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News Update Austria


So, is Austria turning politically BLUE?

Austria presidential elections

When Austria holds elections – especially presidential ones – coverage hardly makes it into the German news. However, this time, the story was slightly different. Political analyst Dr. Gustav Gressel explains the Austrian political landscape.

The success of Austria’s far right Freedom Party (FPÖ) candidate Norbert Hofer, who scored 35.5 percent of the vote (ahead of the Green candidate Alexander Van der Bellen who won 21.43 percent, and independent candidate Irmgard Griss who won 18.94 percent) would have inspired satirical cartoons across the whole of Germany if it weren’t for the looming spectre of Germany’s own Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

The group used the opportunity of the FPÖ win in Austria as confirmation of the righteousness of their path in Germany. But for all the fanfare over this election result, is it really an indication that Austria is turning to the right? Is Austria really set to become another “troublesome state” that undermines European unity and cohesion? While it is very easy for the likes of the AfD and Marine le Pen to hijack the result to bolster their own political point, it is important to acknowledge that matters in Austria are more complicated than the spin doctors let on.

First of all, in terms of concrete policies, the FPÖ and other mainstream parties are not that far apart, and Austria’s pro-Russian stance across the board is already a test for European cohesion. In the midst of the sanctions-debate after the annexation of Crimea, Austrian President Heinz Fischer invited Vladimir Putin on a friendly visit to Vienna to deepen business ties. In Spring 2016 Putin returned the favour, hosting Heinz in Moscow. The Army’s joint chief of staff, a fellow party colleague of Fischer, declared that Austria was much closer to Russia than “to another great power” (meaning the US) and that sanctions were imposed on Austria by foreign powers.

While observers abroad might dismiss his comments as a one-time failure, they unfortunately reflect the sincere thoughts of the socialist leadership. But Fisher was not the only Austrian official and politician to cultivate relations with Putin. The conservative vice-chancellor and the finance minister did the same, accompanied by respective interest groups.

The manner in which senior politicians have bluntly ingratiated themselves with Russia lends credit to Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard’s claim that there is a deep-seated problem of authoritarian acquaintance, chauvinism, and a reflex to look to the past in Austrian politics and society. What can’t be ignored is that the mainstream parties, and particularly the Social Democrats, are just as much part of this problem as the FPÖ.

So if the FPÖ is fairly comparable to mainstream parties, why did people vote for them? Firstly, the level of stalemate, stagnation, and corruption that bewilders Austria once a “great coalition” (a coalition between socialist and conservative parties) is formed in Austria, repels the electorate. In terms of pushing forward policy, the government has achieved nothing since 2006, coasting along on reforms from the Schüssel era.

Blocking each other’s ideas and governing through nepotism became normal again. To get into any kind of job in the public sector (including doctors, teachers, etc.) you have to be either “black” (conservative) or “red” (socialist/social-democrat). There is an old tradition in Austria of running political parties as business ventures. In past times the socialists controlled public housing, state-industry, as well as the syndicates; while the conservatives controlled agriculture, the bureaucracy, business-associations, and the Church.

Both camps had their own banks, companies, and newspapers, staffed with appointees. Depending on which family you were born in, your means of existence was dependent on one of the parties, and services were withdrawn or not accessible if you did not play along and pick a side. However, with most monopolies busted after EU-accession in 1995 and with the common competitive market in the EU, fewer and fewer people depend on these networks and can therefore afford to criticise them.

The candidates that the mainstream parties picked for this presidential election were symptomatic of this “old system”. The Social Democrat Rudolf Hundstorfer was a syndicate-functionary and a party soldier with unconditional loyalty, even in times of scandal and struggle. His conservative counterpart is an old religious Catholic party functionary representing the CV (Cartellverband, the Catholic organisation of the conservative party). He was an anachronism in a secular society. Both candidates were selected through inner-party deals to unite certain party factions, rather than to be popular figures that could formulate ideas independent from the government.

The “Stimmvieh” (electoral herd, a dismissive term for voters) was expected to just obey the traditional party hierarchy and vote for them regardless of how well they performed as politicians.The FPÖ capitalised most on anti-establishment sentiments. Its former leader Jörg Haider was popular because he was the most outspoken critic of this system of clientelism (although he rebuilt the very same system for himself in Carinthia) and his success was very much dependent on him being seen as a credible anti-establishment politician by the population (and not his right-wing slogans, because it seems that people voted for him despite of this).

Unsurprisingly, the electorate turned to alternatives. The people that voted for Hofer hardly cared about what he said, they just wanted to send a clear message to the current establishment. Hofer also benefited from the sympathies he stirred in the electorate as a young candidate who had suffered from a tragic accident when paragliding, and always picked his words carefully. His campaign was not “poisoned” with Nazi-sympathising comments or other radical statement like that of FPÖ candidates in the past.

The urban, left-libertarian electorate turned to the Greens candidate Alexander van der Bellen. The moderate-conservative, centre-right electorate to Irmgard Griss, a former chief judge and later head of an investigation committee on a major corruption scandal. Her campaign was entirely crowd-funded, and while having no party support, she still scored 19 percent, which is a very respectable figure for a country so used to party-politics.

