The election of the National Council happened exactly what I do not like at all and which I warned about last summer: the government has been blown up from within.
At that time there was still an SPÖ Chancellor, but you were already head of the country. What has happened to you since then? This year has shown how quickly situations can change. The election of the National Council happened exactly what I do not like at all and which I warned about last summer: the government has been blown up from within. With the election results, a turning point – which has manifested itself in all of Europe towards right-wing national parties – has reached Austria. I am very sorry. The warnings – also from me – that a reconstruction of the Second Republic towards the Third Republic is in progress have meanwhile been adopted by many commentators.
How are you with the turquoise and blue government and its working style? Extremely mixed. Is it really a new style when you publicize projects that you have planned? And doesn’t you care for what has made Austria so strong? Namely, to sit down at a table and talk in order to look for common solutions, because you know that only these are sustainable. One notices that there is either a generation or a serious difference of opinion. I understand that you are breaking new ground. I understand that people rule differently than their predecessors did. That’s all okay. What I don’t understand is that you risk stable values that make this Austria so unique – as a business location, as a country in which many international solutions have been discussed or achieved. And thereby risking what makes this country so special: namely social peace.
The ÖVP argument is that you can implement the government program and not maintain broken structures. I counter this not only theoretically, but also practically: Take a look at Carinthia. I too could make things a lot easier for myself and work through the government program without ifs or buts. But how do we go about it? If there are critical points, I invite both opposition leaders to the government meeting to provide information. And in contrast to the federal government, I am not only straining the principle of social partnership enshrined in the constitution, with us the social partners also sit at the government table every sixth government meeting. We exchange ideas, criticize and consider. But not in the form that one obviously ignores part of the social partnership. I see extremely limited benefits from these new styles. Sometimes they seem rather old to me, like in 1848 (counter-revolution, smashing of the October uprising, note).
Do you think democracy is at risk? When I say I fear that there will be a conversion from the Second to a Third Republic, that doesn’t automatically mean dictatorship or something like that.pay someone to type my paper But it shows that we are trading the things that have made us strong and are still doing – location, economy, social cohesion, low inequalities – for something else that no one describes so clearly.
As governor, do you have a basis for discussion with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz? Since Kurz has been Federal Chancellor, we have met exactly once at the Pogusch and exchanged a few words.
On an official occasion? At a wine tasting. Otherwise I have very close contact with some ministers. Hartinger-Klein (Beate, Minister of Health, note) struck me as very positively when last week we managed to find an exemplary solution to a health problem for our country, but also for Austria (the continued existence of the Klagenfurt Accident Hospital, note. ). But with others I sometimes have the feeling that this is exactly what the government feared (knocks on the table): the negotiating table. There, where one meets with arguments, looking one another in the eye, listening and listening to the counter-argument, and finds solutions.
As President of the Court of Auditors, he already announced that Justice Minister Josef Moser wants to reform the financial management of the federal states. Now he wants to pull it off. How far can the governors go? I even have to put it into perspective a bit. We have already agreed in advance at provincial governor level that we are striving to unbundle the multiple responsibilities – where it is justifiable and sensible – without the intervention of ministers. We want to form a working group. Where there is a solution, it is either a federal or a state matter. Where there is no solution, you have to consider whether it makes sense to use force to seek one. Or whether it doesn’t make sense in a few cases – there should just not be as many as before – to keep the motto “basic federal legislation, implementation of the federal states”. It doesn’t all have to be bad. But instead of setting up this working group and waiting for the first results and then informing the public, the minister has already announced what will happen. Just to find the way to talk again straight away. I don’t think that’s a good thing.
And yet it is about the curtailment of federal state competences … If the federal government no longer wants federalism in this form, then it should say: let’s abolish it, we abolish the states, or we disempower them in such a way that the scope for design is extremely limited . I prefer to discuss things with my eyes open. But then the Austrians in all federal states should also know what it is about. Then you will notice that the state politics is closer to the citizens than some federal politicians supposedly believe to be.
But isn’t the government also trying to avoid problems? There is currently a dispute with the federal states about childcare costs, before that it was the assumption of costs after the end of the nursing regress. You could save yourself that if the countries had nothing more to say. If a government is afraid of the people or another government, then at the latest it should question itself. Which might be necessary one time or the other. Because – and I have to apologize right away if people see this as too rigid when reading: The federal government is pushing a policy that seeks to strengthen the stronger, wealthier and richer in their position and at their distance from others. And she works with the psychological trick that everyone thinks they are meant by it. It disadvantages those who have a harder time anyway.
© Ricardo Herrgott “The federal government is pushing a policy that wants to strengthen the stronger, more affluent and richer in their position and in their distance to others,” says the SPÖ politician
How much does Carinthia lose if the federal government pays less for childcare? It hits us with 2.4 million euros less for the facilities. I also think it is the completely wrong way to save in terms of economic policy.
The government supports families with the family bonus. A good model? The family bonus depends on the parents’ income. Carinthia goes exactly the other way: every child is equally important to us. Because I know that every euro invested in early childhood pays off 16 times over the course of an average life. It’s the best investment in a country’s future. We are aiming for a children’s scholarship that should lead to childcare facilities that are free of parental fees in the coming year. This path will cost us, the Carinthians, 14 million euros. But I’m ready to take it.
