Culture, Media, Science
Chancellor Schüssel: 300 million euro more for pensions in 2005
On 30 November 2004 the Council of Ministers adopted a pension increase for the year 2005. Pensions up to the median threshold of 686.70 euro laid down in the General Law on Social Insurance (ASVG) will be raised by 1.5%. For pensions exceeding this limit a fixed amount of 10.30 euro will be granted. Calculations were based on the consumer price index, growing by 1.5% from July 2003 to August 2004.
“An automatic mechanism ensures that smaller pensions are always adjusted for the inflation rate“, Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel informed the press. In terms of the budget, this corresponds to an additional expenditure of a total of 300 million euro. Since 1999 the expenditure for pensions had risen by more than 4 billion euro, said Schüssel.
The stability programme for the period 2004 to 2008 was another item on the Council of Ministers’ agenda. A significant decrease of the overall tax ratio of currently 42.7% to 40% in 2008 has been envisaged. According to the Chancellor, the government deficit is expected to amount to 1.3% in 2004, 1.9% in 2005 and 1.7% in 2006. In 2007 the deficit would drop to 0.8%. A zero-deficit would again be reached in 2008. ■
Minister of the Interior Strasser resigned
On 10 December 2004 Minister of the Interior Ernst Strasser, a member of the People’s Party (ÖVP), announced that he would resign and work for the private sector. Just one day later Minister of Defence Günther Platter (ÖVP) was sworn in as temporary Minister of the Interior by Federal President Heinz Fischer. Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel stressed that this was a transitional solution. ■
Schüssel: first real decline in unemployment
For the first time since 2001 the labour market statistics have shown “a real decline” in unemployment, emphasised Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel after the Council of Ministers’ session on 7 December 2004. Highly favourable trends were the exponential decrease of young jobless and the sharp decline in older unemployed. The number of dependent employees reached an all-time high of 3.204 million and was a sign of “a real economic upswing”, stated the Federal Chancellor.
With regard to the latest PISA study showing mediocre results for Austria’s pupils, Schüssel requested an educational “discussion without taboos”. According to him, the planned reform dialogue would lead to concrete proposals for improving the school system. ■
Nationalrat’s plenary session: full schedule until year-end
Numerous bills have been on the agenda of the last two plenary sessions of Nationalrat (Lower House of Parliament) before year-end (9/10 December 2004), e.g. the merger of urban and rural police forces, protected zones around schools (Security Police Act), financial equalisation, the health reform, the structural reform of the health system and the reorganisation of the Main Association of Social Insurance Institutions.
The approved financing programme for the health sector provides for an annual budget of about 300 million euro, which is shared in equal parts between the provincial governments and the social insurance institutions. ■
Federal staff representation election 2004: absolute majority for FCG
In the 10th representation elections for federal administration staff on 1/2 December 2004 the Group of Christian Unionists (FCG) was able to maintain its absolute majority (50.16%). Substantial gains were made by the Group of Social Democratic Unionists (FSG) and the Independent Unionists (UG). AUF (Alliance of Independents and Freedomites) with links to the Freedom Party (FPÖ) suffered heavy losses.
The final result of the elections was as follows:
Qualified voters: 232,970 (1999: 262,574)
Votes cast: 194,402 (219,143)
Valid votes: 185,799 (210,681)
ÖAAB/FCG: 93,189/50.16%/178 seats (-24)
FSG: 64,431/34.68%/115 (+16)
UG: 17,437/9.38%/19 (+3)
AUF: 6.998/3.77%/5 (-7)
Others: 3,744/2.02%/25 (-1). ■
Federal President Fischer pays official visit to Poland
On 10 December 2004 Federal President Heinz Fischer travelled for a one-day official visit to Poland. He met with his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski and Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz in Warsaw.
Their talks focused on EU issues, e.g. the forthcoming decision on accession negotiations with Turkey and the ratification of the EU Constitution. Another subject ranking high on the agenda was the political crisis in Ukraine. The most important bilateral issue discussed was the intensification of the economic and cultural exchange between Poland and Austria.
