Austria’s love of cash in poll campaign spotlight

A customer pays for the shopping at a fruit stand at a market in Vienna. Experts believe Austrians are wary of anything that could be used to keep tabs on them. (AFP)
Updated 26 August 2019
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Austria’s love of cash in poll campaign spotlight

  • Even 17 years after the euro came into circulation, some Austrians are still finding notes and coins in their previous currency, the schilling, much of it left in forgotten hiding places in homes

VIENNA: It may sound like a strange thing to enshrine in a country’s constitution: The right to pay cash.
But a debate on whether to do just that has entered Austria’s election campaign, shining a light on the country’s love of cold, hard currency.
The Austrian People’s Party (OeVP) recently made the suggestion as part of its campaign for a parliamentary election in late September, for which it has a commanding poll lead.
This led to other parties — though skeptical of the OeVP’s proposal — vaunting their commitment to protecting cash, with the center-left Social Democrats (SPOe) demanding an end to fees levied at cashpoints. And it is not hard to see why all major parties see protecting cash as a vote-winner.
“In Austria, attitudes change slowly,” an employee of Weinschenke, a burger restaurant in downtown Vienna, told AFP.
The woman in her 30s, who only gave her name as Victoria, says she prefers to use cash because “you don’t leave a trace.”
Financial law expert Werner Doralt says Austrians put a high value on privacy and are wary of anything that could be used to keep tabs on them, such as card transactions.
“If for example I go shopping, and it’s recorded exactly how much schnapps I’ve bought, that’s an invasion of my privacy,” he says.
A recent survey conducted by the ING bank in 13 European countries, Australia and the US, showed Austrians were the most resistant to the idea of giving up cash payments.
Just 10 percent of those surveyed in Austria said they could imagine doing without cash, compared to a European average of 22 percent.
According to European Central Bank data compiled in 2017, cash accounted for 67 percent of money spent at points of sale in Austria, compared to just 27 percent in the Netherlands. Even in neighboring Germany, another country known for its attachment to cash, the rate is only 55 percent.

SPEEDREAD

• In Austria, citizens prefer to use cash because ‘you don’t leave a trace.’

• According to data compiled in 2017, cash accounted for 67 percent of money spent at points of sale in Austria, compared to just 27 percent in the Netherlands.

• In neighboring Germany, another country known for its attachment to cash, the rate is only 55 percent.

Academic and author Erich Kirchler, a specialist in economic psychology, says in Austria and Germany, citizens are aware of the dangers of an overmighty state from their World War II experience. “In that case the efficiency of state institutions becomes dangerous,” Kirchler told AFP.

‘Lived freedom’
It is a theory that finds a resounding echo in the slogan printed in bold on the menu of one Vienna restaurant and bar, Caffe Latte: “Cash is lived freedom!”
“When we have no more cash, we become totally exposed. A totalitarian state would then have unfettered power over us,” the menu reads.
Admittedly the cafe accepts cards as its owner Philipp Klos says he has to think about business too.
“In five years, there will be no more cash. I’m 100 percent sure,” he told AFP, saying the OeVP proposal to amend the constitution is “empty talk.”

Other parties and experts have also pointed out that Austria would not have the unilateral right to protect cash through constitutional changes because it uses the euro, which is under the purview of the European Central Bank.
Even 17 years after the euro came into circulation, some Austrians are still finding notes and coins in their previous currency, the schilling, much of it left in forgotten hiding places in homes.
The haul from under the nation’s mattresses, which until now could be exchanged at the “Euro-Bus” of the Austrian National Bank (OeNB), which toured the country, was almost 19 million schillings (€1.38 million) this year.


Lebanon’s Jammal Trust Bank forced to close by US sanctions

Updated 19 September 2019

Lebanon’s Jammal Trust Bank forced to close by US sanctions

  • Jammal Trust Bank is accused of helping to fund the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon
  • The bank has 25 branches in Lebanon and representative offices in Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Britain

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Jammal Trust Bank has been forced to wind itself down after being hit last month by US sanctions for allegedly helping to fund the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, the bank said on Thursday.
The central bank said the value of the bank’s assets, and its share of the national deposit guarantee body, were “in principle enough to pay all deposits and commitments.”
Jammal Trust Bank denied the US allegations in August after the bank and its subsidiaries were hit with sanctions, accused of helping to fund the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.
“Despite its sound financial situation ... and its full compliance with banking regulations, the (bank) was forced to take the decision to liquidate itself in full coordination with the central bank,” Jammal Trust said in a statement.
The bank has 25 branches in Lebanon and representative offices in Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Britain, its website says.
It is a relatively small lender, with net assets of 1,600 billion Lebanese pounds ($1 billion) at the end of 2017, according to the annual report on the latest year for which data is available.
Washington has sought to choke off Hezbollah’s funding worldwide, with sanctions among a slew of steps against Tehran since US President Donald Trump withdrew last year from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran.