The Rooster in Brussels or Austria’s Twitter ‘Evolution’

31 10 2009

Cremer_Hahn_28102009 Photo: Students protesting in the streets of Vienna, Oct. 29. Photo Credit: Cremer / Der Standard.

“I feel already well-equipped, and speaking English daily will hopefully not cause me to forget German,” Johannes Hahn – the last name Hahn translated into English means rooster or cock – replied confidently in his first public interview with the daily Der Standard of Oct. 28, when asked about his English language knowledge after his surprise nomination as Austria’s EU Commissioner. The current Federal Minister for Science and Research, in office since January 2007, will be Austria’s most influential European politician as part of Emanuel Barroso’s second European Commission.

With the unanimous decision by the Austrian government of Oct. 27 lunchtime, the show-down between the two coalition partners – Werner Faymann’s Social democrats and Josef Pröll’s Conservative ÖVP – eventually found an abupt end. The contest of nomination was mere on the surface, though, as Faymann declared already months ago that his party – though strongest in the Austrian Parliament – would not nominate a commissioner, but played a risky tactical game of which Conservative nominee they would support.
Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements




EP Elections: ‘Where Do You Go?’

7 06 2009

I admit: I have cast my vote in the elections to the European Parliament at about 10.40 am this morning. So, I am one of about 35 to 40 percent of the Austrian electorate – my estimation – that by the end of the day will have cast their vote for the 17 Austrian seats in the European Parliament. In 2004, 42.5% went to the polls.

There were a few novelties for me: For the first time, I made my way to the polling station without any idea who I am going to vote. As resident of Vienna’s most-populated district Favoriten, it is a five-minute walk to the primary school at Keplerplatz, right at the administrative center of Vienna’s 10th district, just off the underground station of the same name and the pedestrian Favoritenstrasse.

While attentatively walking through the streets at a humid but cloudy Sunday morning, I recall No Mercy’s 1996-hit ‘Where Do You Go?’ Indeed, where is Europe heading, I wonder.
Read the rest of this entry »





Krugman Comment: Pröll versus Bankruptcy

3 05 2009

Pröll Budgetrede 21. April 2009Photos: Finance Minister Josef Pröll (standing) delivering the budgetary speech, Apr. 21, 2009. Photo Credit: Matthias Wurz

The plenary chamber of the Austrian parliament was packed by 9:00 on Apr. 21, just like the stands for the general public in anticipation of ÖVP Finance Minister Josef Pröll’s 63-minute presentation of the budget.

At 9:05, Pröll rose from his seat to deliver what was expected to be his most important speech of his career so far, presenting the budgets for 2009 and 2010, which was broadcast live by ORF Austrian Television.

Austria, along with much of the world, is in the worst economic crisis in recent memory and the financial outlook is gloomy. The country’s national debt will increase by 3.5% in 2009 and 4.7% in 2010, well above the permitted Maastricht level of 3%. Consequently, the total national debt will reach an alarming 78.5% of Austria’s GDP by 2013, up from 62.5% in 2008. The bank rescue package (Vienna Review reported, April 2009) weighs with EUR 9.3 billion heavily (2009).

Economic Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner added in Der Standard of Apr. 25 that in order to consolidate the budget in the years to come “we also need new sources of income.” In other words, raise more taxes as the estimated tax income for the state drops by EUR 4.5 billion in 2010. Read the rest of this entry »





NATO passé – Austria’s NATO Strategy

3 05 2009

FRANCE-GERMANY-NATO-SUMMIT-DEFENCEPhoto: from left to right, (Former) NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel at the NATO Summit 2009. Photo Credit: Getty Images

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), found cause to celebrate this year: On Apr. 4, 1949, the collective defense alliance was founded in Brussels on the eve of the Cold War. Sixty years later and now with 28 member states – Croatia and Albania were formally accepted this year – the organization set out to redefine its role after the collapse of communism 20 years ago.

