Monthly Archives: December 2011
We had another every enjoyable Christmas day and evening entertaining friends. One of our guests added to the festivities by bringing along a rather nice bottle of Heinrich Red 2009. It’s a blend of Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch, St Laurent grapes. This is the second time this month I’ve encountered the Heinrich Red which has now definitively made it onto my list of recommended Austrian red wines.
I was greeted this morning (24th Dec) by my nine year old daughter with the words ‘I can’t wait for Christmas this evening’. She was refereeing to the arrival of Christkindl here in Austria with her first group of presents.
After Christkindl drops by and leave the presents, the wider family will gather together (as many Austrian families do on the 24th Dec) for an evening meal, a little wine or beer, as well as the exchange and opening of presents. Traditionally, such gatherings leave people free to attend church and spend time with the immediate family on Christmas day. Although church membership (in Catholic Austria you are a paid up member) is on the decline, many people do attend mass on the 25th.
Tomorrow I will be awoken by my daughter with the cry of ‘it’s Christmas!’ and in our household ‘English Christmas’ will begin. Father Christmas will have swung by on his way back from Britain and left the second group of presents under the Christmas tree. The morning will then be a mix of playing and frantic cooking to prepare for the arrival of our guests. As many of our friends have already had their ‘family Christmas’ the night before it means that (unlike the rare occasions when we are in England at this time of year) people are free to join us on Christmas day. So for us the tradition has been established that we prepare an ‘English Christmas dinner’ which we share with friends on Christmas afternoon followed by any evening of merriment as the children play with the new toys and adults chat over a glass of wine.
For us maintaining, sharing and blending the family’s two cultures enriches life all year round.
Today Austria Wien has out done Leicester City.
In October the Foxes sacked their manager with the team in 13th place in the league but only 3 points off a play-off spot. Some, myself included, thought this was an overreaction and despite appointing a very good replacement the team have continued to struggle for the form needed to get Leicester back to the ‘promised land’ of the English Premiership. Now comes the news, at the beginning of the winter break, that with Austria just 2 points off first position but in 4th place, we have sacked the manager.
Both clubs began the season with high expectations but have not been able to show the consistency that their respective fans and boards had anticipated. Leicester appointed Nigel Pearson as their new manager, a good choice, but the teams problems have yet to be resolved. Austria have appointed Ivica Vastić who will need to use the winter break to make an immediate impact upon the players as we face two potentially title determining games when the league resumes on the 11th February 2012.
Link to Ivica Vastić profile on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivica_Vasti%C4%87
Talking about last week’s European summit and Britain’s role in Europe, the head of the country’s pro-European conservatives is quoted, here, as saying “Britain must discuss a change of opinion towards Europe. I hope (for a change) because Europe without Britain is unthinkable for me.”
Alas, the leader in question is not a British Conservative showing some signs of sanity and defending the real interests of Britain. Instead the quote is from Michael Spindelegger the leader of Austria’s conservative ÖVP and the countries Vice Chancellor. Unlike the political landscape of the UK, in Austria it’s the conservatives who are often described as the most pro-European of the parties.
Austria currently has the lowest unemployment in Europe, growth has (up until recently) been healthier in comparison to much of Europe (including the UK), and (for the present) the country retains its AAA rating. The Euro has contributed to the country’s economic success and the collapse of the currency would potentially cause significant damage – as it would to the UK.
For many living Austria the Euro crisis has often seemed to be something happening elsewhere – a little irritating, far off, giving money away! However, the country’s debt figure is 73% of GDP compared to 60% only a few years ago and Italy’s troubles have brought matters closer to home as it is a very significant trading partner. The talk now is of debt brakes, taxation and cutbacks especially in the country’s extensive bureaucracy.
Thus Austria is learning that it isn’t quite the Alpine ‘island’ in the middle of Europe that frankly is the way you often feel living here. Getting to grip with the debt, ensuring unemployment remains low (tackling the issue of youth unemployment) and getting the Euro sorted (with or without some of the current club members), all whilst maintaining social cohesion would, I think, sums up mainstream opinion here in the Republic. The anti-euro, anti-Europe glee currently coming out of some sections of the UK body politic sounds particular strange from here given the importance of the European market to Britain, the lack of growth, rising unemployment, as well as the UK’s dependence on the outcomes of decisions from the Euro zone, the States and China.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not actually suggesting that Austria is a model that the UK should be following. In fact, despite Britain’s problems, Austria and other EU members could still gain from adopting some aspects of the Anglo-Saxon approach. It’s just that the little Englander stuff I’ve been reading in recent days reminds me of that rather interesting solution suggested in Tudor times for avoiding invasion from the Spanish Armada – send the English fleet north with ropes and grappling hooks, then tow the British Isles out into the Atlantic.
In all seriousness, sitting here on this ‘Alpine island’, the option of trying to get the Euro/EU back on track looks a much safer bet than putting up the keep out signs and rotting away in obscurity.
Now here’s a clever bit of politics. For those who don’t recognise the smiling face on the picture below, it’s the Mayor of Vienna, Michael Häupl. Now this is a poster from the Vienna Social Democrats and as you can see the Mayor is sporting a tie with the red of the SPÖ but also the colour of his junior coalition partners – in the Vienna State government – the Greens.
The slogan proclaims that red and green are good for Vienna. Or more specifically a little green amongst the dominant red is an attractive combination in the city and suggests that this could be the future colours of a Federal government.
By directly promoting the coalition so positively the SPÖ appears to be seeking to strengthens their appeal to centrist and liberal voters in the city. This positive line is also spun in the press but with enough comments suggesting that the SPÖ is keeping coalition government ‘realistic’ and also focused on core Red voter issues. These Red voters are often more ‘conservative’ than Green or (more moderate) ÖVP voters and are a key battle ground in the fight between the SPÖ and their main rivals the far right FPÖ. But avoiding the loss of or securing voters from the Greens or (the conservative) ÖVP is also an important second front in the battle to maintain their dominant position in the city.
Michael Häupl has been making noises about the potential for the first ever Red/Green coalition at the Federal level after the next election. Whether others of his party share the same enthusiasm is a matter of debate but at present the opinion polls suggest that such a combination would be unable to command a majority in parliament.
Great interview in today’s (Sunday 4th Dec ’11) Independent with Tim Farron, president of the (UK) Liberal Democrats. The article is well worth a read but the points (and the ‘bold type’ is my highlighting) that most stuck out to me were his comments on:
Key themes for Lib Dem’s:
“It’s about being fair, progressive, compassionate. It’s about putting freedom and the ability to make choices about your own life at the heart of everything… understanding the biggest bar to anybody’s freedom is poverty. So our concept of freedom is very different from that of the Conservatives.”
On the Labour Party
What they do need to say sorry for is behaving like a bunch of Tories. They’ll talk about things like ‘we didn’t listen enough’. It’s like cheating on your wife and then apologising for being home late.”
He claims that since the late 1970s, the Tories – and later New Labour – have bought into a culture of “greed being institutionalised, lionised, glorified and treated as a virtue”.
“There are people who like the idea of coalition in abstract but, in practice, how could we possibly go in with the Tories? My reaction is generally that I need daily counselling to cope with it.”
If the article is a taste of the Lib Dem’s efforts to reassert their distinctive images it’s a good step forward.