Monthly Archives: November 2011

Images of a Vienna vineyard in November sunshine


We just had to take advantage of the November sunshine last Sunday and take a stroll through one of the 19th district vineyards:

 

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Filed under Environment, Vienna Life, Wine, Beer & Food

First for quality of life


The Austrian Times is carrying a report, today, about Vienna coming first again in the Mercer ‘Quality of Living’ Survey 2011. As a resident of the city I’d have to agree, though it’s a little ironic to be reading this after we’ve just had a few days suffering from poor air quality thanks to current weather conditions. But yes definitely number one.

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Filed under Environment, Vienna Life

Calm down before you choke on the dust and car fumes


Me: So it looks like there will be a lot of hot air and worst flying around following the decision of the Vienna state government to increase the cost of parking in the nine central districts within the Gürtel – the city’s inner ring road.

Mr. Angry: Well yes frankly when you’ve spent forever trying to find a parking space it’s extremely infuriating to then have to pay for the privilege and now it’s going to cost even more.  You can see the point can’t you? Plus the costs of other city services are going up significantly and we’re already one of Europe’s most expensive cities.  So we’ve got good reason to complain, haven’t we! I think people should be having a jolly good moan and express lots of heartfelt outrage about this…….we’d all agree on that wouldn’t we?

Me: Hmm…Well if we were talking about the city having to hike up the cost of water charges etc after years of holding back increases you might have a point. If you wanted to talk about the level of city debt and its consequences for services and prices you might have something to get your teeth into.  It is really all about politics and choice – past, present and future. By the way, if you really want to talk, rant, or even do something about such issues there is a rather novel, if modern(ish), solution…….go join a political party or at least give some time to a community or campaign group. All over Europe, engagement in political parties is (and has been for years) in decline and then people complain about the quality of politics and their politicians – sorry you get the politics you do or don’t invest in.

Mr. Angry: Okay…uh hmm….well I’m busy and anyway….it’s…it’s…Look this isn’t the point! We are talking about the ‘rip off’ increase in parking charges in central Vienna! You’re surely going to agree with me on that? It’s obviously wrong, disgusting and immoral!

Me: Vienna has one of the best integrated transport systems in Europe and if you don’t want to use the buses, trains, or trams that can frankly get you comfortably from one side of the city to the other in under an hour, well you could always use your bike and take advantage of the good (and growing) network of cycle routes.

Mr. Angry: But, but….but….Ah public transport also costs a fortune and anyway it’s not reliable! So what’s your answer to that?

Me: Well, where shall I start? Reliability: I’ve used the system heavily for about a year now, at peak times and off peak. The phrase that springs to mind is ‘highly reliable’, oh and often easier to get from A to B than when I’ve used the car to do the same journeys. In the past year I have been late for work once due to a train delay. On the few times the trams have delay my journey it’s generally been because of a car hitting or being hit by a tram. Expense: One cost in Vienna that’s coming down is the price of a year ticket for the whole public transport system – from next May the price will fall from its current 449 Euros to 365 Euros. By the way, if you don’t have a year or month pass but do have a season ticket for Austria Wien FC (or the other lot) you can travel free to and from the match. Real cost: It’s true that Vienna is one of Europe’s greenest cities and we may continually, in quality of life surveys, score as one of the top three cities in the world in which to live. However, we have our problems and some of the biggest (and lets ignore some of the other so-called problems some political party’s make up) are linked to cars. The city has an awful lot of them and it has real issues about air quality. Now this is not all linked to cars but heavily congested roads are a significant factor. The state also needs to do more about rising CO2 emissions.

Mr. Angry: Yes, no, but…..hang on, you keep saying you’re an English Liberal! So what happen to my right to choose to drive my car? Well what’s your answer to that then?

Me: Yep, that’s me an English Liberal – freedom, justice and fairness. I didn’t say you, me or anyone else should be denied the right to have or enjoy a car (or even cars). I do think that we should have the freedom to choose, enjoy, oh and be responsible for our choices. So in that spirit we can look again at the city of Vienna. The government provides, at some subsidy, an efficient and effective integrated transport system. The reduction in the year ticket price also has a fairness benefit to those in society with the least choice regarding travel and transport. You still have the choice to drive and park a car in the central areas or use an equally efficient (or better) alternative. If you choose for good or bad reasons to drive then the city seeks (on behalf of everyone) compensation for the cost of dealing with the consequences of your choice. All every reasonable and Liberal won’t you agree?

Mr. Angry: No, no ..NO!! You are just twisting the argument. I already pay my taxes and this is just government interference…and not very Liberal, free market and all that you talk about!

