Category Archives: Austria

(EUobserver) Austrian foreign minister: EU’s Israel policy ‘too strict’

(EUobserver) Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl (FPO) has criticised the European Union’s policy towards Israel. “I have the impression that particularly strict standards are being applied to Israel,” she said in an interview with the Times of Israel. Austria is working to inject “more realism” in EU-Israel relations, she added. Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to speak this week in Vienna at a high-level anti-Semitism conference.

(EUobserver) Migrant holding centres: first Germany, now Austria


  • Brenner pass could become EU migrant bottleneck (Photo: Alice Latta)

Austria has said it will follow Germany in turning back asylum seekers, in widening ripples from Europe’s political migration crisis.

“The Austrian government is … ready to take action, especially to protect our southern border,” its right-wing leaders said in a joint statement on Tuesday (3 July) in reaction to Germany’s plan to police its own border with Austria.

  • EU crackdown prompting ever-riskier migrant crossings, IOM said (Photo: SOS Mediterranee)

“Should this agreement become the German government position, we consider it necessary to take action to fend off any disadvantages for Austria and its people,” Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz and far-right deputy leader Heinz-Christian Strache said.

“If Berlin introduced national measures, which would have a chain reaction, it could mean that Austria would have to react,” Kurz added in solo remarks to press.

Their words augured a clamp-down on the Brenner Pass through the Alps to Italy, prompting immediate howls of complaint from Rome.

“We [the EU] should enter a phase of cooperation,” Italian foreign minister Enrico Moavero Milanesi said.

“The Austrian decision to close the Brenner would be against this spirit and so whoever put into practice would have to assume responsibility for it,” he said.

The “chain reaction” comes after German chancellor Angela Merkel agreed with her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, to police the 90 crossing points along Germany’s 500-mile southern border with Austria.

Migrants would be held in new detention centres, with those found to have first-entered the EU in, for instance, Italy, turned back “on the basis of an agreement with the Republic of Austria”.

The deal still needs the blessing of the centre-left SPD party in Merkel’s coalition to go ahead.

It has voiced horror over such centres in the past and said on Tuesday it still had “unanswered questions”.

But the European Commission gave Merkel’s plan a quick thumbs up, with its chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, saying in Strasbourg on Tuesday: “I have not studied it in detail, but at first glance, and I have asked the legal services to look at it, it seems to me to be in line with [EU] law.”

The German debate also seemed likely to come down to rhetoric rather than substance, amid doublespeak on how the camps should be described.

“Transit centres are not prisons,” German transport minister Stephan Mayer told Bild, a tabloid daily.

“In the centres everyone can move freely, but no one is allowed out,” he said.

The Merkel-Seehofer deal comes after her interior minister, from the CSU, a minor party in the coalition, had threatened a rebellion that could have destabilised the government.

Germany recorded just 18,349 people this year who would be eligible for deportation to other EU states under the proposed scheme.

The number is drastically lower than at the height of the migration crisis, when hundreds of thousands of people entered Germany via Austria and Greece.

But it comes in a harsh new climate, with the CSU party trying to win votes from the far-right AfD party in elections in Bavaria, south Germany, in October, and with anti-immigrant populists already in power in Austria, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Slovenia.

If the Juncker-approved German deal goes ahead and Austria follows suit that is likely to prompt an even harder line on migration in Italy, which already begun refusing to take in migrant boats under its new government.

Its deputy PM Luig Di Maio said on Monday he would supply motor boats to the Libyan coastguard so that they could take people back to detention centres in Libya instead.

That would be “against our values, international law and European law … we are well aware of the inhumane situation for many migrants in Libya,” an EU commission spokesowman said.

But Europe’s political crisis on migration, which began in Bavaria, was already sending ripples as far south as Africa, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an international body, warned.

More than 1,000 people have drowned trying to reach the EU by sea in the first six months of the year, with a sharp increase in deaths and risky crossings in recent days and weeks, it said.

“Smugglers are exploiting the desperation of migrants to leave before there are further crackdowns on Mediterranean crossings by Europe,” Othman Belbeisi, the IOM’s Libya chief said.

(BBC) Austria: Sebastian Kurz opens talks with Freedom Party


Mr Kurz, 31, told journalists: “The goal is clear, to form a stable government with a solid majority in parliament. If that’s not possible, a minority government is definitely an alternative.”

Austrian Foreign Minister and the leader of the Austrian Peoples Party (OeVP), Sebastian Kurz leaves the presidential office of the Hofburg PalaceImage copyrightEPA
Image captionMr Kurz said his goal was to form a government with a solid majority

Austria’s conservative leader says he has invited the far right for talks to form a coalition government.

Sebastian Kurz said his People’s Party and the Freedom Party (FPÖ) had similar positions on tax cuts and immigration controls.

The step paves the way for the FPÖ’s return to government after more than a decade in opposition.

But Mr Kurz warned that his government could only be pro-European, in contrast to the Eurosceptic view of the FPÖ.

The People’s Party won last week’s parliamentary election but is well short of a majority. The only other option available to Mr Kurz to form a majority government is a coalition with the Social Democrats.

The last alliance between the Social Democrats and the conservatives fell apart this spring and there may be reluctance to renew it, correspondents say.An election campaign poster of far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPOe) head and top candidate Heinz-Christian StracheImage copyrightREUTERS

Image captionHeinz-Christian Strache’s FPÖ has an anti-immigration stance

The Freedom Party was launched in 1956 by ex-Nazis with anti-immigrant and anti-EU positions. It has, however, softened its image in recent years and its candidate was narrowly defeated in last year’s presidential election.

Immigration was the dominant issue in the run-up to last week’s election, and Mr Kurz moved his party to the right in the wake of Europe’s 2015 migrant crisis, a stance that proved popular with Austrian voters after a huge influx of undocumented migrants and refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.

The Freedom Party had previously accused Mr Kurz of stealing its policies, and analysts say an alliance with them could prove controversial among Austria’s EU counterparts.

(Economist) Austria heads for a new, conservative-nationalist government

(Economist) Sebastian Kurz, the 31-year-old likely to become Austria’s next chancellor, has his work cut out.

HE LEFT university six years ago. He became Austria’s foreign minister four years ago. Now Sebastian Kurz is on the verge of becoming the country’s chancellor, and at 31 the youngest leader of government in the world. Following today’s general election in the Alpine republic his centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) is on 31.7% in the latest projections, up 7.7 points. The Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), which currently leads a “grand coalition” of the two parties, is flat on 26.9% and the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) is up 5.5 points to 26.0%.

As the leader of the largest party, Mr Kurz (aka the “Wunderwuzzi” or whizz kid) will have the first shot at forming a government. Another grand coalition is unlikely. Relations between the ÖVP and SPÖ were terrible. Then came the election campaign, in which they deteriorated further as each accused the other of dirty tricks (the SPÖ’s campaign guru allegedly set up racist Facebook pages attacking Mr Kurz, for example). That leaves an ÖVP-FPÖ government, now the most likely outcome. From 2000 to 2007 Austria was led by such a coalition, when Wolfgang Schüssel of the ÖVP did a deal with J��rg Haider’s FPÖ. It was not a great success: starting with international opprobrium and ending with corruption scandals and baroque infighting. Yet today there is a natural alignment between the two parties.

Heinz-Christian Strache, who took over the FPÖ after it left government, is impatient to wield power and running out of time. He wants to be vice-chancellor. He has softened the party’s image and professionalised it. Meanwhile Mr Kurz is unequivocally right-wing on immigration. As foreign minister he became Austria’s most popular politician by demanding that the “Balkan route” (by which immigrants were travelling from Greece to Austria and beyond) be closed and as integration minister (a job which he has held simultaneously) imposed a popular burqa ban. In the election campaign he has offered an uncompromising message to newcomers: welfare entitlements are to be cut to push them into work; those not striving to integrate will be penalised.

Yet Mr Kurz has also succeeded by melding this severe message with sunnier promises of social and economic renewal. Since taking over his party in the summer he has opened it up, bringing in non-political figures, rebranding the stuffy old ÖVP as the “Sebastian Kurz List” and switching its colour from black to turquoise. He pledges economic renewal, greater transparency, and (badly needed in perhaps Western Europe’s most corporatist economy) a leaner and less clientelistic state. His political praetorian guards are the relatively socially liberal Vienna cadres of the JVP, the ÖVP’s youth wing, which he used to run.