Trade relations between the two countries have developed very dynamically over the past few years. In 2003 Austria’s direct investments in Poland reached 1.05 billion euro – and is thus higher than in any other Member State of the European Union. ■
Federal Chancellor Schüssel in Warsaw
Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel participated in a meeting of heads of government of the Regional Partnership in Warsaw on 8 December 2004. The talks with his counter-parts from Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia concentrated on EU issues and the election crises in Ukraine.
The heads of government tried to reach common positions regarding the EU budgets 2007 to 2013, with Austria – as a net contributor – pleading for a freeze at the current level. Other items brought up for discussion were the future EU enlargement rounds (Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Turkey) and joint initiatives in the framework of the “Lisbon process” to stimulate Europe’s economic competitiveness. Austria championed above all research programmes and efforts to remove bureaucratic obstacles for entrepreneurs, as Schüssel’s spokeswoman Verena Nowotny informed Austria Presse Agentur (APA).
The meeting of the Regional Partnership –originally based on an initiative of Austria – was held in Warsaw since Poland is currently chairing the group. ■
Greek Foreign Minister Petros G. Molyviatis in Vienna
Greek Foreign Minister Petros G. Molyviatis met with Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik for official talks in Vienna on 3 December 2004.
European issues were on top of their agenda. In the preliminaries of the European Council meeting on 17 December 2004, the two Foreign Ministers discussed above all the subject of EU enlargement. “In view of the upcoming decision by the heads of state and government about a possible opening of negotiations with Turkey, I have been highly interested in the position of a direct neighbour of Turkey”, said Plassnik.
“Austria and Greece wished for a stable Turkey oriented towards Europe”, explained the Austrian Foreign Minister. She also stated that the European Commission had come to the conclusion that Turkey was making considerable progress towards European standards but had also listed a number of still unsolved problems, e.g. in the area of human rights.
With regard to Cyprus, Plassnik emphasised: “I am confident that the rapprochement between Greece and Turkey will have positive effects on the Cyprus issue“. ■
Foreign Minister Plassnik at the OSCE Ministerial Council in Sofia
In her address to the 12th OSCE Ministerial Council in Sofia on 6 December 2004, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik underlined the significant role the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) played in safeguarding democratic basic values and human rights. This was ever so important in times of political upheaval. On the occasion of the elections in Ukraine, the OSCE had for example “clearly demonstrated that in spite of the difficult local situation it had been able to accurately assess the election process and to point out major irregularities”, said Plassnik.
Besides unsettled conflicts in the OSCE region (Moldova-Trasdniestria, Nagorno-Karabakh and Georgia), the “combat against new threats such as terrorism, organised crime and an extremely repugnant form of it, i.e. trafficking in human beings, had to remain a key task of the OSCE“. ■
ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet meets with Chancellor Schüssel
On 29 November 2004, European Central Bank (ECB) President Jean-Claude Trichet arrived in Vienna, where he held official talks with Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel. After that he participated in the “Conference on European Integration“ (the former “East-West Conference”) of Austria’s National Bank (OeNB). In his statement Trichet once more expressed his concern about the trend of the euro/US dollar exchange rate.
The ECB chief also reminded of the fact that it was indispensable to comply with the respective criteria before joining the European Monetary Union.
At this meeting OeNB Governor Klaus Liebscher also stressed that the rules of the stability and growth pact had to be adhered to so as not to threaten the stability of the European currency. “For the stability of the euro and the credibility of the European Economic and Monetary Union it is indispensable to observe the fiscal rules of the stability and growth pact, which offer a clear and transparent framework”, said Liebscher. ■
Austria benefits from EU accession
Switzerland was still richer than Austria but Austria’s economy had been benefiting from EU accession, the expert on European integration of the Austrian National Bank (OeNB), Franz Nauschnigg, told journalists in Vienna on 7 December 2004. Since the first signs of a “no” to joining the European Economic Area (EEA) in the early 1990s, Switzerland had recorded a sharp decline in growth.
