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Austria: The mystery of the missing billion


Ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz once promised in the coalition with the right-wing FPÖ to save one billion euros on health insurance and give it back to patients. Now the Court of Auditors is picking up the prestige project.

Austria is again dealing with the first chancellorship of Sebastian Kurz.

His coalition of conservative ÖVP and right-wing FPÖ ruled for just a year and a half until it broke up in May 2019 over the Ibiza affair, which SPIEGEL and the Süddeutsche Zeitung jointly revealed.

There are many beautiful pictures from this period: the juvenile chancellor hosting the EU summit, his vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache from the FPÖ decorated with his wife at the opera ball, Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin dancing with the foreign minister at the time.

Substantially, however, hardly anything remained of the coalition.

One of the few relics of the right-wing alliance is a reform in the health sector: the extensive merger of the regional health insurance funds, those insurance companies for employees who were responsible for one federal state.

Medical care should remain of high quality, but the merger should result in massive savings in administrative costs, that’s what the coalition partners promised in 2018. Kurz announced a “billion patients” – that’s how high the amount saved by the reform should be.

The money, in turn, should flow into the expansion of the supply and a better offer.

Kurz' FPÖ Vice-Chancellor and Ibiza vacationer Heinz-Christian Strache praised the "lighthouse project".

Lean state, more money for the people and their health care.

It sounded so good.

But even then, doubts arose as to whether the quality of the reform corresponded to its political marketing.

The FPÖ Minister of Health did not want or could not explain how the alleged billions in savings are made up.

"Anyone who believes in these PR fairy tales also believes in breaded ice cream lollies," said the then SPÖ opposition leader Christian Kern.

Big costs instead of savings

Now, four years later, the Republic's Court of Auditors is picking up the project.

Instead of the savings announced by Kurz, only hefty costs have been incurred so far.

"Instead of the savings of EUR 1 billion, there were additional expenses of EUR 214.95 million," quoted the magazine Profil from the rough report of the authority.

The Kurz-Strache government had presumably not included the costs of the merger.

The “patient billion” celebrated by Kurz and Strache apparently never existed because the savings never existed.

The fact that the report, which is embarrassing for the ÖVP, is now being made public at all, is seen by some in the Chancellor's Party as a political foul.

Because the Court of Auditors has so far kept its raw report under lock and key, so far only the health insurance companies have received the paper – and the Green Ministry of Health.

The cause fueled the suspicions of Chancellor Karl Nehammer's ÖVP towards the Green coalition partner.

In any case, things are crunching in other places in the government camp these days:

  • When filling the chief post of the competition authority, the Greens block the candidate favored by the ÖVP.

  • The new Minister of Agriculture, who has only been in office for a few weeks, is coming under increasing pressure because of dubious advertisements - the Greens are not helping him.

  • In the investigative committee, ÖVP representatives wanted to read the communication from the corruption prosecutors who are investigating party friends - the initiative was also rejected with the votes of the Greens. 

  • A spicy survey commissioned by the ÖVP-led Ministry of Economic Affairs at the beginning of the Turquoise-Green government was also discussed in the committee of inquiry.

    Financed with tax money, negative aspects of a leading figure in the Greens were also checked.

    »What bothers you about Sigrid Maurer?« was one of the questions.

    Maurer is the leader of the Green parliamentary group.

    Did the ÖVP want to find out which attacks on the exposed Greens caught the public's eyes the most?

All of this worsens the coalition climate, even from the governing parties only a few believe that the alliance will last the full legislative period - there are already rumors of new elections.

But there are also problems on the other side of the party landscape.

The opposition Social Democrats, who are currently clearly leading the polls, made a notable lapse: their approval of the reform of the party law planned by the government initially made the SPÖ dependent on the re-election of the head of the Court of Auditors.

This caused indignation in Vienna, because this step would have been tantamount to dismissing the recognized president of the authority.

The Social Democrats had to accept their demands meekly. 

Social Media Moment of the Week:

The Mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig, caused a stir at the weekend when he visited a Turkish restaurant in the district of Favoriten.

The rustic social democrat briefly took off his jacket, picked up a knife and used a large knife to cut off pieces from a huge lump of doner kebab that was spinning on a skewer.

"If you're good at it, it'll take care of itself," said Ludwig.

The video quickly spread on Twitter and other social media, Chancellor Nehammer's government spokesman asked with a wink whether it was really a real doner kebab - a dig at Ludwig, who had recently fallen for a fake video call from his Kiev counterpart Vitali Klitschko .

It doesn't matter to the mayor of Vienna: his kebab story was also positively reflected in the traditional media.

Stories we recommend you today:

  • Corruption investigations: what the new chats from the reigns of Kurz and Strache are about. 

  • Podcast "Inside Austria": Who is Wolfgang Fellner, the media maker at the center of Austria's MeToo scandal?

  • After a drink with the Chancellor's wife: bodyguard transferred to police service 

  • The end of a traditional coffee house: Viennese Café Westend is closing after 120 years. 

You send warm greetings from Vienna

Oliver Das Gupta, author for DER SPIEGEL and DER STANDARD.

And once again a note on our own behalf: You can order this briefing as a newsletter to your e-mail inbox here.

Source: spiegel

All news articles on 2022-07-05

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News/Politics 2022-03-26T19:53:26.941Z

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