Now the really hard work begins. Mr Kurz faces three main obstacles. The first is Christian Kern, the chancellor. His SPÖ did better than expected, thanks partly to the collapse in the Green vote (the party recently split, with the former leader Peter Pilz leading a new, rival force to a better result). Though flat nationally—no mean feat given that they have run Austria since 2007—the Social Democrats made gains in cities like Vienna and Graz. That seems to have stiffened Mr Kern’s nerve after a terrible campaign. Tonight he has spoken of being ready to take on new “responsibility”. Some in Vienna reckon he might try to outbid Mr Kurz and form an SPÖ-FPÖ government. This remains unlikely, but it is a hurdle the “Wunderwuzzi” must clear.

The second obstacle is the FPÖ itself. Last time it was in government the far-right party allowed itself to be manipulated by the crafty Mr Schüssel. Mr Strache—the most experienced figure in frontline Austrian politics, who has run a slick and professional election campaign—will make a more formidable partner than Haider. He will probably win the interior and justice ministries in coalition talks. A major battleground will be the extent of FPÖ influence on Austrian foreign policy. I understand Mr Kurz, already looking ahead to Austria’s presidency of the EU next year, intends to stand his ground on this. But Norbert Hofer—the FPÖ grandee who almost became Austrian president last year—is determined to become foreign minister. The outcome of this struggle will decide how much the new right-wing government tilts Austria eastwards in Europe; away from Germany and towards reactionary Visegrád governments like those of Poland and Hungary. Angela Merkel may get a new headache.

Negotiating, then running, a coalition with the FPÖ will be tough for a relatively inexperienced chancellor. Looking ahead to an ÖVP-FPÖ government Josef Lentsch, a liberal think-tanker, compares Mr Kurz to David Cameron and the FPÖ to the eurosceptic Tory backbenchers. In other words, he will be under relentless pressure to go farther to the right.

The third, final and perhaps highest obstacle will be Mr Kurz’s own party—and the intransigent Austrian establishment that it epitomises. Since 1945 the country’s peace has been kept by a system divvying up public life—state companies, public services, subsidies, regulatory responsibilities—between political parties (Proporz, the system is called). Mr Kurz considers this unsustainable, and with reason: Austrian unemployment, once half that of Germany, is now around 50% higher. But he leads a party tightly woven into the associational web that he wants to start unpicking. If he really wants to improve school standards, say, or scale back subsidies paid to favoured businesses, or open up the labour market, he will have to do battle with the Bünde, the mighty interest groups within the ÖVP, and with his party’s powerful state governors.

How will Mr Kurz manage? I met him in Vienna in May, early on the morning after the Manchester bomb attack. He had just chaired an OECD summit on terrorism. My impression was of a leader with maturity well beyond his years, who disarms people by being polite to the point of courtliness (not a rare trait in Vienna, his home city). But I would be lying if I claimed to know how much real gravitas he has. To his fans he is a new kind of leader—deftly embracing the popular mood on “difficult” subjects but using the ensuing power to transform the country. To his opponents he is an opportunist who has swallowed the FPÖ’s right-wing policies and lacks the muscle to stand his ground. Now to find out who is right.

(FT) The strength of Austria’s far-right resonates far beyond Vienna

The strength of Austria’s far-right resonates far beyond Vienna

15 October 2017

Tony Barber


Austria, with its 8.7m people, accounts for less than 2 per cent of the EU’s population. But the result of Sunday’s parliamentary election will resonate well beyond the coffee houses of Vienna and the ski slopes of the Austrian Alps.

In the European electoral cycle of 2017 — the Netherlands, France, the UK and Germany — no country has swung so sharply to the right as Austria. The winner, the Sebastian Kurz List-New People’s party, which represents the mainstream right, took 30 to 31 per cent of the vote, according to exit polls and predictions.

The radical rightwing, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam Freedom party won just over 26 per cent. If confirmed, this will be the Freedom party’s strongest performance in a national parliamentary election since 1999. It raises the possibility that the party will enter a coalition government with Mr Kurz, Austria’s 31-year-old foreign minister.

By contrast, the Social Democrats were defeated, taking slightly more than 26 per cent, according to early estimates. Like other European centre-left parties, the Social Democrats are suffering from the long-term erosion of their electoral base and their inability to compete with the right on issues of immigration and national identity.

The root explanation for the result lies in Europe’s refugee and immigrant crisis of 2015, during which hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and others crossed into Austria from the Balkans. Most were on their way to Germany, Sweden and elsewhere, but more than 100,000 stayed in Austria.

They received a generous welcome from public-spirited Austrians, but the political consequences of the refugee flows were far-reaching. First, the Freedom party soared to the top of opinion polls. Its candidate came within a whisker of winning last year’s Austrian presidential election.

Second, Mr Kurz, who became leader of the People’s party in May, tried to neutralise the threat of the radical right by borrowing some of its hardline anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. He rebranded the respectable right in a manner that his party’s closest equivalent in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, did not wish or dare to do in the campaign for last month’s Bundestag election.

Mr Kurz’s gamble appeared to work as the People’s party overtook the Freedom party in pre-election opinion polls. But Sunday’s result suggests that his experiment in blocking the radical right’s rise was only partially effective.

Should the Freedom party form part of Austria’s next government, the conservative nationalist rulers of Hungary and Poland will feel less isolated in the EU. But France, Germany and other western European governments will be uneasy. The radical right, kept well away from power after the Dutch, French and German elections, will have made a breakthrough in Austria.

The Freedom party has served in government before, from 2000 to 2006. A French-inspired attempt at isolating Austria in the EU proved unworkable and prompted an indignant reaction from Austrian society.

This time, if the Freedom party joins Mr Kurz’s party in office, no such formal EU pressure on Austria is likely. But EU leaders would be deeply concerned if the radical right were to take control of important “power ministries” such as interior and justice, giving the Freedom party influence over the police and immigration policies.

The challenge of how to contain Europe’s radical right continues.

The writer is the FT’s Europe Editor

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017

© 2017 The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved. Please do not copy and paste FT articles and redistribute by email or post to the web.

+++ (BBG) Austrian Vote Nudges Europe’s Balance to Right as Populists Gain

(BBG) Austrian voters paved the way for the nationalist Freedom Party to enter government, heralding a shift to the political right that’s likely to make the country a more prickly ally for its European partners.

Projections after Sunday’s election put the populists within reach of second place behind the People’s Party of Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, 31, who claimed victory after a campaign built on outflanking the Freedom Party with a hard-line stance on migration. He now has a mandate to form a coalition, replace Social Democrat Christian Kern as chancellor and become the world’s youngest government leader.

With the Freedom Party poised to return to government for the first time since 2005, congratulations poured in from European nationalists including France’s Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, while the World Jewish Congress expressed concern. For German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the result may chip away at a key ally’s pro-European stance in the years ahead.

“There won’t be a debate to leave the EU, but the Freedom Party is strong enough to demand significant concessions” and may lead Austria to align more often with eastern European countries that have challenged Merkel on issues including migration, said Thomas Hofer, a political consultant in Vienna. “Austria has mostly been an ally of Germany for decades, but that picture could change more often now,” Hofer said.

While European populists were kept out of power in elections this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, the Freedom Party has been part of Austria’s government before. Last year, Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer almost won a run-off for the Austrian presidency, a mostly ceremonial post. Any coalition with the People’s Party would have to be “a partnership of equals,” he said Sunday.

Austria’s two big parties, the People’s Party and the Social Democrats, have governed together for 44 of the 72 years since World War II. While Kurz and Freedom leader Heinz-Christian Strache might shake up Austria’s cozy political order, they broadly agree in pledging business-friendly policies, notably to scrap corporate taxes on retained profits. They’ll also stay in the German-led camp favoring fiscal austerity in the euro area.

EU Fallout

Strache, whose party’s last stint in government under Joerg Haider led to EU diplomatic sanctions against Austria, sought to ease the way to power by backing off strident rhetoric against the EU.

Where Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron may face increased resistance is on proposals to deepen European integration, maintaining economic sanctions on Russia and chastising eastern EU member countries seen as crimping democratic freedoms. Austria’s next government may also try to toughen EU policy toward Turkey.

While Sunday’s projected result doesn’t guarantee a coalition with the Freedom Party, Kurz has a mandate to form a government after an early election he triggered by breaking up a coalition with the Social Democrats this year. The final tally may still be influenced by postal ballots, which will only be counted on Monday.

“This is a strong mandate for us to bring about change in this country,” Kurz told cheering supporters in Vienna as the results came in. “It’s about establishing a new political style, a new culture.”

The swell of anxiety over immigration to Austria began building 2015, when almost 70,000 mostly-Muslim refugees sought asylum from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Schools and hospitals in the nation of 8.7 million struggled to accommodate the newcomers, and disagreements over whether it was fair to give immigrants generous welfare support dominate the media.