A comparative study of the Economic Research Institute (Wirtschaftsfor¬schungsinstitut/Wifo) showed that between 1990 and 2004 Austria had registered an economic growth exceeding that of Switzerland by 25.3 percentage points, stated the expert. Based on the Wifo data, Austria’s economy had benefited from EU accession with a growth of 2.9% of its gross domestic product (GDP). Austria’s economy had received more than 45 billion euro compared to Switzerland since 1990, although as a net contributor to the EU budget Austria paid more to the EU than it received (Austria’s net contribution amounted to about 336.2 million euro or 0.15% of the GDP last year). The increase in budgetary revenues had “more than compensated” for this gap, assured Nauschnigg. Direct investments by foreign investors had increased from 0.85 billion euro to 46.7 billion euro from 1990 to 2003.
According to studies conducted by Wifo, the Austrians had reaped benefits between 700 and 5,000 euro per capita from joining the EU. Besides the welfare effects, consumers had also profited from more inexpensive products, explained Nauschnigg. ■
ÖIAG sold 17% of its Telekom Austria shares
In only four hours the Austrian state holding company ÖIAG completed the largest transaction in the history of the Austrian capital market on 2 December 2004, selling another 17% (85 million shares) of its holding of Telekom Austria (TA) through the Stock Exchange to domestic and international investors. At a price of 13.05 euro per share, the revenue totalled 1.1 billion euro. This allows ÖIAG to cover the major part of its debt amounting to 1.8 billion euro in late September.
ÖIAG still holds about 30% (including a 5% convertible bond) of TA and may sell further TA shares in June 2005 at the earliest since a 180-day blocking period is applicable. A new resolution by the Supervisory Board is necessary to implement the next TA privatisation step. According to the government’s mandate, TA has to be fully privatised by 2006. ■
VA Tech: Siemens bid with 55 euro per share
The German electrical group Siemens has recently officially submitted the announced bid for the take-over of the listed Linz-based technology group VA Tech: an unchanged price of 55 euro per share is offered. The shareholders are granted a period for acceptance of 40 trading days ending on 9 February 2005.
The aim of the voluntary public take-over bid – submitted by Siemens Austria – is the acquisition of about 12.8 million ordinary shares corresponding to 83.55% of the capital stock. 16.45% are already held by Siemens. ■
Morak: prizes for the integration of people with disabilities
In 2003 the prize acknowledging and promoting artistic and cultural projects on the integration of people with disabilities had been offered for the first time. On 7 December Secretary of State for the Arts Franz Morak awarded the 2004 prize “aiming at the active involvement of people with disabilities in artistic processes“. The prize of acknowledgement went to the Salzburg-based “Theater Ecce“, which has impacted the dance and theatre scene for ten years and has integrated disabled actors in several productions. The prize promoting topical artistic and cultural projects was conferred on the artists’ collective “sinnlos” from Styria, that had developed a programme defining “difference as a quality but not a stigma” in Graz in 2003. The recently issued publication “sinnlos, wider die methoden der be- und verhinderung“ (Springer, Vienna/New York), documenting this work of 2003 was also given a special mention. ■
Federal Chancellor Schüssel: ceremony for Friederike Mayröcker
On the occasion of the 80th birthday of Friederike Mayröcker, Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel invited the great author – State Prize and Büchner Prize winner – to a ceremony (that was still going on at the editorial close) in the Federal Chancellery. The festive event was opened by Secretary of State for the Arts Morak. The Küchl-Quartett presenting works by Haydn and Schubert was responsible for the musical programme. For over 60 years Mayröcker, “soul mate“ of her deceased colleague Ernst Jandl, has ventured into the still unexplored territories of expression with linguistic virtuosity. Among her enchanting texts are “Ausgewählte Gedichte“, “Magische Blätter“ and the love story “Brütt oder Die seufzenden Gärten“. ■
Morak pays tribute to “Kulturbrücke Fratres“ for cross-border work
On 1 December 2004 at Vienna’s Palais Porcia Secretary of State for the Arts Morak awarded the cultural association “Kulturbrücke Fratres“ (Lower Austria) the “prize of acknowledgement for cross-border cultural work” initiated by Morak in 2001. The festive speech was delivered by the author Lotte Ingrisch, widow of composer Gottfried von Einem. Since 1995 the association “Kulturbrücke Fratres“ from the small village Fratres with 28 inhabitants in Northern Waldviertel (Lower Austria) has sought to intensify relations with the neighbouring village Slavonice (Czech Republic) by engaging in joint cultural work, e.g. in the field of visual arts, with music and dance, literature and architecture.
