Official Secret: The National Council must change course

Official secrecy was removed from the constitution. In return, people have the right to information through the Freedom of Information Act. In addition, public bodies will in the future be required to publish information such as commission reports, studies and contracts in the public interest.

This “performance” information requirement has been in limited form for over a year, but it is now being expanded significantly. Municipalities with a population of less than 5,000 are exempted from this.

Ultimately this means: people do not have to submit an application for information of “public interest”. According to the draft, “public interest” largely depends on the target group to which the information relates. In the future, municipality-commissioned studies and reports should be made available to the public. Internal affairs, such as events other than public meetings, remain confidential.

APA/Georg Hochmuth

Often announced and changed many times: the Greens and the ÖVP finally managed to reach a compromise

Regardless of population size, including all municipalities – anyone still wanting information can contact the responsible authorities in the future. Information should be provided within four weeks. If there are valid reasons, this deadline may be extended. Information subject to secrecy in national security and broader national security interests is completely excluded.

The SPÖ gets a constitutional majority for the ÖVP and the Greens

Conclusion is one of the last steps in a long journey. The law will not come into effect until early September 2025. This agreement was preceded by many discussions, announcements and changes. It was only in December that the ÖVP and the Greens managed to convince the SPÖ to agree to the two-thirds requirement.

However, the SPÖ complained about significant changes in the draft affecting the rights of parliament and media representatives. After an expert hearing in January, minor details were sharpened.

Experts also see legislation as a key puzzle in the fight against corruption. Politicians have been debating the abolition of official secrecy for decades. The current draft is the same as the one ten years ago under the then SPÖ-ÖVP government. The plan, like previous plans under the SPÖ-ÖVP government, failed.

National Council Member Jörg Leichtfried (SPÖ)

APA/Georg Hochmuth

The SPÖ insisted on toughening measures and guaranteed their vote for the government

During the ÖVP-Green government, it is not considered certain that official secrecy will now be removed. In early January 2020, then-President Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) announced “measures to strengthen transparency” in parliament. A draft scheduled for summer 2020 was not included in the review. After the crisis between the ÖVP and the Greens, which revolved around a no-confidence motion against former finance minister Gernot Blümel (ÖVP), there was a point of lifting official secrecy for the first time.

After the review was completed in April 2021, the draft had to be revised again. After countless discussions with municipalities and cities and other organizations directly affected, a government bill was sent to parliament in October 2023. All that remains now is to convince the opposition SPÖ and FPÖ. The FPÖ refused, the SPÖ demanded and got more tightening.

A decision can be made in the afternoon

The legislation could be passed by Wednesday afternoon. The full day begins with the Current Hour from the FPÖ on ORF, followed by the ÖVP's Current Europe Hour entitled “Europe Must Look to Security for Austria”. Then there will be six votes on the agenda. It is then that the Freedom of Information Act is on the agenda.

A vote will be held on the establishment of a service center for artificial intelligence at Rundfunk und Telekom Regels-GmbH (RTR). It aims to build capacity for AI projects in the media, telecommunications and postal sectors and develop information and advisory services. There will also be an expert advisory panel to advise the RTR and the government on technical, ethical and social aspects of AI.

The day ends with some reports from the Court of Auditors. In an audit report, the supervisory board found the pension system facing major challenges and recommended clear strategies, for example when changing the retirement age. The Court of Auditors has criticized the covid vaccine procurement and coronavirus testing strategy, which was implemented differently by countries and resulted in higher costs.

See also  DNA testing for family reunification: Why Nehamer's proposal is polarizing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *