said a correction had to be carried out carefully to avoid that the personal financial situation of bosses of leading companies improved as well. "Nobody wants this," he said about the possibility of such a development.

Mitterlehner defended his decision to set up a fuel price monitoring scheme. The minister said motorists must not suffer under mineral oil companies’ "arbitrary decisions". He explained that he opted to prepare a car petrol surveillance programme after investigations of global mineral oil trading prices had shown that domestic suppliers failed to pass on decreases.

Now the economy minister wants to create a price corridor system. He said the programme should ensure that Austrian petrol stations did not charge more for fuel during driving season vacations like Easter than they did in the week leading up to the traffic-intense periods.

The Austrian Traffic Club (VCÖ) reacted sceptically to the plan. The organisation – which promotes cycling, public transport and renewable energy resources – said it feared that the price monitor might not be of more use than "a sticking plaster if someone suffers a broken leg". It appealed to citizens and the government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and ÖVP to reset their focus on eco-friendly transportation and traffic.

David Pfarrhofer of public opinion research agency Market told Ö1 that Mitterlehner’s decision to create such a programme might have to do with the high controversy and the many emotions linked to the topic. He stressed that cars were still the "darlings" of many Austrians and made aware of surveys showing that one in three drivers would not use their vehicles less often regardless of any petrol price developments.

The public opinion analyst said it seemed that the ÖVP identified the issue of sky-high fuel prices as an ideal one to concentrate on considering next year’s federal election. Pfarrhofer said the conservative party would certainly appreciate being in the news with successful attempts to lower the price for fuel instead of being mentioned in stories about corruption, money laundering and bribery all the time.

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