Father Weber and Mare Nostrum

Only 45.39% of Austrians voted last May in the EU elections, which was a disappointingly low turnout – and no better in the other EU states either. Fascinating to see, then, how the EU is now being called by “its citizens” to act (for Mare Nostrum reasons) in response to the refugee tragedies in the Mediterranean. In actual fact, the EU does not have any majority legitimation from the European population and hasn’t had it for years now.

Media coverage of the massacres by Boko Haram militants has so far been relegated to “other news”. Brief articles about warring factions on the African continent appear from time to time but that is about as far as the coverage goes – no word about who supplies the weapons (usually USA, Russia, China or Germany, for instance). No analysis to suggest it will trigger, or already has unleashed, a wave of threatened or persecuted migrants who, in fear of their lives, are turning to Europe and using the Mediterranean Sea route as their passage to a safer and better future. There is no research into the structures and political regimes that have set themselves up in the wake of the “Arab Spring”. Increasingly, radicalisation within North African countries tends to be treated as isolated events, with no connection being drawn between the removal of unpopular African dictators by major Western powers and their cooperation with local radical militia, (like the jihadists), and the impending tidal wave of asylum seekers, or the (deliberately engendered) political chaos.

Enlightened Europe – where R you?

The Europe I am so proud of is the Europe of Enlightenment, of humanitarian ideals, of the freedom and protection of the personal liberties of ordinary citizens. The EU certainly set itself the task of upholding those values, but it has yet to gain the widespread support of its citizens at the ballot box. Instead, national interests continue to prevail well before those of the Union. Particularly from an economic perspective, close cooperation over the harvesting of raw materials, fishing rights etc. is certainly on the agenda when it comes to Africa. Yet what tends to be overlooked in such cases is that the political partners involved are typically not democratic but rather authoritarian rulers of post-colonial countries. And that is fundamentally wrong. The task for Europe here, as it was more than 200 years ago on its own continent, is to give the African population access to the kind of education and enlightenment that makes individual citizens capable of critical thought – citizens able to economically emancipate themselves to the point where they can afford to live their own lives and engage as equals with their politicians, able ask questions and maintain their personal independence. This will ultimately serve to make their country an enlightened, liberal society.

Father Weber and Karlheinz Böhm

It was Father Weber, amongst others, who in post-1815 Austria laid the foundations for the self-sufficiency and personal responsibility of ordinary citizens with his idea of a bank account for every person. He and many others, who understood that economic security and autonomy lead to a contented and progressive society, are classic examples of protagonists for the social economy. In reality, that is one of the best export items Europe can bring to the African continent. It is not only a vehicle for transporting the approach of an enlightened and humanitarian Europe but also a form of development aid that enables the local people to be spared the prospect of an uncertain, or worse, future.
The EU has enough clout to carry out such a project. And the fact that such ideas can be successful was illustrated by Karlheinz Böhm more than 30 years ago in Ethiopia. He and Father Weber had the same bright idea.

There are not five billion humans, but ONE human being five billion times over, Karlheinz Böhm

Parliamentarianism – “Locke-ing it in”

The Hypo Commission of Inquiry was celebrated as a great achievement in the development of Austrian parliamentarianism – except, on closer inspection, it appears to be the exact opposite, or rather its swansong.

I first consult (Austrian legal philosopher) Hans Kelsen, who defines parliamentarianism as:

Development of decisive state will by a collegial body democratically elected by the people on the basis of universal and equal suffrage and according to the majority rule principle.

It is more than the will of the people that transparency, information and communication prevail in the case of Hypo. But it seems as if disclosure of all the facts and files is declining at the same time as the need for information is rising.

Separation of powers is painful

It is probably the blurring of a matter so important to our political system – the separation of powers – that is also at fault here. Montesquieu and Locke were the founding fathers of that principle. And they would be a little annoyed at the way it is being applied in the case of the Hypo Commission .

The Chairwoman of the Hypo Commission is the President of the National Council (the lower house of the Austrian Parliament). She is the second-highest ranked politician in this country, which means she holds a position of great responsibility to her people, i.e. to us. However, up until recently, that responsibility rested with Doris Bures in her role as SPÖ (Social Democratic Party) Infrastructure Minister in the government. And she has long been viewed as a trusted friend of Chancellor Faymann. To stay with that party: Jan Krainer is the Whip responsible for Hypo matters, Finance spokesman for the SPÖ and also a government advisor. No “Locke-ing it in” there either. And the current SPÖ party supremo is the former State Secretary, who was present for the nationalisation bail-out.

In the case of the ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party), on the other hand, there is a tendency for a protective wall to be erected in front of the ÖVP Finance Ministers (including Grasser). Yet the very opposite should be the case. After all, a new wing within the ÖVP – generally described as liberal – is now at the helm. Liberals tend to set store by values like the right to information. At the same time, however, that party is also obliged to uphold the liberal principles of data privacy and the right to private sphere protection (professional confidentiality and banking secrecy). It will be fascinating to see how that balancing act plays out. Judging by the first few meetings, stonewalling is the initial approach.