Frauke Petry, a former head of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, which drew inspiration from its Austrian counterpart, posted congratulations on Twitter. Ronald Lauder, who heads the World Jewish Congress, said the Freedom Party is “full of xenophobes and racists.”

“It is sad and distressing that such a platform should receive more than a quarter of the vote and become the country’s second party,” he said in an emailed statement. “My only hope is that they won’t end up in government.”

(Xinhua) Austria to tighten border controls due to increase in illegal migration

(Xinhua) Austria is to tighten its border controls on the back of an increase in illegal migration in recent days, interior minister Wolfgang Sobotka confirmed on Wednesday.

The Krone newspaper reported that the authorities had come across numerous large groups of migrants attempting to cross into Austria.

It was also noted that new migration routes into the country had been observed.

As a result, Sobotka ordered the establishment of temporary control checkpoints by the police, with armed forces personnel to offer assistance.

The controls, including car inspections, are to be in place on the shared border with Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Italy.

(ECO) Governo copia modelo austríaco para vender Novo Banco

(ECO) Portugal está a negociar com os credores que perderam 2,2 mil milhões no Novo Banco em 2015. Solução que Áustria aplicou no Heta serve de modelo para acordo que pode desbloquear venda do Novo Banco.

Mário Centeno e António Costa, no dia em que anunciaram a operação de venda do Novo Banco.Paula Nunes/ECO

O Governo quer chegar a um acordo com os credores que, em dezembro de 2015, perderam grande parte do seu investimento no Novo Banco quando o Banco e Portugal decidiu transferir cinco séries de obrigações para o ‘BESmau’ no valor de 2,2 mil milhões de euros. Oficialmente, ninguém comenta estas informações, mas o ECO sabe que as negociações para um ‘settlement’ vão acelerar nos próximos dias.

Depois de meses de impasse, e de reuniões entre o governo e os fundos internacionais sem quaisquer resultados, a necessidade de fazer um novo acordo com fundos internacionais para a venda do Novo Banco – e alguns são os mesmos de 2015 – tornou este acordo mais urgente. Mário Centeno já tinha sugerido esta iniciativa negocial mais recente em entrevista à agência Reuters, e segundo apurou o ECO, o governo quer umasolução semelhante àquela que a Áustria adotou em outubro de 2016 para chegar a acordo com os credores do banco Heta.

Ainda não foi feita uma proposta formal, que deverá ser feita nos próximos dias, mas se tiver sucesso, o Governo pode ter a vida mais facilitada naoperação de troca de dívida que vai propor agora, aos credores do Novo Banco, de forma a concluir a operação de venda da instituição aos norte-americanos do Lone Star. Isto porque alguns dos credores que perderam dinheiro no banco, em 2015, ainda são credores do Novo Banco e vão ter de dar o seu aval voluntário para a operação de Liability Management Exercise (LME) – troca de dívida – que o Novo Banco terá de fazer para reforçar o capital antes de ser vendido ao Lone Star.

Vamos por partes

Estávamos no final de 2015 quando o Banco de Portugal decidiu alterar o perímetro dos ativos e responsabilidades do BES e do Novo Banco tendo, na altura, transferido para o BES cinco instrumentos de dívida sénior avaliados em 2,2 mil milhões de euros, que estavam originalmente no balanço do Novo Banco.

A decisão de penalizar cinco séries de obrigações (com um valor nominal de 2,2 mil milhões) e deixar intactas outras 38 séries, caiu mal junto dos grandes credores do Novo Banco — como a Pimco e a BlackRock — que resolveram então intentar uma ação legal contra o Banco de Portugal para reaver o dinheiro perdido. Também colocaram nos tribunais um processo para tentar travar a venda de 75% do Novo Banco anunciada no final de março.

O próprio primeiro-ministro, no dia em que anunciou o acordo para venda, reconheceu que tal decisão do Banco de Portugal estava a penalizar o próprio país, colocando grandes credores (que também compram dívida pública) de costas voltadas para Portugal. “Acho que é manifesto hoje que, se há algo que penaliza os custos da República, os custos do sistema financeiro, é o facto de os investidores internacionais terem recebido particularmente mal a decisão do Banco de Portugal de, unilateralmente e de uma forma discricionária, ter imposto sacrifícios a certos obrigacionistas em dezembro de 2015”, afirmou António Costa, a 31 de março.

Oficialmente, ninguém comenta estas mais recentes negociações. O tema é sensível e, no final do dia, a questão é saber o ponto de equilíbrio para um acordo que satisfaça os credores e cujos custos terão de ser assumidos pelo Estado, leia-se pelos contribuintes. Entre os 600 milhões de euros e os 2,2 mil milhões perdidos pelos fundos. De onde vêm os 600 milhões? Correspondem ao valor que lhes é legalmente devido se tivesse havido uma liquidação do BES em vez da resolução. O número foi calculado pela consultora Deloitte e corresponde às responsabilidades do Novo Banco para com aqueles credores por terem perdido 2.200 milhões de euros com a transferência de obrigações para o banco mau (o BES).

Mário Centeno assume negociações

O ministro das Finanças já veio assumir a existência de negociações com esses credores, nomeadamente com a BlackRock. Não é a primeira vez, de resto, mas desta, há a convicção de que o acordo é mesmo para fazer precisamente por causa da nova troca de obrigações que está agora em cima da mesa. Em entrevista à Reuters no dia 24 de maio, Centeno disse que “há conversações com os intervenientes nessa operação de 29 de dezembro para podermos, enfim, encontrar uma solução que satisfaça os interesses de todos”.

Acrescentou ainda que “os interesses do Estado são seguramente eliminar os impactos negativos dessa mesma operação (de Dezembro de 2015). Havia uma enorme pressão naquele momento, em dezembro de 2015, sobre toda a situação financeira do país”.

E o ministro das Finanças faz questão de dizer que o processo de troca voluntária de obrigações, que vai ser proposto agora, é diferente daquele que foi feito em 2015: “Estou certo de que todos os intervenientes perceberão os riscos que estão envolvidos numa não concretização do processo, e que há uma enorme diferença entre esta operação e a de 29 de Dezembro [de 2015]”.

O modelo austríaco que pode desbloquear a venda

O ECO sabe que a solução que está a ser estudada com estes credores que perderam dinheiro em 2015 é semelhante à solução que, em outubro de 2016, a Áustria encontrou para um dos seus bancos que estava em dificuldades para pagar aos credores.

O banco Heta entrou numa situação de rutura e os acionistas e o governo local decidiram propor aos credores — que detinham 11 mil milhões de euros de obrigações –, uma troca dessa dívida por dinheiro imediato (mas com perda de parte do capital) ou nova dívida de cupão zero que seria emitida a desconto.

Por exemplo, os credores do Heta de dívida sénior poderiam escolher receber logo 75% do dinheiro investido ou, ao invés, optar por trocar as obrigações detidas no Heta por outras de médio prazo e cupão zero com garantia da República da Áustria.

No caso português, o governo tem claro que não pode envolver o Fundo de Resolução nestas negociações porque isso seria assumir formalmente, e perante todos os credores do BES, responsabilidades já ‘fechadas’. “Seria abrir uma caixa de pandora com custos impensáveis. Agora é preciso encontrar uma base legal para indemnizar estes credores, e isso pode passar por uma emissão de dívida pública destinada apenas àqueles fundos e posterior compra, com o prémio a ficar nos investidores”, afirmou ao ECO uma fonte que conhece o processo.

Solução pode ajudar a desbloquear venda

Se uma solução semelhante vingar em Portugal, o Governo pode fazer as pazes com parte dos credores do Novo Banco, o que poderá facilitar a nova operação que está em cima da mesa e que prevê que os atuais obrigacionistas seniores do Novo Banco troquem as suas obrigações por outras menos rentáveis, o que iria permitir ao Novo Banco reforçar os rácios de capital em, pelo menos, 500 milhões de euros.

Esta operação, conhecida na terminologia anglo-saxónica por Liability Management Exercise, foi colocada como uma condição sem a qual não poderia ser feita a venda do Novo Banco ao fundo Lone Star. Mas António Costa fez questão de dizer que é voluntária.

Numa carta enviada a António Ramalho e ao Banco de Portugal, noticiada pelo ECO em primeira mão, um grupo de credores que diz responder por mais de 30% da dívida do Novo Banco já veio mostrar-se contra a solução do LME, manifestando-se inclusive interessado em comprar a instituição bancária se o negócio fosse feito nas mesmas condições do que o Lone Star.

O fundo norte-americano acordou ficar com 75% do Novo Banco e injetar mil milhões (750 milhões no imediato) para reforçar os capitais da instituição portuguesa. A operação prevê ainda um mecanismo de capital contingente, em que o Fundo de Resolução (com empréstimos do Estado) assume a cobertura de até 3,9 mil milhões de euros de erosão de capital provocada pela venda abaixo do valor de balanço dos ativos que estão no side bank.

