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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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 »





Discussing the “European Dilemma” – Interview with Erhard Busek

1 10 2008
Courtesy of Erhard Busek

Copyright: Courtesy of Erhard Busek

In April 1994, after the negotiations for Austria to join the EU were successfully completed, the campaign for the enabling referendum on June 12, began to heat up. At the height of the debate, Brigitte Ederer, the then Social Democrats State Secretary for EU Affairs and now CEO of Siemens Österreich, projected that joining the European Union, every Austrian family would save about 1,000 Schillings a month (about €75) in living expenses through more competitive pricing.

Despite the ongoing political campaign for the general election Sept. 28, 2008, and a busy schedule as a leader of political dialogue, Erhard Busek, former Conservative ÖVP party leader, took time for a discussion about fundamental European issues.

Ederer’s ‘Tausender’ is a promise that has been criticized by political allies and opponents alike, even earning it a Wikipedia entry. Among those critics – then as today – was Busek, at the time Austria’s Vice Chancellor.

“No one can sensually experience this ‘Tausender’,” Busek argued assertively. He is still in disbelief that anyone could seriously make such an argument.

“Everyone expected that they would be handed 1,000 Schillings when leaving a supermarket,” he said incredulously. Not without irony, he points to the current general election campaign, and the “nonsense” – this time, that the Social Democrats could propose to cut the 10% VAT rate on groceries by half – is being repeated almost exactly.

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A Chancellor with Expiry Date

26 06 2008

Who Needs Socialdemocrats? – The Austrian Version, Commentary


Photo: Thumbs up for the SPÖ with dual party leadership?

When Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer (SPÖ) announced on June 15 a minor reshuffle within the Socialdemocratic government ministers, the political commentators were not particularly estonished. The annoncement of a split between the position of a Chancellor – Alfred Gusenbauer – and the SPÖ party leadership – Werner Faymann, to be nominated later this year -, however, was a major political development, for which Austria has almost no tradition.

“In a time in which Socialdemocrats should prosper as never before, it rarely has gone worse for them (politically). Everyone speaks of fairness, but the Socialdemocrats speak about themselves,” so Heribert Prantl, editor for Domestic Politics at the influential German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung on June 14. He was not, however, predicting the political moves of the Austrian Socialdemocrats a few days ahead, but rather analyzing the current state of affairs for the German SPD.

Although both Socialdemocratic parties developed under different political circumstances and conducted their influence in their respective countries in different political constelations, the situation at this point in time is almost identical and best to be understood in a decline of the Socialdemocratic movement within European democracies.

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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.

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