The opposition is divided. The FPÖ (Freedom Party) has to try and keep the damage away from its own party and frame it as a failure of the system and evidence of corruption – even though that party also contains members who had both federal and provincial government dealings with Hypo. Team Stronach is faced with similar dilemmas. Their man on the Commission of Inquiry, Robert Lugar, moved back in the day from the BZÖ (Alliance for the Future of Austria) to Stronach. They have to walk the tricky tightrope between denunciation and dismay – as do, incidentally, the Greens since they had MPs in the Carinthia provincial government when Hypo first got into strife. However, it has to be conceded that, to their credit, the Greens and the NEOS (The New Austria) – the only party, incidentally, that had nothing to do with Hypo thanks to its late birth as a political party – are fighting like mad for parliamentarianism, whether in an activist manner like Kogler or very pragmatically in the case of Hable.

95% of the Hypo Case files are not publicly accessible. This means that media reporting will be very much dependent on “Hypoleaks”, if any relatively objective or factual overview is to be provided. To which we as citizens of this country have a right, by the way – in view of the billions we are providing as financiers of this solution via such things as the tax system.

Transparency harms parliamentarianism?

Yet it would be really simple to arrange: an official Twitter account for the Hypo Commission of Inquiry, direct transmission of certain witness statements (with their consent and that of all parties involved), regular press briefings, etc.

The media is already casting aspersions that this minority commission is a unique phenomenon in the history of Austrian parliamentarianism. We can all only hope we are wrong, and that parliamentarianism will emerge strengthened rather than weakened by this Commission of Inquiry. As well as achieving clarity over Hypo, that should be the common goal of all the parties involved.

John Locke
…. The first and fundamental positive law of all commonwealths is the establishing of the legislative power; as the first and fundamental natural law, which is to govern even the legislative itself, is the preservation of the society and…of every person in it. This legislative is not only the supreme power of the commonwealth, but sacred and unalterable in the hands where the community have once placed it; nor can any edict of anybody else, in what form soever conceived, or by what power soever backed, have the force and obligation of a law, which has not its sanction from that legislative which the public has chosen and appointed ….

 

Nina Hoppe on the lifting of banking secrecy and what it means to the image of austrian politicians

Maria Theresia and bank secrecy

In the wake of the tax reforms, (though it is questionable whether the word ‘reform’ is even appropriate in this context), bank secrecy will apparently go by the wayside. Many would probably say that is no reason for concern. “After all, those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear”. But it is also a matter of our right to privacy and protection of the private sphere – the ordinary citizen’s claim to freedom from interference by the state.
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Nina Hoppe about the criticism of woman to woman in matters of equality and the weakening of its protagonists

Gender equality: woman versus woman

The ancient Roman comic playwright Plautus coined the expression

homo homini lupus est (“man is a wolf to his fellow man”).

I’d like to adapt it to fit what is known as the “gender debate” –

femina feminae lupa est

because I have noticed for some time that women can be the greatest opponents to gender equality, and I’ve been affected by this myself. The latest example I’ve come across is a lead article by Martina Salomon in the Austrian newspaper Kurier.
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Nina Hoppe about the Hypo Commission of inquiry and what consequences it could have for the austrian parliamentarianism

Parliamentarianism: Hypo-crisis / hypocrisy 

I heard this morning on the radio that the failed Austrian bank Hypo has so far cost me € 630. That’s two months of rent, according to the latest account by the Vienna Green party. So the Hypotopia protest project is also gaining more profile again (a model city created to show what could be built for the same cost as the € 19 billion bailout). This makes me wish even more that I was allowed to be present as a citizen of Austria at the Commission of Inquiry launched into Hypo, and with that I probably hit upon a very salient issue: real life parliamentarianism.
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Vienna-Hamburg: The return of Liberalism

Hamburg-Vienna: the return of liberalism?

“Katja” – simple, colourful, striking, and with pink (the colour used with success by the NEOS, the New Austria party). This is how the FDP candidate presented herself in Hamburg. As a Man of Politics. The FDP (Free Democratic Party) made a comeback in local government in the liberal north, winning 7% support. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the NEOS election success in 2013. Will it be the same in the 11 October elections? Let’s analyse the situation.
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Tax reform: Social democracy, quo vadis? Nina Hoppe

Tax reform: Social democracy, quo vadis?

We don’t know whether Austrian Federal Chancellor Faymann and Greek PM Tsipras discussed the subject of tax when Tsipras visited Vienna – although Faymann could have got some valuable tips on the subject of tax reform.
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Nina Hoppe about the polemic on the "blue- green" coalition in Wiener Neustadt, an ancient City in Lower Austria with historic importance

Green-blue coalition in Lower Austria?

Wiener Neustadt is the second-largest city in Lower Austria. It was the royal seat of Friedrich III (AEIOU), the father of Maximilian I and is also home to the world’s oldest military academy (no kidding or oxymoron).

But Wiener Neustadt has never stood out for that reason. It took a supposed breach of taboo for it to hit the headlines. So what exactly happened?
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