19 Dec Digitalizing an entire nation
Dr. Margarete Schramböck, Federal Minister for Digital and Economic Affairs of the Republic of Austria, shares her goals of reducing bureaucracy and promoting digitalization
What is the ministry’s vision for Austria?
We want to change the government’s focus and help companies to be successful. We want to be a service partner to business, making it easier for companies to set up, to invest and to grow. Austria needs to implement fundamental changes. We understand that it’s companies—not us—that create jobs, so we need to help them as best we can.
What is your strategy for aiding companies?
Firstly, we need to reduce bureaucracy. I’m extremely focused on the tough job of eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy in business. We aim to re-educate entire organizations on bureaucracy, because for years we have introduced too many additional laws. My ministry has built up a reputation for accepting the lowest amount of new legislation and eliminating the greatest amount.
The second main initiative in supporting companies is to embrace digitalization. I’m very proud that my ministry is one of the first in Europe dedicated to digital and economic affairs. Our focus on this unique digitalization transformation is strong, although we must cover all areas of digital issues. For example, the Digital Agency deals with digitalization for small and medium sized companies (SMEs), and we are opening dedicated innovation consultation hubs across Austria.
“74 percent of Austrians use mobile devices. But we still need to adapt our services to today’s world.”
Following this we must ensure that these skills are harnessed by older generations as well as by young people. We have created a program for the 60+ generation to empower them with the digital knowledge they need. In 2019 we are launching the Digital Café: weekly sessions across Austria where older people can learn about digitalization, regardless of age or experience. The program also helps to improve social inclusion.
Finally, re-skilling people in companies is crucial. We are currently testing out digital boot camps for a potential start date at the beginning of next year. These camps will be available to all Austrian companies, effectively creating an ecosystem of large and small companies that can come together to become more digital.
To what extent does digitalization influence government process?
Digital government is a crucial element of digitalization and Austria is already very advanced: 74 percent of Austrians use mobile devices and we are streets ahead of Switzerland and Germany. But we still need to adapt our services to today’s world. We want to ensure the same level of convenience when dealing with public authorities as we enjoy in our private lives.
Our program is called From E-government to Mobile Government, and will be available in March 2019. It will cover everything, from registering private addresses to helping expectant parents register new babies, it can all be done with our new application and from people’s homes. With the app parents will be able to complete all the necessary administrative steps for registration of the baby’s birth and name..
People have different demands on their time today; they want to deal with these things at home or work, and our modern digital government will provide these services.
Austria aims to reduce corporation tax from 43 percent to 40 percent, currently the second highest in the EU. The Austrian government recently discussed a temporary tax on digital companies’ revenues at roughly 3 percent. What is the intention of these tax reforms?
We are definitely not a low-tax country, but we want to reduce taxes for individuals and especially for companies, and to make Austria competitive we will certainly reduce corporation taxes. However, although we are committed to reducing taxes, other incentives are more important and more attractive for companies investing in Austria.
For example, Austria has dramatically increased its R&D (research and development) investment in the past year. Our quota is 3.19 percent—way above Europe’s average. Very few people are aware that we are second in Europe for spending on R&D, topped only by Sweden.
Another important area where with many incentives in Austria is tax bonuses. We offer a 14 percent tax refund for companies in the pharmaceutical and the high-tech semiconductor industries.