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Europe An assault on the people of Austria

The right-wing conservative coalition is planning attacks on workers, the unemployed, tenants and asylum-seekers, while entrepreneurs have reason to celebrate. SIMON LIODL reports

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THE new Austrian government’s programme, presented in mid-December, will bring major deterioration in quality of life for the majority of the population. 

The coalition of the conservative People’s Party (OVP) and right-wing Freedom Party (FPO) tied up a package of measures shortly before Christmas that included cuts at all levels of society. 

In addition to the extension of working hours and restructuring of the social benefits system, the right-wing government plans tax breaks for entrepreneurs and property owners. 

There will also be a further clampdown on asylum-seekers and refugees, an expansion of the surveillance apparatus and ideologically motivated measures such as a planned dual citizenship for members of the “ethnic groups of German and Ladin mother tongue in south Tyrol.”

The core of the socio-political plans of the OVP/FPO government is the “flexibilisation” of working hours and the restructuring of unemployment benefits. 

The latter means the introduction of a system closely based on the German Hartz IV model. 

Anyone dependent on social security benefits in future has to give up any assets. Unemployed people will receive less and less money in the course of their job search and also have to accept jobs far away from their homes. 

Previous regulations on professional and remuneration protection could also be cut. Anyone who becomes unemployed in the future must therefore accept any job offered to them — no matter how qualified he or she is or what level their income was at before.

Those who find work again will have to adjust to longer shifts and less overtime pay. Introduction of the 12-hour day or the 60-hour week will normalise already existing exemptions. 

Employees will also have to fight alone with their employers when it comes to OVP and FPO plans. 

Collective regulations and the influence of trade unions are to be be pushed back. This is, of course, phrased positively in the government programme. “Goals are a less restrictive legal framework and the strengthening of organisational options at company level.”

The team led by Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (OVP) and his deputy Heinz-Christian Strache (FPO) complements these measures against employees and the unemployed by facilitating their clientele. 

The government is planning a further reduction in corporation tax, a lower turnover tax for overnight tourist stays and other tax cuts. 

The aim of the OVP and FPO is to reduce the tax and duty rate from around 43 to 40 per cent. During the election campaign, Kurz said that this would correspond to a sum of up to €12 billion. According to the government programme, this sum will be compensated by benefit cuts in the social sector.

The challenge for the right-wing government is to make these cuts tasty for those who voted in favour of the OVP or the FPO in October. 

Strache has presented himself for years as an advocate for the “little people,” who now will be on the receiving end of unprecedented cuts. 

Many FPO voters had expected improvements in their living situation. After Kurz and Strache had presented the plans for the introduction of the 12-hour day, there was huge outrage among FPO supporters on internet forums. Many accused Strache of “treason.”

The ideological glue with which the two right-wing parties want to calm their electorate are “the foreigners.” 

In many passages of the government programme, refugees and asylum-seekers are held responsible for the high costs of the social security system. 

Consequently Kurz, Strache and co are planning cuts in this field as well. In the future, asylum-seekers will receive a maximum of €520 and thus face the prospect of being impoverished or becoming criminals.

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