Tax reform top of new finance minister’s list

Hans Jörg Schelling of the conservative People's Party (ÖVP), is Austria’s new finance minister. He was formerly the head of the umbrella organization of health insurances (Hauptverband).

Tax reform top of new finance minister's list
Schelling (L), with ÖVP head Mitterlehner (C), and the Secretary of State for Science and Business Mahrer. Photo: APA/Rubra

The 60-year-old management expert and management consultant is well-qualified for the job, according to observers and fellow party members. As the head of the Hauptverband, Schelling also has a great deal of experience with political debate.

Almost all parties renewed calls on Sunday for the long-promised tax reform. Chancellor Werner Faymann (SPÖ) plans to discuss this as soon as possible with Schelling. "Together we will discuss the major challenges – stable finances, tax relief, economic growth," he said in a statement.

Schelling was born in 1953 in Hohenems in Vorarlberg province (in west Austria). He studied business economics and started his career with the Leiner/Kika furniture company group in 1981.

In 1992, he became the manager of the furniture company XXXLutz. Under his leadership, the company grew to be the biggest furniture retailer in Austria with a turnover of €1.25 billion in 2003. In 2009, the company reached a turnover of €2 billion. Schelling sold his shares and left the company. Insiders estimate he is worth over €100 million.

Between 2007 and 2008 he was an ÖVP MP, and took over as head of the Hauptverband in 2009.

Schelling is married with two daughters.

Former Finance Minister Michael Spindelegger resigned last week after eight months in the role, over differences within the ÖVP over how to overhaul Austria's tax system and reduce its debt. 

President Heinz Fischer is due to swear in the new members of the cabinet. The new leader of the ÖVP, Economics Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner, will be sworn in as vice chancellor. 

On Monday morning, Fischer met with Schelling and the new secretary of state in the finance ministry, Harald Mahrer.

Aside from Mitterlehner, Schelling and Mahrer, members of the SPÖ will also be sworn in.

Minister for Infrastructure, Doris Bures (SPÖ), is taking over as speaker of parliament.

Former health minister Alois Stöger is taking over her post. He will in turn be replaced by trade unionist Sabine Oberhauser.

In addition, the secretary of state in the finance ministry, Sonja Stessl, is moving to the chancellery.

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Could presidential criticism lead to Austrian citizenship rule changes?

Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen has hit out at Austria's naturalisation process, saying "the hurdles are too high". But how hard is it to get Austrian citizenship - and will the criticism lead to change?

Could presidential criticism lead to Austrian citizenship rule changes?

Austria’s federal president Alexander Van der Bellen, who is eyeing a second term in office in the autumn elections, has said that the hurdles for citizenship are too high in the alpine country.

“Citizenship is a valuable asset. I think the hurdles for obtaining it are too high.”, he said in an interview with the newspaper Kleine Zeitung.

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

Van der Bellen mentioned a case with a German citizen who has lived in Austria for 20 years and cannot obtain dual citizenship: “He can vote neither here nor there. And that is the European Union?”

Austria does not allow for dual citizenship of naturalised citizens except in very few cases (including naturalisation of those who are descendants of Holocaust victims).

This is one of the many hurdles to citizenship in the country.

What makes Austrian citizenship so difficult to get?

Citizenship through naturalisation, meaning you are not the son or daughter of an Austrian citizen, is particularly hard to get.

First of all, the majority of applicants will need to give up any other citizenships they hold. So, a British citizen taking Austrian nationality through marriage or residence time will have to give up their British passport.

READ ALSO: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?

Besides severing that connection to a home country where people might still have many ties, this can lead to difficulties in matters of inheritance and property ownership, for example.

The naturalisation process is also long and expensive in Austria. In Vienna, the application costs €130. If successful, the new Austrian citizen can expect to pay from € 1,100 to € 1,500 just for the award – that doesn’t include costs with documentation, translation, and issuance of documents such as an Austrian passport.

The length of the process varies, but it can take more than a year for citizenship to be awarded.

The requirements will also be different depending on how long the person is legally an Austrian resident and what is their connection to the country.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my children get an Austrian passport if born in Austria?

For example, after 30 years of residence in Austria, you need to prove you are not a danger to the country and that you can support yourself.

You also need to prove German skills and pass a citizenship test.

The minimum amount of time of legal residency after which you can require citizenship is six years for people who fall into specific categories, such as legal and uninterrupted residence in Austria and possession of the citizenship of an EEA state, birth in Austria or German at a B2 level.

Will Austria change its citizenship rules?

It is improbable that there will be any significant changes soon. Despite Van der Bellen’s statements, citizenship laws are not within the federal president’s competence and mostly depend on legislative changes.

The party leading the ruling coalition, ÖVP, is against any changes, claiming that making the process easier would “depreciate” Austrian citizenship.

READ ALSO: ​​Why has naturalisation doubled in 2022 – and who are Austria’s new citizens?

Austria has recently seen a jump in naturalisation numbers, but that can largely be viewed as a one-off phenomenon after changes in the process for descendants of Nazi victims.

While junior partner Greens have been in favour of easing some rules, little is expected to happen with the ÖVP in power. The next parliamentary elections are set for 2024, though. If the SPÖ continues climbing in the polls, an SPÖ-Green coalition could push forward different rules.

Also, if the Red-Green-Yellow ruling coalition in Germany does succeed in easing naturalisation rules in the neighbouring country, Austria could see further pressure for domestic changes.

But that remains to be seen, mainly depending on the 2024 election results.