First plenary week with mammoth program

In view of the explosiveness of many current topics, above all inflation, energy and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the first plenary week of 2022/2023 promises to be lively. The SPÖ put pensions and “record inflation” on the agenda as topics for “Current Hour”, which begins the first session on Wednesday.

The FPÖ wants to talk about “prosperity and security for Austria instead of EU sanctions and mass immigration” in a “Current Europe Hour”. NEOS criticized in advance that the government was distributing financial support by “watering can”.

Debate on six referendums

After the “Europe hour”, the six currently completed referendums are up for debate on Wednesday before they are assigned to the responsible committees: “Stop animal transport agony”, “Rule of law and anti-corruption referendums”, “No to compulsory vaccination”, “Compulsory vaccination vote: No Respect!”, “Implement an unconditional basic income!” and “Mental Health youth referendum”.

The referendum on the animal transports reached the most supporters out of a total of six

With 425,938 supporters, the referendum to restrict the transport of live animals was the most successful of the six that had been open for signatures since May. The anti-corruption referendum demands, among other things, a code of conduct for politicians. The two initiatives on the subject of compulsory vaccination had been initiated before Parliament put them aside. The referendum on a basic income calls for a basic income without giving anything in return and hopes that this will help to combat poverty. Finally, the topic on “mental health” calls for more support against the mental stress on young people as a result of the CoV pandemic.

Pandemic and the economy: spotlight on the national budget

According to the program, the debate on the referendum will be followed by several reports from the Court of Auditors and the Budget Committee, and it was also planned to put the federal financial statements for 2021 on the agenda, so the committee would complete the deliberations in good time, as it was said on Tuesday. A large chunk of the 2021 budget was just over EUR 15 billion, which was paid out from the Covid 19 crisis management fund, EUR 6.6 billion more than in 2020.

This contrasted with real growth in gross domestic product (GDP) of 4.5 percent. The bottom line in 2021 was a deficit of 19.6 billion euros in the income statement, which is still well below the pre-pandemic level of plus 819.08 million euros in 2019. At the national level, Austria achieved 2021 a public deficit of minus 5.9 percent of GDP. The general government debt remained high due to further borrowing and was 82.8 percent of GDP in 2021. Austria thus failed to meet the Maastricht criteria (public deficit of less than three percent of GDP and public debt of no more than 60 percent of GDP) again it in the report.

Pensions, CoV aid, Ukraine displaced persons

Also on the program are various legislative initiatives that are being debated, including one by NEOS against the growing pension gap, the ÖVP and the Greens want to see CoV help publicly via a transparency database, and an amendment to the Child Care Allowance Act is to give Ukraine expellees access to this family benefit. Another amendment to the law is intended to make access to the red-white-red card easier.

Empty vaccination lane

APA/Herbert Neubauer

CoV help, pandemic management – the subject of compulsory vaccination is over

Whole set of RH exams

Furthermore, several reports from the Court of Auditors (RH) on the CoV aid from the federal government are up for discussion. An audit report from April shows that the Republic paid out around 34.5 billion euros in aid by June 2021 – for short-time work, a loss bonus, sales compensation, etc. The federal reserve system was also examined by the RH, with the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Economics were in focus. Also dealt with are RH reports relating to the EU financial reports 2017 and 2018, such as the investment strategies of the Federal Pension Fund, VAT on international services or the Austrian Development Bank.

Two other reports by the ACA deal with improving pandemic management. It recommends improving data collection and communication as well as cooperation between the responsible authorities and actors. Reports on medical training and procurement of medicines are also covered. Finally, the 2021 activity report of the ACA itself will also be debated.

“Expensive Plasters” and “Watering Can”

Even before the start of the plenary week, the opposition harshly criticized the work of the federal government. For the SPÖ, club chairman Jörg Leichtfried demanded in a broadcast on Tuesday that the government must “finally get to the root of the problem” when it comes to inflation, instead of handing out “very expensive plasters”. He announced several motions by the Social Democrats “to combat inflation”. Among other things, they demand an increase in pensions and a shift in CO2 pricing.

NEOS also criticized the crisis policy of the ÖVP-Green federal government. Instead of “helping against inflation, the government is unpacking the ‘watering can’ ‘out of fear’ of the voters and the competition,” criticized NEOS boss Beate Meinl-Reisinger at a press conference on Tuesday. It would be necessary to reduce taxes and non-wage labor costs. “The price increases will continue to affect people,” said Meinl-Reisinger. “The state cannot fix everything”, but it can offer a “shock absorber”. NEOS also announced motions in the first plenary session on Wednesday.

FPÖ wants border fence and end of Russia sanctions

The FPÖ also addresses the issues of pensions and energy: An application will be submitted that pensions must be increased by at least ten percent, club chairman deputy Dagmar Belakowitsch announced at a press conference. By applying for a deadline, they also want to stop CO2 taxation just before it comes into force at the beginning of October. In the “Current Europe Hour” requested by the FPÖ, they want to work to ensure that the country is expanded into a “Fortress Austria”, according to Belakowitsch. Among other things, a border fence to the east and the introduction of a criminal offense of “asylum fraud” are needed.

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