The prize was founded to pay tribute to those cultural initiatives and artists’ associations launching exemplary projects of cooperation with neighbouring countries – including sustainable cultural work – in Austria’s border regions. ■
Vienna: celebrations for Elfriede Jelinek
On 10 December 2004 Elfriede Jelinek was awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in Literature in Stockholm. Tribute was paid to the absent author in her “home” city, Vienna, which she despises and appreciates at the same time. At Burgtheater friends like Gert Jonke, Christoph Schlingensief, Olga Neuwirth as well as actresses like Kirsten Dene and Maria Happel celebrated the poet. Akademietheater performed the play "Das Werk“ about the Kaprun tunnel. Jelinek dramas were presented also at other European theatres, e.g. in Stockholm and Munich. In front of the Burgtheater the about 50-minute Nobel Lecture (“Sidelined“) was transmitted. The author read from her manuscript placed on a music stand. She addressed for example the writer’s role as an outsider as well as the difficulty and fleetingness of linguistic expression. The audience, among them numerous tourists, also enjoyed the culinary pleasures of the party: mulled wine, sausages and goulash soup.
At Literaturhaus (Vienna) the expert in German philology Pia Janke and eight co-workers presented the “Werkverzeichnis Elfriede Jelinek“, offering on 650 pages a meticulous philological compilation of Jelinek’s entire oeuvre and reflecting the various forms of public reception. Jelinek’s work – from her first publication in 1967 to the present – comprises not only the prose and theatre texts for which she became famous but also poetry, librettos (for the music of Olga Neuwirth), radio plays, scripts, projections and installations. The new media play a decisive role in some of these projects. The author has written about 400 essays for newspapers and magazines. This documentation can be considered a standard work and the starting point for future research on Jelinek.
Literaturhaus Vienna presents a highly interesting Elfriede Jelinek exhibition (ending on 22 December 2004) with controversial newspaper articles about the Nobel Prize, all her books and photos (e.g. by Sepp Dreissinger). ■
Morak awards 2004 Erich Fried Prize to Brigitte Oleschinski
The 2004 Erich Fried Prize of Internationale Erich Fried Gesellschaft für Literatur und Sprache offered by the Republic of Austria and conferred by Secretary of State for the Arts Franz Morak went to lyricist and essayist Brigitte Oleschinski, 49, born in Cologne. In her words of thanks she referred to poetry as “the most important form of thought still to be discovered in the present”. Oleschinski, who studied political science, now works in Berlin as a contemporary historian investigating the political repression in the 20th century. Among her most acclaimed poetry volumes are “Mental Heat Control“ and “Geisterströmung“. The sole prize juror was Büchner Prize winner 2004 Wilhelm Genazino (“Abschaffel“). In his laudatio he said that the author transformed “the unreasonable demands of modern life with almost scientific precision (...) into lyric images“. ■
Morak: Artothek of the Republic of Austria presents acquisitions online
The acquisitions made by the art library “Artothek” of the Republic of Austria during 2003/2004 can now be viewed on the Internet. At the opening of the exhibition running until 14 January 2005 at Palais Porcia in Vienna, Secretary of State for the Arts Franz Morak presented the “virtual museum“ as a new platform for the digital presentation of Artothek. According to Morak, the library comprised more than 30,100 objects, the majority of which had already been recorded digitally. The photo documentation as well as the databases of the e-museum were updated on an ongoing basis. Hence, the Artothek was the most comprehensive documentation of contemporary art from Austria. ■
Fischer: Prize to Waris Dirie
Federal President Heinz Fischer acknowledged the work of UN special envoy Waris Dirie from Somalia by awarding her the Romero Prize of the Catholic Men’s Movement at Vienna’s Museumsquartier on 25 November 2004. With her “Desert Flower“ Foundation, named after her famous autobiography, the former nomad girl Waris Dirie combats female genital mutilation. Heinz Fischer praised Dirie’s humanitarian commitment. ■
Austrian National Library: exhibition “Looted Books“
