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Kurz tax idea causes a stir

People’s Party (ÖVP) State Secretary Sebastian Kurz is under fire following a suggestion how Austria’s taxation system could be reformed.

Kurz – who heads the ÖVP’s youth organisation – told the ORF’s Ö1 radio news programme yesterday (Mon) that a certain amount of tax revenues should go where people want it to. He claimed such a restructure might help improving the image of Austria’s politicians. Kurz said a similar system was already in force in some regions of Switzerland. Residents of these areas were trying to evade paying taxes less often, according to Kurz. The areas which use that kind of tax structure were also economically stronger than other regions of Switzerland, Kurz said, adding that he could imagine a law affecting 10 per cent of tax earnings this way.

The ÖVP’s state secretary for integration claimed that people would certainly appreciate knowing where their money went and how it was used. His appeal did not find acclaim among Austria’s Social Democrats (SPÖ). SPÖ General Secretary Günther Kräuter – whose faction forms a government coalition with the conservative ÖVP – said the state secretary’s idea was "ill-conceived". He warned from "wrong developments" if it became legally active.

The opposition parties were less reluctant in their reactions. Werner Kogler, the Green Party’s vice chief, branded the ÖVP Vienna deputy leader’s ideas as "first class populism". Kogler made aware that many Austrians were paying no income taxes due to their low salaries. The Green Party parliament delegate (MP) said these social classes would be kept from any kind of civic participation in decision-making of such regard while people who earned more could suddenly determine how Austria spent some of its tax revenues.

Political scientist Peter Filzmaier said it was possible that most Austrians endorsed the tax reform ideas of Kurz. Filzmaier pointed out that people had the feeling of paying excessive taxes anyway. He also made aware of the rising interest in getting directly involved in political decision-making procedures. Especially the Freedom Party (FPÖ) is strongly engaged in trying to convince the government of a reform of the law for "more direct democracy".

The right-wing party abandoned its negotiations about a constitutional debt brake earlier this year after it realised that the ÖVP would not support its appeal for a quick change of the federal law. The FPÖ wanted to lower the bureaucratic burdens for people interested in organising referendums. The party of Heinz-Christian Strache said it would not support the government coalition’s debt brake plan without a change of the law towards the Swiss model of high civic participation.

Only a few days after the debt limit discussions between ÖVP and FPÖ ended fruitless, ÖVP chief Michael Spindelegger asked Kurz to develop a strategy of how a plus in democracy could be achieved. The vice chancellor said he asked Kurz to find out how young Austrians’ interest in politics could be increased. The ÖVP boss claimed many young people would engage locally but had no interest in federal political developments.

His decision to assign Kurz to create a democracy concept was widely seen as an attempt of keeping all options open for the time after the next general election. Spindelegger refused to rule out a coalition with the FPÖ – which is accused of having xenophobic policies – after the ballot of 2013. The parties cooperated in a government between 2000 and 2005 before the ÖVP teamed up for another two years with the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ).

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