Me: Well recently on my blog I posted a rather good explanation of Liberal attitudes to the market. Let me quote it for you:  ‘Liberals believe that the market should be allowed to function without government intervention when it is succeeding and delivering including in a way that does not lead to socially unfair outcomes or exploitation; but when a market is not operating in either a fair or an open manner, liberals firmly believe that this is when Governments should intervene, to right the wrongs of market failure ……….’  In this case the true cost of using a car is not just road maintenance etc. It’s also the environmental impact now and in the future. Moreover, a distorted market that makes using the car cheaper than its real cost is a distortion that drives (excuse the pun) people into decisions they would not choose given full knowledge and real cost.

Mr. Angry: Bah!!! You just don’t like cars. Anyway, I’ve got to go. I’m late for my doctor’s appointment; they just don’t seem to be able to solve my breathing problem.

Me: Actually, I love driving. We just all have to take responsibility for our actions in a society where we are lucky enough to have freedom of choice. Hope things go well with the doctor.

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Filed under Austrian Politics, City Centre, Environment, Green, Politics, Transport, Vienna Life

Liberals and the free market…..and saving local pubs


I’ve just read this piece about saving the local pub. A good article in its own right and I hope that the Lib Dem Ministers are able to deliver.

However, I particularly liked this summary of the Liberal attitude to the market:

‘Liberals believe that the market should be allowed to function without government intervention when it is succeeding and delivering including in a way that does not lead to socially unfair outcomes or exploitation; but when a market is not operating in either a fair or an open manner, liberals firmly believe that this is when Governments should intervene, to right the wrongs of market failure which there so clearly is in this case.’

Nicely put 🙂

PS: My late father, with whom I would rarely agree, would often say about politics ‘I don’t care what politicians do as long as they leave the working man (person) their pub and a pint we can afford’ or more accurately would say this or similar in somewhat stronger language. On this one I’ve always thought he had a point.

Saving the local is something that’s important to the life of many communities in the UK and potentially a real vote winner for Lib Dems.

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Filed under British Politics, Liberal Politics, Politics

Support for a new Party?


Interesting poll here in Die Presse suggests that around 18% of Austrians would vote for a new Party if one was formed. Given the current corruption scandals, engulfing most of the main political parties, it’s a little surprising that this figure isn’t higher. Previous survey’s have indicated that the level of support would be highest for a new centre party at about 20% but that either a ‘business party’ or ‘left party’ might attract up to 15%.

The headline figures put the far-right FPÖ back down to 25%, neck and neck with the conservative ÖVP on 24%. The centre-left SPÖ has a clear 5 point lead on 30%.

The article highlights that most Austrians would prefer to see the existing parties sort themselves out. This in itself suggests an opportunity for one or more to grab a dominant position if they could successfully refresh their policies and image. To date none have had much success in doing so.

The re-launched ÖVP’s attempts to project a more modern liberal image have been hampered by some sections of the party talking about forming a government coalition with the far-right FPÖ after the next election, as well as appearing at times to be only interested defending the interests of the top earning 5%. Their biggest problem, however, remains that they are the party that is being most damaged by the scandals of the past. On this last point, the one glimmer of light comes in some survey’s I’ve seen that indicate that the party leader has improving trust ratings. However, after appointing a new leader and re-launching earlier this year the ÖVP remains stuck in the opinion polls, draws in support mainly from only a few of the Austrian states and primarily from rural areas.

Attempts by the far-right FPÖ to present itself as a party capable of governing continue to be derailed, partly by its inherent nature and also as a result of various of its members being allegedly involved in a number of the headline hitting scandals. The BZÖ (the more ‘moderate’ of the two far right parties) has been even more engulfed in the scandals of the last government and its attempt to project itself as a economically liberal/socially conservative party has not stopped more than half its support switching to the FPÖ since the last election.

Austria’s Greens have not had any bounce from the events in Japan but instead their poll ratings have, since the last election, made a moderate but steady improvement with the party scoring between 13% and 15% (up from a little over 10% at the last general election). The party appears to have most appeal amongst middle class liberal and left voters. Arguably, given the disenchantment with the ruling coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and conservatives (ÖVP) it should be doing better. As yet it doesn’t appear to have found a formula for reaching more of the liberal supporters of these parties, without facing difficulties with its core Green support and activists.