Until 23 January 2005 the Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek /ÖNB) shows the exhibition “Looted Books”. The ÖNB confronts its Nazi past“. The show documents the Library’s unlawful acquisition policy during the NS regime, the history of restitution from the after-war period to the contemporary research on the origin of the books. Eight exemplary cases of confiscation benefiting Austria’s National Library are spotlighted, e.g. that of the sisters Elise and Helene Richter, two scientists killed in Theresienstadt, or of Heinrich Schnitzler, Arthur Schnitzler’s son, who had emigrated to the USA. Today it is impossible to determine the precise number of objects improperly acquired by the ÖNB between 1938 and 1945. The report on the origin of the looted books finalised in 2003 lists more than 25,000 works acquired unlawfully. Some of them have already been restituted pursuant to the 1998 Act on Art Restitution. As the legitimate owners or heirs of a major part cannot be identified, these works will be transferred to the National Fund for the Victims of National Socialism. ■
Vienna’s Central Library: “the most beautiful books“
Vienna’s Central Library shows 160 typographically exemplary books (e.g. art and children’s books, novels) from Germany, Switzerland and Austria (until 28 January 2005) – among them Josef Hoflehner’s “Frozen History“ awarded the Austrian State Prize in 2003. ■
Vienna’s Albertina: Marc Chagall’s “Myths of the Bible“
The oil paintings and studies of the cycle “Myths from the Bible“ by the Russian-French painter Marc Chagall are presented at Vienna’s Albertina until 28 March 2005. The works are loans from the Chagall Museum in Nice, currently closed for renovation. More than 150 paintings, pastels and gouaches provide insight into Chagall’s imaginative, magical interpretation of the Holy Script. It was inter alia with this series that the painter, child of a poor Jewish family from Belarus, won renown as one of the most important pioneers of modernism. ■
3 museums: Rubens in Vienna
A male hand grasps the buttocks of a woman. This scene is depicted on the poster “Rubens in Wien“ put up all round the city, advertising for “3 Museums. 100 Paintings“. Until 27 February 2005 three museums – Lichtenstein Museum, Museum of Art History and the Gallery of the Vienna Academy of Visual Arts – present their common treasure. The “world’s largest Rubens show“ offers a superb overview of the ouevre by Peter Paul Rubens. The new Liechtenstein Museum wants to draw public attention to the masterworks, which after the return of the Princely Collections have been reunited in Vienna for the first time since 1938. With about 40 paintings, the Museum of Art History (KHM) hosts one of the most important Rubens collections outside the artist’s native Antwerp. It does not only show works from all creative periods of the Flemish baroque painter but also highlights the diversity of paintings from altarpieces, portraits (e.g. “The Little Fur”) to landscapes. The KHM’s exhibition is rounded off by loans from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. The Rubens show of the Academy’s Gallery at Schillerplatz in Vienna focuses on the small-size oil sketches the master executed with swift brushstrokes for his compositions in colour (often of huge dimensions). The erotic highlight is “Boreas Abducting Oreithyia“ (around 1615) – a detail of which can be admired on the poster. ■
Jewish Museum: Franz Schreker. Border Crossings, Sound Frontiers
With the exhibition “Franz Schreker. Border Crossings, Sound Frontiers“ open until 24 April 2005, the Jewish Museum Vienna continues its series of exhibitions under the motto “revolution in music” launched with a show featuring Hans Gál and Egon Wellesz. Works like “Der ferne Klang“, “Die Gezeichneten“, “Der Schatzgräber“ and “Irrelohe“ made Franz Schreker (1878-1934) one of the most important opera composers of his generation. His entrancing soundscape opened up new perspectives, which were further developed only some decades later, e.g. in the music by Witold Lutosławski or György Ligeti. His daring opera dramaturgy anticipated the visual language of the film. He wrote his own librettos exploring a world in transition. The exhibition offers a unique overview of the music and opera history at a crossroads between romanticism and modernism. Moreover, it highlights the situation of the Jews striving for emancipation and assimilation based on the example of Schreker’s parents – his father was a Jewish court photographer, his mother came from an Austrian aristocratic family. Numerous pieces of his estate (scores, manuscripts, photos) are shown for the first time. ■
Amadeus Classic Award: Markus Rogan charms Anna Netrebko