So they locate deterioration for the poor. Not everyone sees it that way. A lot of educational work is needed. Because many advertisements try to distract from the essentials with concealment and nice fuss. But I go one step further in my criticism: You quite consciously create sections of the population of whom you say why should they get the same thing as those “good, hardworking, able” people. I took a close look at the minimum income scheme in Carinthia. We have not currently reduced it. And we don’t even spend a third on non-Carinthians, so two thirds on – what’s their saying? – “for our people”. And in the case of “our people”, a reduction affects 36 percent men and women and 28 percent children. And working with enemy images at the children’s expense – which are always aimed at asylum seekers – I deeply reject. I will fight that as long as I can still be politically active. But I am very much prepared to talk about converting some of the elements of needs-based minimum income into benefits in kind.
How do you get away from an enemy image? Pretending that anything that wasn’t born here is worth less is the completely wrong way. Together with friends, I am writing a paper for the Federal SPÖ, which as an alternative will present a position based on humanity, realistic and focusing on Austria’s interests. Part of this is that in the future we will check the numbers that are being offered.
What is the result of this paper? You just need to define the different terms. When we talk about refugees, you automatically have the foreigner, the asylum seeker, in front of you. We have different types of migration: intra-Austrian, migration movements within the EU, migration from outside the EU and only then the refugee flows. And now I dare to ask Austria via news: What do you think, how large is the proportion of refugees who then apply for asylum? 26 percent. And with 26 percent you make 100 percent politics.
Politics can be made with fear. Yes, but it’s a style in politics that I deeply dislike.
If there is no agreement with Germany in the border dispute, we will soon have closed borders in Austria. Not only in Austria, we are talking about closed borders in the EU. Which is one of the most important peacemaking features that border freedom has. Therefore, a common European asylum and refugee policy can and must have a common task: A sensible external border management of the EU. Only then will it be possible to promote intra-European private trade. Because maybe one should say that we mainly live from exports.
But how important is the right of asylum? The Geneva Refugee Convention is an international work that is recognized by all or almost all countries. Austria will not be the first to pull away.
Back to Austria. Is the twelve-hour day an adjustment to reality or a step backwards? A completely screwed-up approach. If I lock out the institution that has so far supported and implemented flexibilizations, changes, and leave it out of the negotiations, then I will get what happens now. Incidentally, not long ago we agreed between the social partners that there would be short-time work – contrary to employment contracts that prohibit it. You shouldn’t pretend that things are only going in one direction and that everything is always just a blockage. Even now it was not the case that a single measure to make working hours more flexible was prohibited. But they always ran according to certain rules of the game. Even with “Mensch ärgere Dich nicht” I cannot simply change the rules of the game during the game.
Will life be more difficult for the dependent after September 1st? In sum, yes. Whereby we draw on the fact that a certain social security was built up through the history of the Second Republic. But we are not as fit as we were before the 2008 crisis, and there are many indications that another speculative bubble will burst.
Do you support the ÖGB when there is a strike? I have declared my solidarity to go to the negotiating table with the demands, i.e. to solve things together at social partner level. I will stay with that too. The fact that the whole thing is not just an employee-employer dispute, but rather social policy in the deepest sense, cannot leave anyone who is politically active indifferent.
Parts of the SPÖ have flirted with red and blue. In view of some of the developments in the FPÖ today, are you glad that nothing came of it? I’m very neutral because I don’t see the result as the decisive factor, but rather the way there. And in June of the previous year, I set out the way to get there in a joint effort with Christian Kern (SPÖ party leader, note), a work team and a decision by the party executive. In such a way that I – a little smile at myself – was the one who was the first to apply this value compass after the Carinthian election.
But can the SPÖ even sit in a government with the FPÖ? If one knew the future now, then I would also argue in that direction. But in realpolitik, Sebastian Kurz is the one who lives the entire strategy of the government. Because – and you shouldn’t forget – it was someone from your own government who blew it up in 2017 in order to form a new and safe tip. Respect for the performance and the tactical calculation, it worked. But there is also such a thing as a mirror that you still have to be able to look into.
Nevertheless, the SPÖ positions itself against turquoise-blue. Wouldn’t it be imperative to end the red-blue coalition in Burgenland in order to be more credible? It is like it is. I can’t reverse the past now. For the future, I have developed a set of instruments (the value compass, note) in order to define coalitions at all levels in terms of the process.
But it is also said that the SPÖ has not yet arrived in its opposition role. In a remote diagnosis eight months after the election, this is the case in every government and opposition constellation. With the allure of the new and the necessary defensive attitudes, it is difficult to show everything. But the basic principle has been recognized and is becoming more and more established day by day.
For you personally, it has changed that the shadow of the legal proceedings is now finally gone. How long will you remain governor? (Laughs) That is not entirely up to me. I do everything to keep me going long by keeping fit every day. Everything else will show in the future. The problem is that the future is no longer as predictable as it used to be.
This article originally appeared in the print issue 31 2018
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