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POLITICS

Greens politician becomes intern for a year

In an attempt to understand the challenges faced by her constituents, Greens spokeswoman for Burgenland, Regina Petrik, has just spent the past three months working at a grocery store, a restaurant and a nursing home.

Greens politician becomes intern for a year
Petrik (R) at a nursing home. Photo: Regina Petrik

According to Petrik, politicians know "far too little" about the lives of ordinary people.

Determined to learn more first hand, the 50-year-old gave up her only paid job as a state majority leader, and with it, her €21,000 annual salary.

The single mother of three will now work as an intern on trainee wages in various jobs until the end of the year, before returning to politics.

Petrik will run for election to the state parliament for the first time in 2015.

"The more perspectives I have, the better my political work will be," Petrik said. "I have not had a day of regrets."

When asked what value this experience has added to her political work, Petrik gives an example. She now sees the hourly rate paid to carers in a nursing home through different eyes and says they will not close when she works on legislation in parliament

Since mid-July, Petrik has been working in a laundry company in Oberwart, receiving minimum wage.

"The first day was by far the most difficult," she said. "Bras are glued together in the factory, for an hourly wage of €6.86. I almost always had to stand, the air is stuffy and the machines are noisy."

Petrik has promised the factory owners she is not there as a whistleblower. Overall, her employers and colleagues seem pleased she "is not just there for a photo".

Her bosses at the supermarket gave their new intern a "very good report".

Petrik is writing a blog about her experiences. Photo: http://burgenland.gruene.at

Petrik defends herself against accusations that her practical year is a political gimmick and intends to continue her work in other spheres when she returns to political life.

She candidly admits that by being seen in the workplace and able to speak directly with her electorate, she can address "politics from below".

But political consultant Thomas Hofer, thinks Petrik's project is "staged", particularly given the timing – "three quarters of a year before the state election."

Hofer doubts that internships are the perfect fix for political frustration and cannot see other politicians doing the same thing.

Petrik dismissed his criticism. "One could not demand this from others, but I'm convinced it is a good thing," she said, adding she felt she had "great moral support" from the party.

Asked if she could imagine making one of her internships into a permanent job if she doesn't get into the state parliament, Petrik replied: "If I don't get in then I will have to rethink.

But I've talked with the store manager and colleagues at the supermarket and they've agreed "that I can come back when politics gets on my nerves."

Regina Petrik comes from an ÖVP family. She moved to Burgenland for family reasons and at the end of 2010 the trained teacher joined the Greens as a state majority leader. Since 2012 she has been their spokeswoman.

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Reader question: Can I vote in Austria’s presidential elections?

On October 9th, Austria will vote to elect a new president, but who can vote in these national elections?

Reader question: Can I vote in Austria's presidential elections?

Austria’s presidential election will take place on October 9th, with seven candidates vying to take over at the Hofburg – the official workplace of the country’s president.

According to opinion polls, the favourite to win is the current president Alexander Van der Bellen, who is running for reelection.

READ ALSO: Austrian presidential elections: Who are the seven candidates?

A presidential candidate must be an Austrian citizen, be eligible to vote in the National Assembly and be at least 35 years old on election day.

Members of ruling dynasties or families that reigned in the past are not eligible to run in the presidential election. This is to avoid a return to monarchy in Austria via the role of the Federal President.

Who can vote in these elections?

The only people allowed to vote in Austrian federal elections are Austrian citizens aged 16 or above.

That means foreigners – even those born and raised in Austria, are not entitled to choose a new president. Unless, of course, they take up Austrian citizenship (usually giving up their original citizenship).

Since Austria has a large proportion of foreigners in the population, many people will not be able to vote in these elections.

READ ALSO: ‘I pay taxes in Austria’: Anger as foreigners barred from Vienna council vote

In fact, some 18 percent of residents (or 1.4 million people) in Austria over the age of 16 do not have the right to vote because they are not citizens, with the highest concentration of ineligible people in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg.

In comparison, 20 years ago, Austria had just 580,000 people without the right to vote.

Statistics Austria data evaluated by the APA shows that around 30 percent of the voting-age population in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg are not entitled to vote. In Linz and Graz, it is about 25 percent.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does Austria’s presidential election work?

However, there are some smaller communities in Austria where the number of people without the right to vote is even higher.

In Jungholz in Tyrol, 66 percent of the population are not eligible, followed by 51 percent in Mittelberg in Vorarlberg. Kittsee in Burgenland and Wolfsthal in Lower Austria also have high proportions of Slovakian residents who cannot vote.

Austrian citizenship

Currently, in Austria, if someone wants to take up citizenship via naturalisation, they must undergo an extensive and expensive process and fulfil specific criteria.

Generally, there needs to be at least ten years of lawful and uninterrupted residence in Austria. But there are exceptions for those with citizenship of an EU or EEA country, those born in Austria, or married to an Austrian, for example.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

The main hurdles, however, include having to give up any other citizenships, as Austria doesn’t allow for dual citizenship in naturalisation cases with few exceptions, and the payment of a high fee, which depends on the municipality, but could reach thousands of euros.

And though the topic of easing the requirements has come up several times in Austria, the country doesn’t seem any closer to changing its citizenship laws.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Where in Europe can non-EU foreigners vote in local elections?

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