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.
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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.
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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 »





Competing with the Far-Right on Europe

28 01 2009

Saturday, Jan. 17, was a historic moment for Austria’s Green Party. On the party congress, held in Klagenfurt, Eva Glawischnig, the nominated new party leader succeeding Alexander van der Bellen, received 97.4% of delegates’ votes (228 of 234), a truly remarkable result and the highest approval rate for any Green Party leader in its history.

Party officials hail this convincing result as a sign of unity of the party, severely shaken after its disappointing election result of Sept. 2008, where the Green Party dropped to the fifth place in parliament with 10.4%, unable to defend the third place (11 %) of 2006.

Glawischnig, in an attempt to differentiate herself from her more conservative-leaning predecessor van der Bellen, evidently plays the populism card on questions of the European Union in order to regain national attention.

“The Treaty of Lisbon is dead”, she declared in rhetoric similar to the far-right parties in an interview with Der Standard on Dec. 11, 2008. And she continued on the perspective that the accession negotiations with Turkey were successfully completed:

“Since the (European) Union failed at the Treaty of Lisbon, it has to ensure that its institutions work effectively with the new number of members. This is still a huge construction site. Under the current conditions, the EU is not receptive (to new members).”

This dramatic shift in European politics, announced first in a newspaper interview, inevitably provoked an open conflict with Johnannes Voggenhuber, longstanding MEP and as a member of the European Convention intimately acquainted with the EU constitutional process. Not surprisingly, Voggenhuber has been an adversary of the Constitutional Treaty and the succeeding Treaty of Lisbon.

Indeed, Glawischnig’s tactical shift on Europe was aimed at the removal of Voggenhuber as leading candidate for the elections to the European Parliament, to be held in June 2009. Following election result for the party at the last general elections, among young voters – a majority of voters aged 30 and younger supported the FPÖ with 44% – at the national election of September 2008, Glawischnig seems determined to win back this traditionally Green-leaning electoral segment at all costs.

Despite Glawischnig’s clumsy attempt of publicly undermining Voggenhuber, she did indeed succeed at the party congress on Saturday, Jan. 17: Ulrike Lunacek received the support of the majority of party delegates (54.7%) and consequently sent Voggenhuber into early retirement.

Nevertheless, Voggenhuber hit back by declaring his intention of a solidarity candidacy on 16th place. If he is supported by seven or more percent of the Green party electorate, he will be guaranteed the parliamentary seat.

Eva Glawischnig, the newly elected party leader has impressively demonstrated her assertiveness in personnel matters, yet the party has paid a high political price: Like the two far-right parties, sacrificing long-term political aims for short-term electoral gains. Soon we will know whether this was a wise strategy.

This is an excerpt, the full article was published in February 2009 in The Vienna Review.





End of an Era – The passing of two politicians who shaped late 20th century Austria

15 11 2008
Helmut Zilk and Thomas Klestil

Helmut Zilk and Thomas Klestil

Photo: Helmut Zilk (left) and Austrian President Thomas Klestil. Photo Credit: Österr. Bundesheer

Far right leader Jörg Haider’s sudden and tragic death in the early hours of his mother’s 90th birthday celebration, mirrored his political life. The Carinthian regional governor was a whirlwind, a controversial and charismatic populist, who successfully dominated Austrian domestic and international politics for over two decades.

Less than two weeks later, Austria mourned yet another political firecracker: Helmut Zilk, former Social Democratic Mayor of Vienna (1984 – 1994) died peacefully in his sleep Oct. 24th. at the age of 82. Zilk, although nominally retired, was still was actively involved in Austrian politics until a few years ago, and certainly willingly offered criticism on almost anything to do with the SPÖ.

His reach beyond party politics brought him respect from political opponents. Among those was Erhard Busek, Zilk’s political adversary, who called him a “Streithansl (squabbler) but also a man with a sense for reconciliation.” Read the rest of this entry »





1,000 Readers & a Happy New Year 2008!

19 01 2008

Slideshow: Some Firework shots, New Year celebration in Vienna 2008 . Copyright: Matthias Wurz

What can I say? Today, almost exactly three months after my first entry in my blog here I have reached 1,000 unique hits! This is amazing, because this is not a commercial site, and I have no time at this stage to strategically develop it, or contribute as regularly as I wish. Nevertheless, there were always readers here, even at times when I had not written anything for weeks. I can only say: Thank you very much!

Let us celebrate this day with some fireworks! And let me also wish you and your families my best regards for the New Year 2008! Despite that I was ill during the holiday season, I was able to watch some of the excellent firework displays from my own apartment on New Year’s Eve, and some of the pictures you can see here now.

Please come back regularly, as I shall be contributing almost daily. This blog is, however, different, from most other blogs, as the entries are much longer. This is because I am drafting stories for the newspaper, or analyze and comment political events, rather than quickly reporting them as any other news agency, paper or television station. It takes time to write and consequently to read. This is, after all, a blog for readers – for You!

The coming days are exciting as ever: Tomorrow are the elections in Graz, and the tension of what effect the racist campaign of the far-right FPÖ has on the overall election result is one I shall be commenting tomorrow. Also, the Democratic Caucasus in Nevada takes place today, and its equally unpredictable result shall give me the opportunity to comment on the political phenomenon Barack Obama.

Lots to come and lots to read! Stay on course, comment on what I am writing and, if applicable, disagree with me. That’s what journalism and writing blogs is all about.





Who is Anybody?

15 01 2008

Video Clip: Excellent short clips by young German producer Jochen Graf for ZARA. Freely available at http://www.filmproduktion.org/zaraspots/

Graz, Austria’s second largest city with about 280,000 inhabitants, has upcoming local elections. Not that this is of international, or as a matter of fact national, importance, the struggling local right-extremist FPÖ wished otherwise. Seeking attention on national media, their local party leader exclaimed once of the most horrendous racist remark voiced in an Austrian election campaign. I do not wish to promote neither the comments nor the person, so let us codeword this person as Anybody.
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