Europe Briefs: Oct., 2011

Corruption by Austrian MEP

The EU Parliament voted with an overwhelming majority to lift the immunity of one of its members, handing over Austrian MEP Hans-Peter Martin for prosecution.

The politician is accused of fraud, embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds during his European election campaigns of 2008 and 2009.

Martin is said to have used public funds to pay off personal expenses and to have inflated his bills to friends and business partners.

Ironically, Martin had campaigned for election with his “White” party by claiming he would end misuse of public funds by EU parliamentarians, often using hidden cameras to document malfeasance by fellow MEPs.

Martin is now himself subject to investigation by the Vienna district attorney who will search his bank accounts and offices.


Pay: Austria lags behind EU

Collectively agreed wages sank in Austria by 0.1% over the past year, according to a study published by the EU agency Eurofound in September.

Austria is one of only three countries where real collective wages have declined, alongside Belgium (-1.3%), and the UK (-1.5%).

The strongest, yet still moderate, rise in wages was recorded in the Czech Republic (1.9%), Slovakia (1.5%) and Portugal (1%).

As inflation in the eurozone jumped from 0.3% in 2009 to 2.1% in 2010, collective wages have failed to make up for price increases.

The study also shows Austria has the EU’s second largest gender gap in collectively agreed pay, with women being paid 25.4% less than men for the same job, closely followed by Germany (23.2%). The Czech Republic has the largest discrepancy (25.9%), while Slovenia (3.2%) and Italy (5.5%) have the lowest.

Swiss buy bank secrecy


On  Sept. 21, Germany and Switzerland signed a treaty for bilateral sanctions on tax evaders, with Switzerland making concessions to keep its bank secrecy legislation in place.

It regulates the taxation of undeclared funds that have been in Swiss bank accounts for years. The financial institutions will be obliged to tax such assets between 19 and 34 per cent and hand this sum over to the German treasury. In return the account holders will not be prosecuted.

The treaty will come into effect on Jan. 13, 2013. At that time the gains of German nationals in Switzerland should be taxed at a least the same level as in Germany. However, payments will remain anonymous.


Pirate Party takes Berlin

The Piratenpartei won close to 9% of the vote in the mayoral elections and will send 14 members to Berlin’s House of Representatives.

The party defines itself as the party for the information age and does not have a complete party programme, but rather a set of themes, which they see as paramount. For instance, the importance of democratic structure, opposing copyright law and patents in the public domain and the importance of transparency in government affairs. They also stress the need for access to digital information as a foundation for education and a just society, the right to social security and protection for whistle-blowers.

Most see their popularity as an attestation to the public awareness in Germany about the possibilities for greater transparency and public influence on decisions in a democratic sphere.

The part was founded in 2006 in Berlin and currently has 12,000 members. At the moment the party’s success cannot get much bigger since they only have 15 members at the local level in Berlin.

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