For the first time, the annual NATO Summit was jointly hosted by two member states, France and Germany, whose “close partnership during the course of NATO’s history symbolizes a vision of a Europe whole and free,” according to the NATO website. Following the Summit, member countries’ leaders called for a new doctrine, as the previous one of 1999 neither reflects the changes in Russia nor takes global terrorism – like the 9/11 – into account.

The 60th anniversary also marked the return of France to the allied command structure – a move hailed by members, though deeply controversial within France. French President Nicholas Sarkozy defended his decision by saying that now was time for change:
“Our strategy cannot remain stuck in the past,” he urged at a talk at France’s Strategic Research Foundation in mid-March, “when the conditions of our security have changed radically.” France, Sarkozy argued, will have more influence in NATO missions while the independence of the nuclear-equipped French military will remain untouched.

But all seems well without NATO for Austria, now surrounded by alliance members, except Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The dramatic NATO membership plea by news magazine profil journalists Gernot Bauer and Georg Hoffmann-Ostenhof in the article ‘Holt uns da rein!’ (‘Get us in there!’ Apr. 6 edition) did not, however, spark any further political debate. All political parties seem happy to remain neutral, including those who once argued for NATO membership. Read the rest of this entry »





EURO2008 City Scenes: Kick-Off in Austria

9 06 2008

Photo: The ‘little’ great Croatian supporter wandering in the streets of Vienna. Photo Credit: The picture was kindly provided by kick08.net – see also P.S. at the end of this entry!

I guess, you would need to call this the day in recent Austrian football history, Sunday June 8, 2008. The kick-off to the European Championship took place in Switzerland the day before, but on that Sunday evening, the match Austria vs. Croatia marked the first test for the Austrian team at the Ernst-Happel-Stadium in Vienna.

Switzerland had lost the day before against Czech Republic, so would Austria – the second host nation – face the same fate? Just before 8.00 pm that evening, it turned out, yes, Austria just lost 0:1 against the clear favorites Croatia. But the Croatian fans seemed disappointed, as most of them evidently expected a much clearer result. Unlike in the afternoon, where around 7,000 fans celebrated in the city center at Stephansplatz, in front of the Cathedral; the singing, chanting and shouting continued right into the underground corridors and trains, when the ecstatic crowd made its way to the Stadium at about 4.00 pm. Read the rest of this entry »





Cash Off as Usual – Austrian Parliamentarians Hide Additional Earnings Still

11 11 2007

Photo: For President of the Austrian Parliament, Barbara Prammer, catching a chicken seems evidently easier than having her colleagues agree to publish their additional sources of income.

This time, the debate – or better non-debate – was short-lived: On Oct. 29, 2007, First President of the Austrian Parliament, Barbara Prammer (Socialdemocrats), presented her ideas of improving the parliamentary debates and reforming internal procedures. Among the suggestions voiced was the mandatory registration and publication of MPs additional sources of income (German: Nebeneinkünfte) and make them accessible to the general public via Internet. Prammer referenced the German model, where Members of the German Bundestag have to publish a detailed account in their biographies on the website of the parliament.

Read the rest of this entry »





Iraq 2007: Kangaroos, not Mozartkugeln….

4 11 2007

Photo: Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard (left) and President George W. Bush (right) at the APEC Meeting in Sydney, September 2007.

It was Sep. 7, 2007, Sydney, Australia: Everything is prepared for the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit, and on the eve before the meeting of the head of states, the APEC Business Summit took place in Sydney Opera House. Special guest for that event, chaired by the incumbent Australian Prime Minister John Howard (in office since 1996), was George W. Bush. What should have been a backing for John Howard and rallying support against an impending defeat in the general elections of Nov. 24, 2007, turned out to be an absolute Public Relations disaster, with the U.S. President’s notorious slip of the tongues, causing laughter and amazement among not only the listeners, but also the international press. The war in Iraq, and the Australian involvement proved more unpopular than ever in the country, thanks to George W. Bush. Neat less to say, Howard lost the general elections, and since then the Labour opposition, led by Kevin Rudd, has taken office since. Read the rest of this entry »