So how should Berlin react to the Austrian elections and what are the lessons to be learned? First, stay calm! A strong response that rejects the party will only help the FPÖ. And depicting all FPÖ voters as Nazis is not a knee-jerk reaction that is incendiary and untrue. The election is more about protest than authoritarian reinvention. Of course, the governing parties in Vienna would like to stick to the narrative that “evil right wing populists seduced the electorate” and that the refugee crisis and Merkel ruined their day.

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But that would cover the fact that they failed in the eyes of the population. Like in Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania, self-serving, corrupt, inefficient, and unprofessional elites are not immune to public scrutiny, as can be seen on election day. If they don’t get their act together, it will be far too easy for the populists to win a greater share of seats. Would a President Hofer foreshadow a Chancellor Strache? – unlikely. In Austria, the presidency is largely a ceremonial office.

Hence people use it to protest by voting for alternative figures, knowing that there is little risk associated with it. The stakes are higher in a parliamentary election and left-field candidates rarely experience the same levels of success. While Hofer served as “the finger” pointed at the government, few would trust him to govern the country. On paper, the president can dismiss the government, and appoint the chancellor and ministers. But for both he needs cooperation from either parliament or the chancellor, which Hofer would struggle to get. If Hofer pushes too hard, he might unmask himself, causing the FPÖ to lose support before the parliamentary elections.

In Germany, the AfD will be unlikely to copy the model of the Austrian FPÖ, because the preconditions for success and the political environment are very different. Still, “great coalitions” are prone to stalemate, and in the long run strengthen the opposition. But if the strength of populist parties rests in the weakness and inefficiency of the established ones, it will take a long time for the political landscape in Germany to resemble Austria’s.

 Facebook on shakey ground after Austrian  activist’s legal victory!

 Austrian data privacy activist Max Schrems has achieved another legal victory in his bid to stop Facebook transferring European citizens’ data to the US after Irish investigators recommended his latest case be heard in the EU courts.

It follows his victory last October when the EU’s highest court declared the “Safe Habour” deal used by companies to transfer data from the EU to the US breached European data protection rights.

Following the ruling, companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon turned to alternative methods of governing data transfers – called “model contract clauses”.

But these clauses could soon face the same fate as Safe Habour after data protection investigators in Ireland – where Facebook is based – recommended that the Irish courts also refer the case to the same Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

In a draft decision sent to Schrems Tuesday night, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner outlined concerns that the “clauses” did not offer EU citizens the opportunity to challenge US companies if they feel their rights have been violated.

If the CJEU make the same judgement on the model contract clauses as they did on Safe Habour, it will have repercussions for some of the world’s biggest companies.

It will also raise questions about the new data transfer deal – called Privacy Shield – being worked out between the EU and US to replace Safe Habour, which will likely run into the same legal problems recognised by the Irish investigators.

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“This is a very serious issue for the US tech industry and EU-US data flows,” 28-year-old Schrems said in a statement, adding that he doubts the court that “killed” Safe Habour” would validate the new contracts.

“All data protection lawyers knew that model contracts were a shaky thing, but it was so far the easiest and quickest solution they came up with,” he added. “As long as the US does not substantially change its laws I don’t see now there could be a solution.”

Source: The Local



Tick warning for Austria after mild winter.

Tick pic from wiki media

This means an increased risk of contracting the tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) virus and Lyme disease if bitten by an infected tick.

Contrary to popular belief, ticks do not jump or fall from trees, but wait in grass and shrub land for a host and will climb onto your clothes or skin if you brush against something they’re on.

The more wild and natural the environment, the more likely it is that there will be ticks – although they can also be found in parks and gardens. Tick activity is at its highest during Spring and early Summer.

“When we have a mild winter, with temperatures over 5C to 7C, ticks are going to be more active. This doesn’t mean there are more ticks, just that they are more active,” says Georg Duscher, parasitologist and biologist at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.

Every year he studies ticks in nature and analyses their pathogen. This year researchers observed active ticks as early as January and February!

If you’re bitten by a tick infected with TBE, it can be fatal. Last year 64 people across Austria were infected with TBE.

A vaccination provides protection against TBE in nine out of every ten people who receive it, although you can still get Lyme disease even if you’ve had the “Zeckenimpfung” vaccination.

The vaccine can be purchased in any chemist (Apotheke) in Austria and your doctor will then inject it for you.

Experts estimate that between 30 to 40 percent of ticks in Austria are infected with TBE and Lyme disease. The quicker you discover and remove the tick the less likely it is that they will infect you.

If the tick has attached to your skin, it’s best to remove them with fine tipped tweezers or a special tick hook. You can also apply oil, glue or some other type of liquid to the tick before removing it. Ticks only breathe once or twice per hour – so if you cover them in oil or liquid they will suffocate.

Pull upward with a steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the head to break off and remain in the skin, causing infection.

After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water. If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor.  

Austria is one of the worst-affected countries in Central Europe for TBE – so even if you’re just coming to visit for a few weeks and plan to spend time in the parks and hike in nature, it’s worth thinking about getting the vaccination.


