VIENNA, Aug 4 (Reuters) – Austria’s conservative Chancellor Karl Nehammer wants the right to use cash enshrined in the constitution, he told Austrian media in remarks published on Friday, an idea the far-right Freedom Party has been pushing for years.
Most opinion polls show the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPO) in first place with a clear lead over the opposition Social Democrats and Nehammer’s conservatives, who are in a two-party coalition with the left-wing Greens.
The current parliament runs until autumn of next year. “The issue of cash is very important to people,” Nehammer told Austrian media, including news agency APA.
“It is important to me that cash be written into the constitution,” APA quoted him as saying.
He has asked Finance Minister Magnus Brunner to draw up a proposal ahead of a meeting with banks in September, APA added. Austrians are among the most cash-loving nations in the euro zone. In times of crisis, such as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have rushed to banks and hoarded cash at home. Many tourists are stunned to find that some restaurants and cafes do not accept payment by card.
Despite the Austrian National Bank’s repeated assurances that there are no plans to do away with cash, the FPO has argued that the right to use cash and the freedom to pay anonymously are at risk.
Until now, the conservatives had dismissed such arguments. The FPO lambasted Nehammer for his U-turn on the issue. “Aren’t you ashamed of stealing ideas this way from the ‘evil and extreme’ FPO? Don’t you have any sensible ideas of your own?” FPO leader Herbert Kickl said in a party statement.
A two-thirds majority is required in parliament to change the constitution. Together, the FPO and conservatives only control about 55% of seats in the lower house.
Photo: Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer