Austria has been ushered into an era of political change by the implosion of Sebastian Kurz’s center-right government over the Ibiza affair. It led to the appointment of Brigitte Bierlein, the country’s first female chancellor, and her interim government of technocrats. And it gave the Austrian Parliament the opportunity to debate and pass measures without paying heed to “coalition discipline,” which often hamstrings the individual deciding power of MPs.
And so, until the new elections on September 29, 2019, the Austrian Parliament appears to have been transformed into a debating chamber where everything seems possible, as long as it can command a majority.
The new measures
On July 2, the Nationalrat, Austria’s lower chamber of Parliament, passed these long-awaited and broadly popular measures, with majorities comprised of varying parties and MPs each time:
- The protection of drinking water is now enshrined in Austria’s constitution. Water resources can henceforth not be privatized. The constitutional law, passed with a large majority and votes from all parties, was a direct reaction to now-former Vice-Chancellor H.C. Strache’s musing in the Ibiza video about opportunities to make money off of Austria’s “white gold.”
- The Papamonat is now the law of the land. Dads will henceforth have the right to a month of parental leave after the birth of their child.
- The systemic herbicide glyphosate is now officially prohibited in Austria. The crop desiccant has been at the center of much controversy in organically-minded Austria. In 2017, EU states agreed to a five-year renewal period for glyphosate, much to the chagrin of Austria – whether the new ban will hold up before a potential challenge in the European Court of Justice remains to be seen.
- Austria’s Parliament also passed a ban on Plastiksackerl (one-use plastic bags), to take effect on January 1, 2020. The measure is supposed to reduce plastic waste in the country by up to 7,000 tons per year.
- A comprehensive smoking ban in bars and restaurants in Austria was passed with the votes of SPÖ, Neos, Liste Pilz and the ÖVP. The Rauchverbot is scheduled to take effect on November 1, 2019.
Other important measures and laws are also in the pipeline or were already passed by parliamentary committees in the last couple of weeks. The most notable example is a law that makes same-sex marriage legal for couples living in Austria, even if one or both of the spouses come from a country that doesn’t have marriage equality. The amendments passed the Justice Committee on June 26. Others like new regulations of party financing are currently being debated in plenary.