So…it is not only UK that is soft?

An unlucky thief chose the wrong person to mug when he tried to steal a wallet from the pocket of an off-duty policeman in a carriage on the Vienna underground.

The policeman in civilian clothing had spotted the thief as he tried to sneakily pull out the wallet from the back pocket of his trousers.

He had grabbed hold of his hand but the thief ran off the U6 train at Westbahnhof station.

He was stealthily followed by the officer, who spotted him at the station already targeting his next victims.

The policeman watched as he tried again to get hold of someone’s purse and then went in and arrested the man in front of numerous bystanders.

The suspect was reported for theft but since he is only accused of two attempts of theft he was allowed to go free for the time being, according to a police spokesperson!!


Source: The local



2800 asylum seekers sent home from Austria

refugees returning homeAsylum seekers arriving in Austria. EPA/GYORGY VARGA

Nearly 2,800 asylum seekers have been sent home by Austria in the first three months of the year as the country steps up its programme to encourage people to leave.

The figures compare to last year, when a total of 8,365 failed asylum seekers were deported to their homelands.

In recent months Austria has been encouraging asylum seekers go home voluntarily by providing a stipend, which is seen as a cheaper option than housing people in detention centres. The move is part of the country’s plan to return 50,000 asylum seekers back home by 2019.

An asylum seeker who leaves the country voluntarily within three months receive €500, those who leave within six months get €250, and after six months, they get €50.

Of the latest figures released this week, 890 were forcibly deported and 1,896 agreed to leave voluntarily. Among those persuaded to return were 623 Iraqis, 278 Iranians and 273 Afghans.

Head of the Federal Office for Asylum (BFA) Wolfgang Taucher says that some asylum seekers are feeling homesick and no longer want to live in limbo and despair in refugee centres in Europe.

Taucher believes more people would be interested in returning but do not want to lose face by asking relatives back home to help pay for a return flight.
A new BFA project to encourage people to leave will be piloted in refugee centres, initially aimed at asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Nigeria and Morocco.

Working in partnership with NGOs Caritas and Human Rights Austria, the BFA plans to distribute information explaining that flights and medical care will be covered for those who want to return voluntarily.


Source: The local


Survey: How will Brits in Austria & Europe vote on Brexit?

london pride brexit

Britain’s upcoming referendum on whether to remain in the EU will have a huge effect on the two million Brits living in Europe – and many expats have a right to vote. But will they, and if so, how?

In order to be able to vote in the referendum, expats need to hold a British passport and to have been resident in the UK within the last 15 years. Just under a quarter of our respondents fit those criteria – a total of 673 people. And of those who had the right to cast a vote, an overwhelming majority (86 percent) said they were planning to do so.

As to those who were not planning to vote, the main reason for abstaining (selected by 49 percent of the non-voters) was that it was too complicated to register.

Meanwhile, 11 percent felt that their vote did not matter, while seven percent didn’t think they would be affected by the outcome of the referendum and a further seven percent did not understand enough about the issue.

Of those who intended to vote in the referendum, only 75 percent had already registered – and of the remaining 25 percent, a majority (68 percent) did not know how to vote.

But how are expats planning to vote? Our survey revealed that, with over two months to go until the referendum date, 94 percent had already made up their minds, 67 percent were firmly in the ‘Remain’ camp, while 28 percent were planning to vote ‘Leave’.

James McGrory, Chief Campaign Spokesman of Britain Stronger In Europe, said: “This survey shows the overwhelming consensus among Brits living abroad for remaining in Europe. As a full EU member, British people can travel, live and work freely across Europe, and they’re entitled to free healthcare if something goes wrong.

“If we left, no-one can guarantee that would continue. The ‘Leave’ campaign’s plan for Britain – to pull the UK economy out of the single market altogether – could see every British expat’s automatic right to live abroad thrown into doubt.”

When contacted by The Local, a Vote Leave press officer said she was not in a position to comment on expat voters or the impact of the referendum on Brits living abroad. A spokesperson for the Better Off Out campaign, who did not wish to be named, said that their group hadn’t had any contact with British expats. “I can’t make a judgement on how expats would be affected by the referendum result – individuals can make their own minds up. We are concentrating on making a positive case to all voters and hope that those who wish to vote will recognize the benefits for the UK.”

However, some 58 percent of voters said they would be trying to persuade others to vote in a certain way – so don’t be surprised if you find the referendum an increasingly popular topic among your expat contacts. The most popular method for trying to sway their friends’ votes was in conversation (84 percent), while 46 percent said they would take to social media to spread the word.

In Austria, British citizen Kathryn Quinn, who has been living in Vienna for around six years, first moved to the continent for an Erasmus year that she describes as “invaluable experience”.

“I believe it would be a mistake for the UK to leave the EU and deny further generations the opportunity to study and work in EU countries without the need for visas and unnecessary bureaucracy,” she told The Local Austria.

Like many, however, she believes the EU needs to be overhauled to better suit the modern world. “I think the UK should vote to stay but I believe the EU needs to go back to the drawing board,” she says.

Source: The Local.  Photo: ANDY RAIN/EPA


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