VIENNA — Just when it seemed that Austria survived Europe’s financial crisis unscathed, austerity has hit – in the form of a tax on sekt, the country’s version of champagne.
At less than 1 euro, or $1.35, per bottle, the planned tax pales in severity compared to the hardships imposed on citizens of other EU nations in the past five years.
But Vienna’s high society is not amused. Dozens of pricey galas are staged between January and March by organizations as diverse as the Vienna State Opera, the city’s confectioner, the pharmacists’ guild, or Austria’s hunting society. And guests at all of them sip sekt, which in its best incarnation can stand its own against fine champagne.
Part of the problem seems to be politics. The tax was the brainchild of the Socialist Party, the senior government coalition partner, which calls it a “luxury tax.” That infuriates both Austria’s sekt makers – who say they will lose market share to some exempted Italian products – and Vienna’s upper crust, made up of conservatives who are traditionally suspicious of the Socialists.
“One euro makes a big difference,” said Elisabeth Guertler, who owns Vienna’s five-star Sacher hotel and heads the city’s famed Spanish Riding School of dancing white stallions.
“Sekt is not suited for use in the class struggle,” said Guertler.