Austrian leader hopes to enshrine use of cash in constitution

Austria’s leader is proposing to enshrine in the country’s constitution a right to use cash, which remains more popular in the Alpine nation than in many other places.
Chancellor Karl Nehammer said in a statement on Friday that “more and more people are concerned that cash could be restricted as a means of payment in Austria.” His office said that the “uncertainty” is fueled by contradictory information and reports.
“People in Austria have a right to cash,” Nehammer said.
While payments by card and electronic methods have become increasingly dominant in many European countries, Austria and neighboring Germany remain relatively attached to cash. The government says 47 billion euros ($51 billion) per year are withdrawn from ATMs in Austria, a country of about 9.1 million people.
Protecting cash against supposed threats has been a demand of the far-right opposition Freedom Party, which has led polls in Austria in recent months. The country’s next election is due in 2024.
Asked in an interview with the Austria Press Agency whether it wasn’t populist to run after the Freedom Party on the issue, the conservative Nehammer replied that the party stands for “beating the drum a lot without actually doing anything for this.”
The chancellor’s proposal, according to his office, involves a “constitutional protection of cash as a means of payment,” ensuring that people can still pay with cash, and securing a “basic supply” of cash in cooperation with Austria’s central bank. Austria is one of 20 countries that are part of the euro area.
Nehammer said he has instructed Finance Minister Magnus Brunner to work on the proposal and plans to hold a round table with the ministries concerned, finance industry representatives and the central bank in September.
“Everyone should have the opportunity to decide freely how and with what he wants to pay,” he said. “That can be by card, by transfer, perhaps in future also with the digital euro, but also with cash. This freedom to choose must and will remain.”
Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl accused Nehammer of stealing his party’s ideas and argued that the chancellor’s “suddenly discovered love of cash” was meant only “to secure his political survival.”
The biggest opposition party in the current parliament, the center-left Social Democrats, has called for at least one ATM in every municipality and accused Nehammer of “pure populism.”
“Even if we write the word ‘cash’ into the constitution 100 times, there won’t be a single ATM more in Austria,” said the head of its parliamentary group, Philip Kucher.