Transparency – “Democracy doesn’t come out of the socket”

It’s not just about the number. This is emphasized by the representatives of the eight democracy-political NGOs that have developed a new democracy index specifically for Austria over a period of six months. And yet the calculated 57 percent make it clear that there is room for improvement in the development of domestic democracy. The organizations involved – including the rule of law and anti-corruption referendum, Wahlobservation.org, the Forum for Freedom of Information or the Concordia press club – are primarily concerned with drawing a picture of how Austrian democracy is shaping up and showing where there is a need for action.

Over 100 individual indicators were examined, comparisons were made with existing indices and the situation in Germany was compared with the most progressive and liberal regulations of democracies within the EU. The result is an overview of how things are in Austria around the seven “pillars” of democracy – the sovereign, parties, the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, the media and civil society.

Pragmatic approach

Representatives of the participating NGOs explained at the presentation on Wednesday that they deliberately did not choose a scientific approach, but chose a practical and pragmatic approach. The result is not a measurement, but an evaluation with subjective proportions, according to Paul Grohma from Wahlobservation.org. In addition, it is a pilot project, so the values ​​could still change.

They didn’t want to “compare apples and oranges,” the representatives explain, and have therefore only used other liberal democracies in Europe for comparison. Other regions, where the situation is not comparable to Austria, have been left out.

Of the seven pillars, the media came off best with 67.8 percent, with the authors calling for further improvement, such as a reform of the supervisory bodies in the ORF, a new, transparent promotion of journalism and the preservation of the “Wiener Zeitung” as an independent quality medium.
The area Sovereign is also above the overall value, although the increasing gap between the resident and electorate population is a concern for the organizations here. The parties section also fared better at 66.5 percent, while the sub-item party structure achieved the highest value at almost 90 percent. The reason for this is, for example, the wide range of parties and the fact that in principle anyone can found a party, explains Marion Breitschopf from the transparency platform My Members.

Executive has some catching up to do

On the other hand, the NGOs see a great deal of catching up to do in the area of ​​the legislature, where the authors lack transparency in addition to citizen participation: For example, voters cannot see the voting behavior of individual members of the National Council, criticizes Breitschopf.

Only the executive is rated even worse. The authors call for an up-to-date freedom of information law to be urgently needed. In addition, comprehensive publication obligations for authorities are necessary, as is the closing of gaps in corruption criminal law. In addition, criminal law should not be the yardstick for political action, emphasizes Martin Kreutner, co-initiator of the anti-corruption referendum, but “decency and integrity. We demand that from our children.”

In the future, the eight NGOs want to calculate the Democracy Index annually and thus make a contribution to the “general renovation of democracy”. Damage that has occurred in recent years must now be repaired, and the population’s trust in decision-makers must be rebuilt. “Democracy doesn’t come out of the socket,” says Kreutner. Earlier generations would have fought for this, now it is important to preserve democracy for future generations. (vis)

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