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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Austria & Greece: Two Presidents Meet

As the Austrian President Heinz Fischer is visiting Greece for a couple of days, he will also meet with the Greek President Karolos Papoulias. The two heads of state will have interesting subjects to discuss, among them: the usefulness of their office and the compensation that goes along with it.

The Austrian President has almost exclusively ceremonial responsibilities; his constitutional powers are close to zero. Politically, he is a bit of a male version of the Queen. From what I understand, the constitutional powers of the Greek President are not any greater.

The two offices also have in common almost identical compensations: the Austrian President's annual compensation (not including expenses accounts) is 328.188 Euro. The Greek President's annual compensation (not including expense accounts) used to be 322.000 Euro until about 2 years ago. They were then halved and my understanding is that President Papoulias decided to forego his entire compensation. No such intent has been reported about President Fischer so far.

In an interview prior to his visit, Fischer said he found it hard to imagine how Austrians would have reacted if they had to suffer the same kind of austerity measures as Greeks. President Papoulias might consider asking his Austrian counterpart how he would feel if his compensation would be cut in half. Or perhaps only down to the level of the US President.

The Austrian President is extremely eloquent at saying nothing. He will express great sympathies for the suffering which many Greeks have to endure and he will cite the European solidarity. Whether the Greek President is eloquent I cannot judge because the last thing I have heard of him was when he asked "Who is Mr. Schäuble?" President Fischer is not known to ever have asked such a provocative question.

That leaves the question of the usefulness of their offices and how a potentially useless office could best be used to offer society moral leadership and ethical guidance. Both Presidents seem to share impeccable ethical and moral values. Whether or not they are putting them to use as political leaders is not apparent.

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