The SPÖ have been scoring 27% to 30% for much of the year in the polls, this puts them at around the same level of support as they achieved in the last general election (a little over 29%). In State elections over the last few years however their vote has generally been down and in Vienna (where they lost their majority in the parliament) they noticeably lost votes to the FPÖ in traditional SPÖ strongholds, but did take control of districts previously lead by other parties. The SPÖ strategy for some years seems to have been to defend its core vote and no longer seek to build a coalition of voters that would take it back up into the high 30’s/low 40’s. This approach could continue to give it first or second place in Austrian politics but also relies on the FPÖ (main threat to its core vote) continuing to defeat itself and the Greens or a new party not finding a way to take a big chunk of its progressive vote.

So there we have it, Austrian politics. A big prize potentially awaiting the brave but with all the players stuck in their ghettoes, defending what they have and trying to clean-up the mess that comes from stagnating politics. Of course these are not just the conditions from which the brave can rise (or be dragged down) but alas they are also fertile grounds for a charismatic
popularist – though luckily these days’ Austrian politics doesn’t have a Haider.

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Filed under Austrian Politics, Uncategorized

When losing is a positive


They left the field after conceding seven goals and scoring one from a penalty, but the U11 First Vienna Girls Team were in high spirits. Most importantly, last Tuesday night, the girls had had fun and were full of smiles. They had just played their first match together and although an internal friendly against one of the FV Boys’ teams, they had taken that first step towards becoming a competitive team. Of some further satisfaction, I’m told, was that the boys’ team (who I understand have been playing together for two years) did not score the ten goals some of the boys had predicted.

The U11’s showed that they had developed a good team spirit in their first two months of training and possess a lot of individual ability. The challenge now will be to work on their team play and further skills development. Commitment and fun were clearly already on display in abundance and the girls were disappointed that training the following night had been called off, as no pitch was free.

For the girls of First Vienna U11’s the next test will come on the morning of Sunday 20th November when they face their first external opponents. Win or lose, they will undoubtedly enjoy themselves and take a further step towards their goal of joining a competitive league next year.

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Filed under Austrian Football, Football, Girls Football

Is the future Red, is the future Green?


The Mayor of Vienna and leading member of the SPÖ, Michael Häupl, has raised the possibility of a Red/Green coalition governing Austria after the next general election. In his comments made in the Kurier newspaper on Thursday and reported here in the AustrianTimes, Häupl talks about such a coalition being a “reasonable alternative offer” to voters who are or might consider backing the far-right FPÖ.

Michael Häupl’s view seems to have been influenced by his experience of working with the Greens – the junior partners here in the Vienna State government. The Vienna coalition was the first ever between the two parties in any Austrian state.

Should the SPÖ and the Greens at a national level start talking positively about the possibility of working together, in a future national government, it could strengthen their appeal to those centrist and left voters frustrated by the deadlock that often seems to be projected by the current Social Democrat (SPÖ)/conservative (ÖVP) grand coalition. Oddly I would suspect that, whilst this idea might bring some voters back from the FPÖ into the SPÖ fold, such a strategy may in fact have more impact in dislodging  a further chunk of the liberal ÖVP vote (especially in the cities) over to both the Greens and the SPÖ. One danger could, however, be that oddly this centre-left alliance might also have a negative effect on the SPÖ vote, if the FPÖ successfully attacked this new alliance as too moderate – FPÖ popularism has already made inroads into former SPÖ strongholds in Vienna for instance.

If you where to look at the Mayor’s comments with a more cynical eye you might suspect that talk of a Red/Green alliance could have other motives. Current polls indicate that the centre-left would not have enough seats in the next parliament to be in a position to form a government, but as I’ve said above talk of such an alliance might help shift the polls and make this a reality. However, at the present time this idea looks a little more like a warning shot to the ÖVP that they are not the only show in town and unless they give some ground on key issues the SPÖ will make other plans, post the general election. Moreover, such talk may also be aimed at encouraging more liberal SPÖ voters who have or might switch to the Greens to stick with the SPÖ.

Whether through genuine commitment to a potential new alliance or some interesting politics, the Mayor of Vienna could well be creating a new dynamic in the Austrian political scene if he continues to make these comments.

How the ÖVP will react to all this could also be an interesting story to follow. The ÖVP has tried to broaden its appeal and restore its opinion poll ratings by seeking to project a more liberal and modern image. At the same time sections of the party have talked about the possibility of forming a governing coalition after the next election with the far-right FPÖ. So if the SPÖ and Greens really do start talking of an alliance what will be the ÖVP’s response?  Will they throw in their lot with the far-right, seek to try and claim the ‘middle ground’, or try facing both ways and probably watch their vote disappear?

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Filed under Austrian Politics, Politics