FECL 05 (April 1992):


a comment on Austrian policies of policing

Austria's political system proves increasingly incapable of solving political and social problems with adequate means. Whenever accumulated problems break through, the call for order rises. Ever more often the answer is police, wether when dealing with a construction permit, meeting places of drug addicts or immigration from Eastern Europe.

Mainly three developments are at the root of this growing political deficit: Rising social inequality, growing disagreement on the further development of industrial societies in the industrial countries themselves and increasing vulnerability of extremely centralized high-technology.

The emigrants from Eastern Europe and the drug addicts gathering on Vienna's Karlsplatz have on thing in common: In the view of the developped metropoles they all belong to marginal groups, no matter how numerous they may be. Each in their way they all claim their part of social wealth: by attempting to immigrate and by working as clandestines the first, by aggression and minor delinquency the latter. Political commentators have long ago agreed that social, partly political and, in growing measure, also ecological reasons are to be held responsible for the social exclusion of these "marginal" groups. But, as a rule, only the symptoms are being combatted. And that is within the competence of police and justice.

At the same time, the basic consensus on industrial development has broken apart in the last twenty years. In contrast to the era of "reconstruction", about every major technical or industrial project can expect to meet massive resistance. "Non-violent" resistance increasingly takes the place of meticulous compliance with administrative regulations.

As a third, technical development itself demands new forms of police protection: highly centralized communication networks are, in a way unknown before, just as vulnerable with regard to interferences as macro-plants producing nuclear energy, chlorine chemicals or genetically manipulated products.

The potential "disturber" must be detected in advance in order to guarantee a minimum of systems-security. Preventive police screening is the imperative response to this demand for high security and in all developed countries police surveillance systems are dedicating themselves to this task with great devotion.

Besides the security police law, two other important legislative developments point at the same direction of increasing expansion of police activity. The new law on compulsory domicile registration (Meldegesetz) is an attempt to reintroduce a complete listing of the Austrian population, which implies putting up with a considerable additional expenditure on policing. The new asylum law assigns a key role to the police in introducing a restrictive refugee policy.

However, one example shows in a particularly clear manner, where policing of social problems can lead to: The Interior minister's draft for a bill on the right of residence (Niederlassungsgesetz) is to regulate, who among tens of thousands of immigration applicants will be deemed worthy of working and living in Austria.

Professional qualifications and their significance for economic development in the countries of origin, training and adaptation of professional standards, housing problems, family unification and integration - perhaps not a single one of these issues has anything to do with the traditional jurisdiction of the Interior minister. Nonetheless the draft project for the regulation of immigration by a law on residence was produced under the leadership of the Interior minister. Thus, we are experiencing the transition from policing as a compensation for lack of social policy to a social policy god-fathered by police.

For a long time the conflicts described above are not home made any more. Everything that happens in Austria, ordinarly happens elsewhere sooner or later, in Germany or France, in Italy or in Britain. It is therefore no mere coincidence that particularly obstinate attempts have been made within the EC already for several years, to take a further common step on the level of police combat against symptomatical phenomena. The most important project in this domain is the "Europeanisation" of the police.

In major points the Austrian security police law constitutes an anticipation of the new world of European police.

Peter Pilz, former MP


(This comment was shortened and edited for publication in the Circular)