As the cost of living increases in Austria and Europe in general, governments scramble to halt inflation and galloping energy prices. Austria this weekend unveiled a package with some €2 billion promised as a relief for citizens.
The primary measure is a reduction in taxes on natural gas and electricity by the end of June 2023, which is expected to cost €900 million and should cut tax by 90 per cent.
Additionally, there will be a 50 per cent increase in the commuter allowance and an increase in the “commuter euro”, which reduces income tax levies by €2 per kilometre distance between the place of residence and workplace. These should cost €400 million.
The package includes a €150 million investment in public transport to increase offers and lower prices. However, the government hasn’t given any specific details on these proposals.
Some €120 million will be spent in helping self-employed, small and medium-sized companies with high fuel costs switch to more sustainable energy sources. Finally, a further €250 million is set to be invested in wind and solar power generation.
This is the second relief package announced in less than 30 days by Austrian authorities.
The country’s National Council approved late last month one-off payments to ease the current cost of living crisis for specific households in the country.
Almost every Austrian who earns no more than €5,670 per month will receive a voucher for €150 euros to cushion the increased energy bill. Low-income people should get €300 after the €1.7 billion expense was approved.
It has taken a lot of negotiation and persuasion to reach an agreement between both coalition members, several Austrian media sources reported.
ÖVP spokespeople stated that their junior partners, the Greens, were reluctant to provide any financial support to drivers. A reduction in VAT on fuels was also off the table because it wouldn’t be allowed under European law, Kurier said.
“The targeted measures don’t provide relief to those who drive their second-car SUV through the city centre for fun”, but benefits people on their way to work, said Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens).
She reiterated that rising costs were mainly due to the Ukrainian conflict and Russia’s policies. “It is extremely important to name the culpable person for this price increase: Vladimir Putin”, the politician said.
In the future, Austria should diversify its energy matrix to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, especially with expanding renewable energies, the minister said.
“The sun and the wind don’t send us an invoice. Gazprom does”, she added.
Numerous reactions and criticism
The package did not come without some criticism.
The Austrian trade union federation (ÖGB) stated the cuts were too timid and pointed out increasing the commuter allowance helped higher earners more than those on lower salaries, in strong disagreement with the government.
Die Maßnahmen der Regierung gegen steigende Energiepreise sind zu zaghaft. Erste Schnell-Analyse:
– Pendlerpauschale so wie sie ist, entlastet BesserverdienerInnen mehr als kleine/mittlere Einkommen
– Keine Erhöhung KM-Geld
– Öffi-Preissenkungen sind sehr vage
— ÖGB (@oegb_at) March 20, 2022
SPÖ spokesperson for energy matters also stated that the measures would benefit higher earners. Alois Schroll said in a press release that the package brought only small steps that wouldn’t properly “counteract the wave of inflation or really relieve people”.
For the Neos, the package is “cosmetics, not sustainable relief”, and FPÖ leader Herbert Kick also said that “too little relief is received by the people affected”.
Environmental organisations such as WWF criticised the lack of measures to save energy, especially the incentives for commuters who drive instead of using public transportation.
Pendlerpauschale – commuter allowance
Entlastungspaket – relief package
Steuer – tax
Umweltorganisationen – Environmental organisations