Austria holds on to state secrets

Sebastian Kurz once advocated a more transparent state. But as Federal Chancellor, he seems more inclined towards official secrecy.

Christine Tragler
Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Austria holds on to state secrets - NewsMavens
Lock. Pixabay.

Why this story matters:

How much transparency is required when public money is involved? Does more transparency mean that politicians pay more attention to what they spend money on?

"Transparent state instead of citizens living in glass houses," demanded Sebastian Kurz back in the days when he was State Secretary, in 2013. At the time, he argued that "everything that is financed by tax money must be disclosed."

As Federal Chancellor, he appears to be in no hurry to make such disclosures.

"We were promised everything and every promise was broken," says Josef Barth, founder of the Forum Informationsfreiheit, which lobbies for the end of official secrecy.

In Austria, public offices are still entitled to conceal how much a border fence cost, who got what funding, or even which candidate got how many preferential votes. Until now, the discourse around abolishing official secrecy has been mere lip service -- mostly given by Sebastian Kurz.

Details from the story:

  • Austria is among the worst in the world in terms of freedom of information -- meanwhile neighboring Slovenia is perceived as an example of best practices.
  • Austrian law allows official secrecy while still acknowledging the obligation to provide information.
  • The procedure for individual cases is not clearly regulated. As a result, public institutions can withhold information such as study results, contract content, grant sums, or even election results, if they want to.
  • For a reform of the Austrian laws on official secrecy, a constitutional majority is necessary.
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