What are Austria's Social Democratic Party's plans to ease citizenship rules?
During a weekend party event, Austria's centre-left SPÖ presented their defence of a 'modern citizenship law' in Vienna. Here is what they are asking for.
Over the weekend, the centre-left party presented a ‘Charter of Democracy’ demanding a “modern” citizenship law. During an SPÖ Vienna political event, the red party presented the document, which said Austria has one of the “most restrictive naturalisation laws in Europe”.
“It mainly excludes financially weaker groups,” the document added.
The debate was raised by Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig (not for the first time) as he said that the democratic process needs to be reshaped - and that the situation in Austria could be improved.
"Many people who live here are not allowed to vote because they do not have Austrian citizenship", Ludwig said, according to public broadcaster ORF. The mayor also reiterated his position on Twitter.
"The struggle for universal suffrage was at the centre of social democracy's political activities for many years. Today, democracy is globally contested as never before. The situation in Austria is also in need of improvement," he said
"Many people who live here are not allowed to vote. The right to vote is, in fact, linked to citizenship. As a federal state, #Vienna cannot change this by law. Therefore, we demand a modern citizenship law. It should make political participation easier, he added."
What does the SPÖ want to change?
Firstly, the Viennese SPÖ wants to lower the financial requirements for citizenship. Currently, applicants need to show proof of €933 in net monthly income (after deduction of all fixed costs). However, Ludwig told Austrian media that the amount is unattainable for groups that "keep things running" such as care workers or cleaning staff.
He didn't propose any specific income, but said that the current rules are "socially unjust" and that a reform would have to impose a "realistically achievable" amount.
Additionally, Ludwig defended that the waiting period to apply for naturalisation be reduced from ten years of legal residence to five years. Currently, several factors (including being married to an Austrian or holding EU citizenship) already shorten the waiting period.
According to the SPÖ Vienna, every child born in Austria should automatically receive Austrian citizenship at birth if at least one parent is legally resident in Austria for five years. Currently, the child needs to have at least one Austrian parent to be entitled to citizenship.
The party also wants to give third-country nationals the same voting rights as EU citizens in Austria. Citizens of the European Union are entitled to vote in local and district elections, as per EU law. The SPÖ wants to extend those rights to foreigners from outside of the bloc as well.
Will there be any changes?
The Austrian People's Party ÖVP and far right FPÖ party sharply criticised the mayor's statements on Saturday. "The current demands of the Viennese SPÖ to ease the citizenship and voting rights are completely irresponsible and must therefore be clearly rejected," said ÖVP Vienna party leader Karl Mahrer in a statement.
Integration Minister Susanne Raab (ÖVP) said the citizenship rules would not be softened. "Citizenship was a valuable asset and stood at the end of a successful integration process, not at the beginning", she stated. The far-right FPÖ called the Viennese charter a "provocation".
In the end, a coalition as it is in Austria, with the main party ÖVP and junior party Greens, is unlikely to bring any changes anytime soon.
The next parliamentary elections are set for 2024, though. This is when Austria decides on a new National Council and chancellor.
Things look tricky for Austria. Current coalition partners are plummeting in polls while the centre-left SPÖ e and far-right FPÖ climb. As it stands, a coalition between SPÖ-ÖVP looks likely – though the growth of the Greens and liberal NEOS could see Austria’s own “traffic light” coalition between SPÖ-Greens-NEOS.