(EurActiv) Austria calls October election, far-right FPÖ could enter government


Austrian Chancellor and head of the Social Democratic Party (SPOe) Christian Kern (R) and Justice Minister Wolfgang Brandstetter (C) and new leader of the Austrian Peoples Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz (L) during a session of the national assembly. Vienna, 16 May. [Christian Bruna/EPA]

Austria’s main parties agreed to hold an early parliamentary election on 15 October, Chancellor Christian Kern said yesterday (16 May), in a vote that might bring the far-right Freedom Party into government.

In the autumn of a year that will have seen Dutch, French, British and German general elections, the Alpine republic will decide its future course on immigration, labour and social policy and its position within the European Union.

Austria’s youthful foreign minister took over as leader of the country’s main conservative party on Sunday (14 May) and called for a snap parliamentary election that centre-left Chancellor Christian Kern admitted he could not prevent.

“We have agreed on 15 October (for parliamentary elections),” Kern said after meeting leaders of all parliamentary parties. The next election was originally due to be held in autumn 2018.

Political parties in Austria @OeParl agree on date for early elections: 15 October.(Regular date would have been autumn 2018; 5 years term.)

For months, Kern’s government has been blocked in disputes over reform policies between his Social Democratic Party (SPO) and its conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) coalition partner, which have been exacerbated by internal wrangling in the ÖVP.

Since the ÖVP called for early elections on Friday and elected the 30-year-old Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz as its new leader on Sunday, its popularity ratings have jumped to 35% in a Research Affairs poll from around 20% in recent months.

That put the ÖVP ahead of the other parties in opinion polls. Before this, the populist Freedom Party (FPÖ) had led the polls for more than a year with support of over 30%, followed by the Social Democrats.

The FPÖ presidential candidate’s narrow defeat in December’s run-off reflected the steep decline in Austrian voters’ trust in their main parties.

European relief at Austrian far-right election defeat

Austrian voters have resoundingly rejected anti-immigration and eurosceptic Norbert Hofer’s bid to become the European Union’s first far-right president, a result greeted with relief from centrist politicians across the continent.

“You should get up one after the other and apologise to the people for how you messed up,” FPÖ General Secretary Herbert Kickl told the government on Tuesday in parliament.

“You must not only be taught what the topics are, you not only need a helping hand on the election date,” he said. “You must also be shown how to rule better.”

For all those saying that populism is stalled: FPO may be invited back into the Austrian coalition government. 

Sebastian Kurz, right, the new leader of the People’s Party, with President Alexander Van der Bellen of Austria in Vienna on Monday.

Shaky Coalition in Austria May Give Far-Right Party an Opening

New elections are being scheduled as the governing coalition teeters on collapse, possibly clearing a path for the far-right Freedom Party to enter into power.

The Social Democrats ruled with the FPÖ from 1983 to 1987. In 2000, the ÖVP and FPÖ agreed on a government headed by the ÖVP’s Wolfgang Schuessel, which led to a six-month diplomatic boycott of Austria by other European Union member states (see background).

But the FPÖ, whose charismatic late chairman Joerg Haider made it into Europe’s most successful far-right party with 27% in Austria’s 1999 general election, dropped to 10% in 2002 after a spate of in-fighting, policy squabbles and opposition to the EU’s eastward expansion.

Under its current leader Heinz-Christian Strache, the FPÖ has gained massive support with a eurosceptic, anti-immigration and anti-Islam policy. Strache has called for “minus migration” and a ban on “fascistic Islam”.

With French and Dutch elections over now pundit panic over Italy and Austria. For all the risks this is getting a little ridiculous


The EU has imposed sanctions only once against a member state. In 2000, 14 countries of the then 15-member EU reacted to the entrance of Jörg Haider’s far-right Austrian Freedom Party into the Austrian government by freezing bilateral relations with the country.

No contacts or ambassadorial meetings at an intergovernmental level were held and Austrian candidates were not supported when EU international offices were assigned.

The sanctions were imposed in February 2000 and lifted seven months later when Haider stepped aside as party leader. He died in a car accident in 2008.

France, Belgium and Germany led the campaign to ostracise Vienna. This was seen largely to result from domestic political sensitivities to the far right. Then-President Jacques Chirac of France sought to oppose the country’s Front National and Belgium faced pressure from the separatist Vlaams Blok.

By contrast, Italy and Denmark urged for the lifting of sanctions.

(BBG) You Think Google Search Is Free? Austria Seeks to Tax It Anyway

(BBG) Austria is seeking ways to make digital services like Alphabet Inc.’s Google or Facebook Inc. pay taxes for transactions with the nation’s internet users, trying to plug gaps in a tax system still designed for brick-and-mortar business.

The most ambitious part of the plan targets the business models of Twitter Inc., Google or Facebook: The tacit pact under which searching, liking, posting and tweeting remains free as long as users let the companies feed usage data into algorithms that help tailor advertising that can be aimed at the most likely buyers.

That arrangement is a form of bartering, and a value-added tax could be imposed on such transactions just as the levies are extended in other parts of the economy, said Andreas Schieder, the parliamentary head of Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern’s Social Democrats, which govern in a coalition with the conservative People’s Party.

“The business transaction that’s going on here is that users are paying with their personal data,” Schieder told journalists in Vienna. “The business model of those internet companies is based on massive revenues that are generated with the help of those data.”

Amending Code

Raising more taxes from digital businesses is part of a broader plan to amend the country’s corporate tax code. The package also includes closing loopholes that allow “aggressive tax planning” and corporate tax avoidance, which cost the Alpine country as much as 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion) a year, about a fifth of its annual corporate tax revenue, Schieder said.

The Social Democrats’ plan has two other elements targeted at internet companies: It would extend the Austrian tax on advertising revenue to digital formats, and it would tax purely digital services that are acquired by Austrian customers from companies with no physical presence in the country.

Schieder said the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has made proposals for calculating and implementing such taxes, especially in its Base Erosion and Profit Shifting project.

“We need a new approach to make sure that taxes are paid where revenue and profit is made,” Schieder said. “The OECD has made practical suggestions how to define digital establishments for tax purposes.”

The proposals will need the agreement of conservative Finance Minister Hans Joerg Schelling. The goal to raise tax revenue from digital companies and to tax international companies “more efficiently” is part of the government’s policy update agreed in January.

(EurActiv) Austrian Socialists consider ending ban on far-right alliances


Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern’s SPÖ party is weighing up doing business with the FPÖ in order to retain power.

Austria’s ruling Social Democrats are responding to rising anti-establishment sentiment in a way that would be unthinkable in most European nations, by moving towards lifting a self-imposed ban on coalitions with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ).

As elsewhere in Europe, the centre-left has in recent years lost voters to an anti-Islam, anti-immigration party. The FPÖ now regularly tops Austrian opinion polls with support of more than 30%, surpassing even levels seen around 2000 when it entered a national coalition that lasted for several years.

But even if the Social Democrats are able to overtake the FPÖ in the next parliamentary election due within about 18 months, they will have few options. To form a government, they would most likely need to continue an unpopular alliance with the conservative People’s Party or start a new one with the FPÖ.

Austrian centre-left Chancellor Christian Kern yesterday (11 January) launched a bid to win back voters from the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), presenting a 10-year plan focused on creating jobs, boosting public investment and taxing multinationals.

With that in mind, the Social Democrats (SPÖ) are drawing up a list of conditions that any coalition partner would have to meet, which would effectively end the ban put in place 30 years ago. The aim is also to help unite a party still deeply divided over whether to do business with the far right.

“It will at least make it a discussion focused on the issues rather than emotion,” said Peter Kaiser, SPÖ governor of the province of Carinthia, who heads the party’s working group in charge of the project.

“Everyone was annoyed by all the debate around a single issue: can we (work) with the FPÖ or not?” he told Reuters.

Although work on what is known as the “catalogue of criteria” is continuing, Kaiser said it included fundamental values such as supporting the EU and the welfare state, as well as women’s equal status in society.

Austria plans to ban the Muslim face veil in public places, the centrist coalition government said today (30 January) as it announced a package of policies aimed at countering the growing appeal of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ).

Such broad principles are unlikely to prevent a coalition with the FPÖ. In 2000, the preamble to a coalition pact between the FPÖ and the People’s Party voiced support for the EU and human rights to allay similar concerns.

That coalition prompted street protests and was marked by several corruption scandals but also by achievements including pension reform. Within three years, however, support for the FPÖ had halved as internal disputes grew, and FPÖ leaders including the charismatic Jörg Haider later left the fold.