Anna Netrebko, the sensual Russian singer, recently received the “Amadeus Classic Award“ at the headquarters of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) in Vienna for her debut –“Opera Arias“ with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. The charming laudatory speech was surprisingly held by the confessed opera and Netrebko fan Markus Rogan, Austria’s star swimmer of the Olympic Games in Athens, who has recently won several gold medals at the European Short Course Championship in Vienna. He explained that athletes and singers had a lot in common as they were going beyond limits, overcoming defeats and were committed to great goals. Listening to Netrebko as Donna Anna in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni“, he knew that she would be “the new soprano star“. Donna Anna blushed when she heard this. ■
“Sport, Tolerance and Fair Play“ at Vienna’s Museumsquartier
On 7 December 2004 Secretary of State for Sports Karl Schweitzer opened the touring photo exhibition “Sport, Tolerance and Fair Play" of the Council of Europe at Vienna’s Museums-quartier. The principle of fairness was an important foundation of sport. Observance of the rules, equality of opportunities and mutual respect of the competitors were indispensable prerequisites, stated Schweitzer. "Competitions are a form collaborating – and that is the fascinating thing about sport." Sport was the best school of life teaching how to win but necessarily also how to lose, to accept rules and to integrate in a team. "We do not have to reflect on the principle of fairness for ourselves but should make those starting sport now familiar with it. It is vital to teach our children and youngsters all those values that count in sport for their every day-lives." The exhibition, which may be visited at Freiraum / transeuropa of Museumsquartier in Vienna until 30 December 2004, is based on an idea of the Council of Europe to promote fairness as an important basic principle of sport. The exhibition was premiered in Budapest from 13 to 15 October 2004 and is likely to be shown in another 13 countries by summer 2005. In 50 moving images from 18 European countries renowned photographers visualise the ideal of fair play. The photos are grouped by themes: care, joy, friendship, team spirit, equality, respect and integration. ■
Schweitzer advocates more sport-friendly structures at universities
In the framework of the "Roadshow of the World University Winter Games 2005" (Innsbruck/Seefeld from 12 to 22 January 2005), a discussion on “the situation of top-level athletes studying at Austrian universities" was held at the restaurant of the Austrian Parliament on 1 December 2004. Karl Schweitzer, Liese Prokop (Vice-President of the Federal Sport Organisation), Wolf Frühauf (Head of Department, Ministry of Education, Science and Culture), Michael Bielowski (Chairman of ISOC 2005 and deputy mayor of Innsbruck), Joachim Roland (Managing Coordinator of the General German University Sport Association) as well as the athletes Marco Falchetto and Karin Huttary discussed the problems of coordinating the time schedules of university studies and professional sport training, the lack of reconciliation models and the consequential danger of dropping out. The discussants arrived at the conclusion that it was necessary to introduce forms of organisation at universities showing understanding for parallel sport and university careers, supporting them and facilitating their co-existence. “The main objective is to implement structural changes at universities and to give positive impetus to athletes. By taking into account the sport background and responding to individual needs athletes would certainly be supported greatly and major progress would be made", said Schweitzer. Top-level athletes should be granted incentives to study at university, e.g. longer duration of studies without paying additional tuition fees, established posts for targeted student tuition (employing mentors, career counsellors or career planners) and special schemes with greater flexibility regarding exam dates and submission deadlines (offering adjusted study plans).■
Austria’s greatest success in the history of its swimming sport
Markus Rogan (2 x gold, 2 x silver), Mirna Jukic (2 x silver) and Fabienne Nadarajah (1 x bronze) won seven medals at the European Short Course Swimming Championship in Vienna. Upon conclusion of her career Judith Draxler was awarded by Secretary of State Schweitzer the Golden Badge of Meritorious Service to the Republic of Austria granted by the Austrian Federal President. ■