The fact the FPÖ has been in national government before and has been a prominent feature of the Austrian political landscape for decades makes talk of a possible coalition slightly less toxic than it would be for similar parties in other countries.

In France, a “republican front” among mainstream parties against Marine Le Pen’s National Front has eroded since her father was trounced in the second round of the presidential election in 2002.

An Austrian petition launched by opponents of a number of EU trade deals has exceeded the number of signatures needed to guarantee it is debated in parliament. The petition calls on Austria’s leaders to hold a referendum on the agreements. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Polls still suggest, however, that she will be soundly defeated in next month’s presidential run-off, and it would be taboo for the centre-left Socialist Party to consider a coalition with the National Front.

Before last month’s Dutch parliamentary election, all major mainstream parties ruled out joining a coalition that included the far-right PVV, saying anti-Islam remarks by its leader Geert Wilders had become too extreme. The mainstream conservatives won the election but the PVV scored big gains to finish second.

In contrast with those countries, two centrist parties have dominated Austrian politics for the past 70 years, often governing together in coalition. Of the 29 governments since the Second World War, 20 have included the SPÖ.

“Social Democracy in Austria has become accustomed to being in government, which leads to being willing to pay a higher price (to stay in power) than is perhaps the case in France,” political analyst Anton Pelinka said.

SPÖ Chancellor Christian Kern’s government is implementing several law-and-order measures meant to eat into FPÖ support, including a ban on Muslim face-covering veils and a tightening of immigration rules.

Chancellor Christian Kern defended Austria’s push for a law to prevent social dumping from poorer EU countries after a meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker where Austria’s demand for childcare benefit cuts for EU foreigners took centre stage.

At the same time, he has taken steps towards treating the FPÖ like any other party, including taking part in a radio debate with its leader last November. “We have never had such a friendly discussion,” Kern said at the time. “In terms of content, however, at least medium-sized worlds divide us.”

The FPÖ says it is open to forming coalitions with all parties, including the SPÖ.

Within the SPÖ, however, debate continues to rage on whether doing business with the FPÖ is a price worth paying for power.

“What is the point of being in the government if we then implement FPÖ policies?” said Julia Herr, head of Socialist Youth, a left-wing group connected to the party, who wants more specific criteria, like support for a wealth tax.

“I think the SPÖ is gambling away its credibility,” she said, referring to the fact that in one province, Burgenland, the SPÖ and FPÖ have been in coalition since 2015.

Austria’s parliament is set to decide on whether or not to formally ban foreign politicians from campaigning on its territory. EURACTIV Germany reports.

For now, however, momentum is with pragmatists like Burgenland’s governor, Hans Niessl. His SPÖ-FPÖ government has approved a cap on benefits for recent immigrants and placed added emphasis on security in Burgenland, which borders Hungary.

“The voter is always right. We practice majority politics,” he said in an interview, adding that in his experience in Burgenland, voters did not object to the SPÖ working with the FPÖ. “Where’s the harm?”

(OBS) Manipulação de estatísticas. Bruxelas aplica multa de 30 milhões à Áustria

(OBS) Durante anos, a Áustria disse ter uma dívida mais baixa que a realidade. A culpa é da gestão financeira de Salzburgo, que até documentos falsificou para passar uma imagem melhor.

Contas escondidas, assinaturas falsificadas, atas de reuniões adulteradas, declarações financeiras maquilhadas, decisões ruinosas e mais de mil milhões de dívida escondida. À primeira vista, até parece uma história sobre um banco português ou sobre as estatísticas gregas, mas o caso passou-se em Salzburgo, na Áustria, e valeu apenas a segunda multa desde a criação das novas regras para combater a manipulação de estatísticas na União Europeia.

São conhecidos os precedentes gregos no que diz respeito à manipulação de estatísticas. Aconteceu mais do que uma vez, por mais do que uma razão. E passou a ser lição nos gabinetes de estatística, entre os responsáveis políticos, economistas e investidores, e deixou a Grécia como o mau exemplo quando se quer falar de problemas sobre a qualidade das estatísticas, a par das estatísticas da inflação da Argentina, manipuladas para que o país pagasse menos nas obrigações indexadas à evolução dos preços.

Mas é da terra de Mozart que surge o mais recente drama, que deixou rapidamente de ser um caso de irregularidades estatísticas para passar a caso de polícia com de tudo um pouco: documentos falsificados, declarações falsas, contas escondidas, investimentos à margem da lei, à margem das regras e fora das contas. A história inclui legisladores benevolentes, autoridades incompetentes e uma responsável orçamental que poderia passar pelo vilão neste enredo policial.

O escândalo foi tornado público no final de 2012, o que levou a Comissão Europeia a abrir uma investigação ao caso, que terminou com uma multa no valor de 29,8 milhões de euros à Áustria, decidida na semana passada, depois de se ter concluído que houve negligência grave que levou a que as regras de contabilidade pública não fossem cumpridas, a que houvesse falta de controlo, registo deficiente de transações financeiras e não financeiras, com os responsáveis por estas práticas a ignorarem o Tribunal de Contas austríaco.

Comissão Europeia: Nos anos em questão, entre 2002-2012, o STAT alguma vez reparou em discrepâncias relevantes entre os dados reportados pela OeBFA [agência que gera a dívida austríaca] e os dados reportados pela região de Salzburg [governo regional]?

Instituto de Estatística austríaco: Sim, sempre.

Este diálogo aconteceu durante a investigação que a Comissão levou a cabo em terras austríacas durante quase um ano e ilustra bem a natureza do caso. De acordo com o relatório da Comissão, durante anos a chefe da unidade de gestão orçamental da região de Salzburgo, com a conivência do poder político que lhe foi reforçando os poderes devido à sua boa reputação de que gozava, geriu as finanças da região.

O caso começou a ser conhecido no final de 2012. Na altura, o diretor do departamento financeiro do governo regional e o diretor da secção regional do Tribunal de Contas anunciaram, numa conferência de imprensa, que a região tinha sofrido uma perda contabilística de 340 milhões de euros devido a maus investimentos em derivados financeiros, culpa das ações ilegais da chefe do departamento de gestão orçamental da região, que enganou os seus superiores e falsificou documentos.

Mas a história não ficou por aqui. Só depois desta conferência de imprensa é que a região e o auditor decidiram avançar com uma investigação mais aprofundada para perceberem o que de facto se tinha passado. As conclusões são arrasadoras. O parlamento regional deu poderes à unidade de gestão financeira para entrar em operações financeiras de alto risco e ignorou as recomendações do Tribunal de Contas.

O governo regional fez ainda pior, passando uma procuração a três empregados do departamento financeiro para fazerem investimentos de alto risco desde 2002, isentando a unidade de gestão orçamental de ser inspecionada pelo departamento de auditoria, particularmente no que diz respeito à contabilidade interna, ao cumprimento das regras de contabilidade orçamental e aos procedimentos de controlo interno.

As autoridades regionais deram, ainda, autorização à chefe da unidade de gestão orçamental para fazer transações financeiras em nome dos fundos de construção imobiliária da região, o que na prática fazia com que, cada vez que esses fundos faziam um negócio com entidades do Estado de Salzburgo, era o mesmo funcionário a representar as duas partes e sem qualquer supervisão.

O caso fica ainda mais bicudo quando, entre maio e dezembro, as autoridades regionais foram informadas das irregularidades e começaram a investigar o assunto – não informando o Tribunal de Contas, que estava a fazer a sua própria investigação -, decidindo, finalmente, cancelar muitos dos investimentos antecipadamente. Só que, para cancelar esses investimentos, as autoridades contrataram um antigo funcionário do Deutsche Bank, curiosamente a mesma pessoa que negociou durante os anos anteriores, mas pelo lado do Deutsche Bank, os investimentos ruinosos levados a cabo pela unidade de gestão orçamental de Salzburgo.

Segundo a Comissão, os erros não se ficaram na esfera das autoridades políticas. O Tribunal de Contas não terá investigado discrepâncias nas contas da região, descobertas pelo Instituto de Estatística austríaco, relativas a 300 milhões de euros de dívida que a agência que gere a dívida de Salzburgo foi buscar ao mercado, mas que escondeu das contas públicas.

Já o banco central não terá reportado à Comissão Europeia as transações da região com derivados financeiros. Bruxelas diz, também, que as práticas de consolidação do banco central se mostraram ineficazes.

Mais importante acaba por ser o papel do Instituto de Estatística, que sabia desde 2010 da existência de discrepâncias nas contas, nomeadamente entre os dados da agência que gere a dívida da região e os dados do banco central. Não só não corrigiu os dados enviados à Comissão, como não informou o Tribunal de Contas, nem o Ministério das Finanças austríaco.

Tanto o banco central, como o Instituto de Estatísticas, tinham conhecimento das irregularidades antes de o caso se tornar público, no final de 2012, diz a Comissão.

A maior fatia do bolo cai sobre os gestores do departamento financeiro, em especial a chefe da unidade de gestão orçamental. Segundo a Comissão, a responsável:

  • ignorou as recomendações do Tribunal de Contas sobre os investimentos de alto risco que estavam a ser feitos;
  • Não respeito o princípio de que qualquer investimento deve ser autorizado por pelo menos duas pessoas, em especial no que diz respeito à abertura de contas bancárias (fora do registo) e outras posições financeiras;
  • Falsificou assinaturas para fazer transações financeiras;
  • Não seguiu princípios básicos da contabilidade;
  • Falsificou atas das reuniões do departamento financeiro enviadas para o Tribunal de Contas para dar uma melhor imagem das contas do governo regional;
  • Falsificou as declarações financeiras enviadas ao Tribunal de Contas, pedidas na sequência de uma auditoria à gestão financeira do departamento financeiro;
  • Criou e escondeu contas bancárias desde, pelo menos, 2003;
  • Criou declarações falsas que diziam que a região tinha 874 milhões de euros em perdas potenciais em 2012, quando na verdade tinha 3.507 milhões de euros;
  • Enviou declarações financeiras falsas às autoridades estatísticas, que levaram a que a dívida pública reportado ao Eurostat em 2012 estivesse 1.192 milhões de euros abaixo do valor real;
  • Mentiu ao Instituto de Estatística, nomeadamente sobre a emissão de 300 milhões de euros de dívida, insistindo ainda que essas posições não deviam ter sido registadas nas contas da região;
  • Manipulou as contas da região durante anos, escondendo e reportando números errados sobre as receitas, despesas, transações financeiras, posições financeiras e fluxos de caixa.

O resultado final foi a multa que se conhece, que só não foi maior (podia ir até 119,2 milhões de euros) porque as autoridades cooperaram e houve uma revisão da dívida pública da Áustria em alta, em 0,2 pontos percentuais em 2010, em mais 0,3 pontos percentuais em 2011 e em 0,4 pontos percentuais em 2012. Mas a revisão também podia ser maior e mais profunda. Bruxelas ainda questionou o Instituto de Estatística porque não tinha feito uma revisão mais longa, mas o organismo considerou que essa revisão seria muito cara e não traria grandes benefícios.

O caso está a ser investigado pela justiça austríaca e pelo Parlamento, que criou uma comissão de inquérito para apurar responsabilidades à volta deste caso.

Valência foi a cobaia

As regras quer permitem à Comissão Europeia investigar e multar um país por manipulação ou negligência grave no reporte estatístico só entraram em vigor em novembro de 2011, devido aos sucessivos casos de manipulação de estatísticas que ajudaram a agravar a instabilidade durante o período mais grave da crise. A Grécia foi o caso mais evidente, já que, por mais que uma vez, foi obrigada a rever as estatísticas do défice e da dívida, mas, mesmo assim, o Instituto de Estatística grego (ELSTAT) não cooperou com o Eurostat.

O primeiro caso a ser investigado à luz das novas regras foi o da comunidade de Valência, em 2015, que também terminou com a aplicação de uma multa à região espanhola, neste caso de 18,9 milhões de euros. A Comissão Europeia concluiu que houve uma falha deliberada das autoridades da região ao esconderem dívida, em especial no setor da saúde, mas não apenas, durante vários anos.

As multas ao abrigo destas novas regras podem chegar a 0,2% do PIB e são aplicadas ao país, e não a uma região apenas, pela transgressão. No entanto, como aconteceu nestes dois casos, caso as autoridades cooperem, as multas podem ser reduzidas substancialmente.

(EurActiv) Austria to reward companies for hiring locals


Christian Kern, Chancellor and leader of SPÖ, the Social Democratic Party of Austria

Austria’s coalition government approved new employment rules today (21 February) to ensure workers already in the country are given priority for new jobs over potential immigrants from other EU states in an attempt to halt an increase in unemployment.

However, the plans could undermine the European Union’s principle of free movement of people and prompt opposition from Brussels. A European Commission spokesman said the EU executive would not comment on legislation it has not yet examined.

Immigration into Austria’s labour market, especially from its poorer eastern European neighbours, has been rising for years due to its significantly higher wages and social benefits. On an anti-immigration ticket, last December, Freedom Party leader Norbert Hofer went dangerously close to becoming the European Union’s first far-right president.

Austrian voters have resoundingly rejected anti-immigration and eurosceptic Norbert Hofer’s bid to become the European Union’s first far-right president, a result greeted with relief from centrist politicians across the continent.

Popular opinion in Austria has swayed in favour of increased border security. A recently published survey by social sciences institute SWS found that 76% of Austrians support the government in their pursuit of stricter border controls.

Three quarters of Austrians are in favour of increased border security. The alpine republic’s new interior minister is set to meet with South Tyrol’s governor, with this pertinent information in his back pocket. EurActiv Germany reports.

Unemployment in Austria is still relatively low at 5.7%, under a harmonised EU measure, but is steadily rising and the government is also facing slower economic growth.

Under the plans, EU nationals already resident in Austria would also enjoy priority along with Austrian citizens over newcomers from outside the country.

“This has nothing to do with hostility towards foreigners. I do not care about the birth certificate but I do want to solve a problem we are dealing with in Austria,” Chancellor Christian Kern said in a Facebook message.

Austria’s Chancellor Christian Kern on Wednesday called on the European Union to end membership talks with Turkey in the wake of a massive government crackdown following a failed coup.

Under the new rules, the government will halve non-wage labour costs for three years starting from July for companies which create new jobs and hire people in Austria changing jobs or registered as unemployed.

Graduates of an Austrian educational institution and highly-qualified third-country workers with a special working permit can also be hired under the plans.

The deal will cost €2 billion and will help to create 160,000 new jobs, the government said.

Kern said he was confident of winning the green light from Brussels, adding that Austria had to find creative solutions to apply European regulations in order to curb unemployment.

(EUobserver) Austria wants to discriminate against EU workers

(EUobserver) EU citizens should be barred from taking jobs if a qualified Austrian has applied to the same position, says Austria’s centre-left chancellor.

Chancellor Christian Kern on Wednesday (11 January) accused east European nations of “exporting their joblessness to Austria” and wants local employers to prioritise Austrians unless no other candidate is available.

“That means – only if there is no suitable unemployed person in the country can [a job] be given to new arrivals without restriction,” he said.

Kern was speaking in Wels, a town whose mayor hails from the right-wing populist FPO. The FPO has seen a historic resurgence in support despite narrowly losing the presidential run-off in December.

Kern’s statement was made during a presentation of a 10-year economic plan, and aims to woo the anti-immigrant voters back into his social democrat party ahead of national elections.

But it also directly clashes with the free movement of workers, viewed as sacrosanct throughout much of the EU.

Articles in the treaty of the European Union uphold the right for any EU national to be treated on equal footing with nationals of that member states.

Kern’s pledge would allow employers to discriminate against people based exclusively on nationality.

Austria’s asylum cap

He also backed government plans to cut Austria’s asylum application cap of 35,000 per year to 17,000.

The cap, first introduced in January last year, allows authorities to impose an emergency decree to turn away people at the border should the threshold be breached.

The 35,000 cap was not reached last year but the move to further reduce it was announced by the head of the People’s Party (OVP), a junior member of the coalition government headed by Kern.

“We want to halve this cap, we want to reduce it to around 17,000,” said OVP leader Reinhold Mitterlehner according to Reuters news agency.

(Local) Rape whistles to be issued for New Year


Rape whistles to be issued for New Year
Portable safety product. Photo: Red Line Security

Austrian police will distribute 6,000 pocket alarms on New Year’s Eve to help prevent incidents like the mass sex assaults in neighbouring Germany a year ago, the interior ministry said on Tuesday.

“It’s a national campaign aimed primarily at women on New Year’s Eve,” ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck told AFP.

If activated, the free gadgets will emit a shrill sound aimed at chasing away potential aggressors, he added.

The ministry earlier announced it would also beef up security at public events following a deadly attack at a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday evening.

Several hundred thousand visitors are expected to ring in 2017 in Vienna, which will host an annual New Year’s Eve party trail in the centre.

Police said revellers will be able to pick up their pocket alarms along the trail.

In 2015, hundreds of women were mugged and groped in a crowd of men of mainly Arab and north African appearance in the German city of Cologne on December 31.

The incidents shocked Germany and fuelled criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal refugee policy.

(HB) Austrian Vote Props Up Ruling Coalition

(HB) Austria’s ailing left-right government will likely refrain from calling early elections next year after Alexander van der Bellen, the Green party candidate it supported, was elected president over the weekend.

Austrian Economics Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner, the leader of the conservative People’s Party, was in high spirits on Monday as he opened the Handelsblatt Austrian Energy Conference.

He said Sunday’s victory of Alexander van der Bellen, a 72-year-old economics professor and former Greens leader, over far-right challenger Norbert Hofer in the presidential election had strengthened the troubled coalition of Chancellor Christian Kern’s Social Democrats and the People’s Party.

“It’s a good decision for Austria. I’d rather have international government leaders send their congratulations than Frau Le Pen, Herr Wilders or Herr Farage,“ he said, referring to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, the head of the Dutch Party for Freedom Geert Wilders, and the former head of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage.

The outcome of the vote reflected the desire of the Austrian people to have less emotion and more normality in politics, said Mr. Mitterlehner, referring to the mudslinging that marked the Austrian campaign for almost a year.

Mr. Hofer, of the anti-immigration Freedom Party, had lost the original May election by less than a percentage point, and Austria’s highest court ruled in July that the election would have to be held again because of irregularities in counting postal votes.

Mr. van der Bellen’s victory makes an early general election unlikely.

Mr. Hofer, 45, who turned up to events with a winning smile, a sharp suit and an Austrian-made Glock 26 pistol, had been convinced he would win, but suffered a clear defeat.

With only postal ballots left to count, the aircraft engineer dubbed Austria’s Donald Trump won 46.7 percent, against 53.3 percent for Mr. van der Bellen, a projection by pollster SORA for broadcaster ORF showed.

Mr. van der Bellen had the support of the two ruling parties and the opposition liberal NEOS party. The voter turnout was around 74 percent, even higher than in the May election when it was 72.7 percent.

“I think forecasts and other estimates should always be questioned,” Mr. Mitterlehner said, referring to polls predicting that Mr. Hofer would win. Ahead of the election there had been speculation that the government, weakened by in-fighting, might call an early election if Mr. Hofer won.

The Social Democrats had favored an election in March 2017 while the conservatives wanted one in May, government sources had said. But Mr. van der Bellen’s victory makes an early general election unlikely. Mr. Kern and Mr. Mitterlehner, his deputy, plan to govern for their full term which runs until the fall of 2018.

The Freedom Party, founded by former Nazis, put a brave face on its defeat. Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache wrote on Facebook: “Today, oh well, a few of us may go shopping wearing shades but tomorrow we’ll work even harder for our Austria and our children.”

Mr. Strache has almost half a million followers on Facebook, more than any other Austrian politician. Opinion polls put support for the Freedom Party at around a third. Its aggressive campaign style didn’t pay off and women in particular were put off by Mr. Hofer’s polemics, pollsters said. According to SORA, 62 percent of female voters opted for Mr. van der Bellen. That, in addition to Mr. van der Bellen’s success in mobilizing his supporters, was one of the main reasons Mr. Hofer lost.

The Freedom Party’s chief ideologist was quick to identify Mr. Mitterlehner as the main culprit for his defeat, saying his endorsement of Mr. van der Bellen had amounted to a “suicide attack.”

If the Freedom Party and People’s Party form a governing coalition in the future, the right-wing populists would likely refuse to accept Mr. Mitterlehner having a role in government.

But there’s no sign at present that the People’s Party will change its leader, even though Mr. Mitterlehner has internal critics. A possible successor is Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, 30, who would be most palatable for the Freedom Party because he has supported the anti-refugee policy of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

It’s unclear if President-elect van der Bellen would approve an Austrian government that contained the Freedom Party. He said during the election campaign that he wouldn’t.

In Austria, presidents play an important role in the formation of coalitions after an election. The Freedom Party governed Austria in a coalition with the People’s Party between 2000 and 2005, and Mr. van der Bellen’s stance heralds a possible political stalemate if the Freedom Party wins enough support to join a government at the next election.

(Economist) Populism hits a snag in Austria’s presidential election

(Economist) The far right’s Norbert Hofer suffers a surprising loss.

THE string of recent victories by populists in Europe and America was interrupted on Sunday in Austria, where voters rejected the far-right candidate, Norbert Hofer, in favour of his pro-European opponent, Alexander Van der Bellen, in a run-off election for the federal presidency. Mr Van der Bellen, a former leader of Austria’s Green party who ran as an independent, received a projected 53.3% to Mr Hofer’s 46.7%—a much larger margin than in their previous match-up in May, which Mr Van der Bellen won by only 31,000 votes. That election was annulled by the country’s constitutional court because of irregularities in the absentee-vote count, forcing a re-run.

Following the Brexit vote in Britain and the election of Donald Trump in America, Mr Hofer and his Freedom Party (FPÖ) had hoped to coast to victory on a similar anti-establishment sentiment. But this time the establishment won the day. In the final phase of an almost year-long campaign, the other main parties, business leaders, artists, intellectuals and the mainstream media rallied behind Mr Van der Bellen to avoid the embarrassment of electing Europe’s first far-right head of state since the second world war. A rise in the turnout indicated that the voter mobilisation was successful.

In his concession speech, Mr Hofer blamed his defeat on a massive campaign against him by Austria’s political elite (a reasonably accurate charge). He vowed to fight back in the next parliamentary election, which is scheduled for 2018 but may be moved forward.

Austria’s federal presidency is a mostly ceremonial post, but Mr Hofer could have used his office to put pressure on the embattled coalition government of Social Democrats and the conservative People’s Party. Poll after poll shows the FPÖ ahead of the two governing parties, and its leader Heinz-Christian Strache aims to form the next government. But Mr Van der Bellen has said repeatedly that he would not appoint Mr Strache as chancellor, even if the FPÖ finishes first, because of its anti-European views.

Membership of the European Union was the central issue in the campaign. Mr Van der Bellen and his supporters warned that a victory by Mr Hofer would push Austria out of the EU. Mr Hofer denied any plans for an “Öxit”, as locals call the Austrian version of Brexit. (The country’s name in German is Österreich.) But he said he would call for a referendum if the EU were to aggregate more centralised power. His opponents drew ammunition from Nigel Farage’s open support for Mr Hofer and from a photo showing him kissing the hand of Marine Le Pen, the far-right French leader and an avowed foe of the EU.

The demography of the vote resembled that of the Brexit ballot in Britain and Mr Trump’s election in America. Mr Hofer won majorities among men, those with less education and residents of rural areas. Women, those with higher education and city-dwellers backed Mr Van der Bellen even more strongly than they had in May.

The election outcome will buy some time for Chancellor Christian Kern, a Social Democrat, and his government to improve their dismal standing with the public. The refugee crisis that began in 2015, in which Austria received over 100,000 asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, stoked anti-Muslim sentiment and boosted the FPÖ, which accused the government of opening the country to criminals and terrorists.

A mediocre economy has not helped. GDP grew by less than 1% in 2014 and 2015, though it has picked up since. Unemployment rose to 5.9% in October, a high rate for Austria, though few other European countries would complain. The government’s opponents blame it for failing to reverse the decline in educational standards or slow the cost increases in the generous pension system. If elections were held today, polls show that the coalition would fall short of a majority in parliament. Some politicians in both parties are quietly considering forming a coalition with the FPÖ, even if they must do so as a junior partner. Austria’s populists may have lost an election that appeared to be theirs to win. But they are far from a spent force.

+++ (BBG) Austrian Nationalist Beaten to Presidency in Blow to Populists


Austrians elected a Green Party-backed economics professor as their next president, spurning the appeal of an anti-immigration nationalist who campaigned to weaken ties to the European Union.

With all regular votes counted, Alexander Van der Bellen defeated Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party by 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent after Sunday’s repeat run-off election to the mainly ceremonial presidency. While mail-in ballots will only be counted on Monday, Van der Bellen’s margin of victory was too great to change the outcome, and Hofer conceded defeat.

Van der Bellen, 72, said that he stood for the “old values” of freedom, equality and solidarity. He also signaled that he wanted to preside over a more active presidency, urging a focus on policies such as efforts to tackle unemployment.

Austria sent a “good signal” today “to the capitals of the European Union,” Van der Bellen, who ran as an independent, said in an interview with public broadcaster ORF. “You can actually win elections with a pro-European position.”

Together with a referendum in Italy also being held on Sunday, the Austrian vote was seen as a bellwether for populist sentiment in Europe after the U.K.’s Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency. Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam Dutch politician, offered Hofer his commiserations on Twitter, as did French National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Nigel Farage, the former head of the U.K. Independence Party, had cited Hofer’s EU-skeptic stance as further evidence of the pressures buffeting the EU “construction.”

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who heads the Social Democratic Party, hailed Van der Bellen’s win as a “victory of reason against right-wing populism,” according to an interview with Bild newspaper. EU President Donald Tusk extended his “wholehearted congratulations” to Van der Bellen in an e-mailed statement.

Year of Acrimony

The result defied projections of a razor-tight finish and ends an acrimonious year of campaign politics that polarized Austria. Van der Bellen, who pledged to prevent anti-EU forces from forming a government, now has to heal the rifts exposed over immigration and economic inequality.

It’s the first time in 70 years the country has elected a presidential candidate outside the Social Democratic or Austrian People’s Party, after both the established parties were eliminated in earlier rounds of voting. It’s also the first time that a Green Party leader has won a popular election in Europe to become head of state since the global environmental movement began.

Van der Bellen narrowly squeezed out Hofer in the first presidential runoff on May 22, but the result was overturned by the Constitutional Court because of irregularities in counting mail-in ballots. Austria’s Interior Ministry showed Van der Bellen won more rural support in Sunday’s repeat vote, and also took key regions in the industrial heartland of Upper Austria as well as in the mountains of Tirol.

Opening Doors

The result is a rebuff to some analysts who predicted Hofer would benefit from the same nationalist forces that propelled Trump to the presidency last month. Hofer campaigned on his ability to court favor inside a Trump White House as well as with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I’m asking my voters to accept that in a democracy, the voter is always right,” said Hofer. He added that he’s looking forward to the next round of national elections where he’ll stand by Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who accused Van der Bellen of orchestrating Sunday’s victory with a “massive campaign of fear.”

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, a Social Democrat who warned last week that the EU must reform or slip into the abyss, struck a more conciliatory tone.

“Alexander Van der Bellen will be a good partner for an open-minded, future-oriented policy of chances and hopes,” Kern said. “To the voters of Norbert Hofer, I say nobody should feel like a loser today. We’re all Austria.”

(EurActiv) Austria’s Nazi past encroaches on election campaign


Austria’s most infamous son, Adolf Hitler, is rarely mentioned in his home country. So it came as a shock to many when presidential candidate Alexander Van der Bellen reached into a folder during a recent live TV debate and produced a photo montage including two images of the Führer.

The former Greens leader was complaining about a Facebook post in which a campaign picture of him walking his dog had been juxtaposed with photographs of Hitler and his German shepherd dog at the Nazi leader’s mountain retreat.

“Do you find that in order?” Van der Bellen demanded of his opponent, Norbert Hofer of the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), naming an FPÖ official as one of the people who had shared the image online.

Hofer, who in the 20 November debate described the post as “dreadful”, has protested at the daubing of his own campaign posters with swastikas and Hitler-style moustaches.
Against the background of the migration crisis, the contest will be watched across Europe as a barometer of anti-establishment sentiment and a test of support for populist right-wing politicians, following Britain’s Brexit vote in June and ahead of elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany next year.It was the latest uncomfortable moment in a long, tortuous campaign for Sunday’s election in which Hofer, who despite his anti-immigration platform disputes the label ‘far-right’, says he has drawn encouragement from Donald Trump’s presidential victory in the United States.

Some historians see the use of Hitler’s image to slur both candidates as another sign that Austria, annexed by Germany in the ‘Anschluss’ of 1938, has yet to come to terms with its own Nazi past. That stands in contrast with the sense of collective guilt every German has grown up with since World War Two.

“It’s only since the second half of the 1980s that Austria’s responsibility has become a topic of discussion,” said Hannes Leidinger, a history professor at Vienna University.

Austria long presented itself as the first victim of the Nazis, a narrative initially supported by the Allies even though large parts of Austrian society celebrated the Anschluss and many took on roles in the Nazi war effort and the Holocaust.
The process is still going on. Until 2013, visitors to an Austrian exhibition in Auschwitz, the Nazis’ most notorious death camp, could see a display reading “Austria – First Victim of National Socialism”. Austria is still updating the exhibit.The so-called ‘victim myth’ only began to crumble in the 1980s when an international scandal unfolded around Kurt Waldheim, who played down his past as an army intelligence lieutenant attached to Germany military units and became United Nations Secretary-General and president of Austria.

Echoes of the past

At a seminar last week next to picturesque Lake Ossiach near Austria’s border with Slovenia, schoolteachers discussed ways to make Austria’s past more accessible to teenagers.

“I was aggrieved when I saw that Waldheim is not an issue anymore for my students. This was so important for my own political socialisation, the break with the victim myth. Pupils are simply not interested in this,” said one teacher, 50-year-old Barbara Rossi.
“The families of the victims and the perpetrators still know each other, they work together,” he said.Bernhard Glitschtaler, 29, a nose-pierced author of several books on Nazi crimes in the province of Carinthia, said he tried several times to set up a memorial for victims of the Third Reich in his native valley, but was rebuffed by other locals.

“It’s hard to imagine that state of mind, where the descendants of the victims still feel shame about their ancestors’ deaths, as well as fear of the consequences if their names are mentioned on a monument.”

Werner Dreier, the director of the government-financed Nazi-era remembrance platform, which has offered advice on how to teach the Holocaust since the early 2000s, says the idea that broader Austrian society carried responsibility has made a “hesitant” entry in school books in recent years.
Gudrun Blohberger, who heads the pedagogical centre at Austria’s Mauthausen concentration camp site, says tours for schoolchildren started to be redesigned around 2007 but the lessons are not yet fully anchored in society.From post-war curricula, which apportioned the blame to military leaders, to the 1990s, when victims’ narratives were the focus, Dreier said the country had come a long way to include the perspective that many civilians helped the Nazis.

“Specifically that you don’t just talk about the past, but that you carry the insights that you can gain from the past into your own thinking and your actions,” she said. “This is something we should work on very hard.”

Most of those taking part in the seminar said it would be wrong to draw simple comparisons between today’s parties like the FPÖ, which criticise Islam and immigration, and right-wing populists in the 1930s.

But some called on teachers to carefully tease out some broad parallels between those times and the present, not only in Austria but also in France or the United States.
One 33-year old teacher, who preferred to remain anonymous, said he tried to draw lessons not only from Austria’s Nazi past but also from other periods like the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Such examples could resonate more strongly with his students, many of whose families have migrated to Austria.“This is about recognising and explaining the overall character of exclusion,” Austrian political scientist and nationalism expert Anton Pelinka said. There was a need, he added, to exert pressure “against hysteria and the construction of fear”.

“You find everything from Islamic State sympathisers to far-right extremists in my classes,” he said. Such students, he added, are worried about jobs and feel largely excluded from politics.

“I try not to use the Nazi era too much,” he said. “I try to draw abstractions from history: people offering simple enemies, simple answers.”

(EurActiv) Austria’s Jewish community makes unusual recommendation ahead of vote


Austria’s Jewish community recommended yesterday (29 November) that voters back an independent candidate at Sunday’s election that could produce the first right-wing president in the European Union – the first time it has ever declared an endorsement.

Former Green party leader Alexander Van der Bellen is running neck-and-neck with the right-wing Freedom Party (FPO) candidate Norbert Hofer in a repeat-election seen as the country’s most important in decades.

For the first time in more than 50 years, Austria’s highest office will be held neither by a Social Democrat nor a Christian Democrat candidate. The election first held in May was won by Van der Bellen but a rerun was called because of irregularities in the count of the postal ballots.

“Van der Bellen is not the lesser of two evils, he is the better candidate and has been a friend of the Jewish community and Israel for many decades,” Oskar Deutsch, President of the Jewish Communities of Austria (IKG), which represents around 15,000 Jews, said on Facebook.

Without naming him, Deutsch spoke out against Norbert Hofer, who is running an “Austria first” campaign and has said that Islam is not a part of Austria.

Withdrawing into the Austrian shell can never be the answer to international crises, Deutsch said. Austria’s president had to respect every religion including Islam and to combat any “anti-attitude” tendencies.

The FPO, whose first leader was a decorated member of the Nazi SS and whose former leader Jörg Haider in the 1990s cited the “proper labour policies” of Adolf Hitler, says it is friendly toward Israel.
Party chief Heinz Christian Strache said he was furious about the sight of swastikas daubed on the Jewish cemetery and called anti-Semitism a crime. Both Strache and Hofer have visited Israel.In early November, the party hosted an event with Rafael Eitan, the Israeli former intelligence officer who hunted down war criminal Adolf Eichmann, to demonstrate its pro-Jewish policy.

“Symbolic visits to Israel are not suitable for covering dubious sets of values,” the IKG’s Deutsch said.