Culture, Media, Science
NS restitution: payments start still this year
“With the dismissal of the last action pending we have achieved legal certainty”, announced Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel after his meeting with US President George W. Bush in Washington on 8 December 2005. One day earlier a New York court had dismissed the last pending class-action lawsuit against Austrian enterprises. Thus the last requirement for disbursements from the General Settlement Fund has been met.
The Council of Ministers formally declared legal certainty in connection with NS restitution payments on 13 December 2005.
The first payments and advances from the General Settlement Fund endowed with 210 million US dollars (176 million euro) to victims of the NS regime (about 19,300 applicants) would still be made before year-end. These payments are to compensate for financial losses caused during the NS period on the territory of present-day Austria.
Now the Fund will be endowed within 30 days (from the date of the Council of Ministers’ resolution and promulgation in the Federal Law Gazette, BGBl. II No. 414/2005) by the federal government, the City of Vienna, banks, insurance companies, industry, the Economic Chamber and the ÖIAG state holding company.
The President of the Jewish Religious Community (IKG), Ariel Muzicant, reacted to Schüssel’s declaration on legal certainty “more than satisfied”. “We rejoice”, said Muzicant. A special agreement on restitution payments totalling 18.2 million dollars had already been entered into with the Jewish Religious Community in spring of this year. After that the IKG withdrew its support for the last pending class-action lawsuit in the USA. ■
50 years of Austria in the UN
To mark the 50th anniversary of Austria’s membership in the United Nations, a ceremony was held in Vienna’s Hofburg on 14 December 2005, in which Austria’s political leadership and high-ranking officials of UN organisations participated.
In his festive speech Federal President Heinz Fischer described the United Nations as “irreplaceable” and “by far the most important global peace instrument”. Alluding to recent statements by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the Austrian head of state criticised that it was completely “unacceptable to deny a UN member, in the concrete case Israel, the right of existence“ .
Just like Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, Fischer expressed appreciation for the merits of former Federal President Kurt Waldheim, who attended the ceremony. Together with then Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, Waldheim – UN Secretary General from 1971 to 1981 – had achieved that, after New York and Geneva, Vienna became the third UN seat in 1979.
In his statement Federal Chancellor Schüssel underlined Austria’s engagement in international peace missions. Austria’s membership in the EU “was not in contrast” to UN membership.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan described Austria as “one of the strongest supporters of peace missions” in a video welcome statement.
Recent Peace Nobel Prize Laureate and head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohammed ElBaradei explained that multilateral diplomacy was indispensable for tackling “global threats“ like terrorism, poverty and weapons of mass destruction.
Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said that Austria and the UN stood for “50 years of work dedicated to peace in the world“. ■
Commemorative year: Schüssel summarised favourable results
“The commemorative year offered us an opportunity for an in-depth analysis of our own history. Today we can look back on favourable results“, Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel summarised the events of the anniversary year drawing to a close.
A total of more than 1.25 million visitors were counted at the events of the “commemorative year”. The two large-scale exhibitions at the Palace of Belvedere (Vienna) and at Schallaburg (Lower Austria) attracted an audience of more than 500,000. In addition 60 book publications were supported, said Schüssel.
Secretary of State for the Arts Franz Morak described the commemorative year as “a look into the mirror of memory“. ■
Chancellor Schüssel on EU budget: “Result is acceptable“
Federal Chancellor Schüssel was pleased about the agreement reached at the EU summit (15/16 December 2005) concerning the EU Financial Perspecitves 2007 to 2013. This was a “moment where something like a historic context” could be perceived. For the first time 25 EU Member States had agreed on a common budget. “Cooperation can work even in hard times”, stressed Schüssel.
For Austria the future EU budget was a reasonable compromise. Austria’s net contribution to the EU would increase from currently 619 million euro to an average of 860 million euro annually but Austria also stood an “exponential chance” of benefiting from support programmes for the New Member States, explained the Chancellor in the discussion with the press televised by the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) on 18 December 2005. The current level of funds received in return of about 11 billion euro would remain stable in the next financial period. Moreover, the agricultural subsidies of an almost unchanged level of 3.1 billion euro had been guaranteed. In the future the EU would cost Austria nine euro per capita and month, this was a plus by 1.50 euro. “I think this is acceptable“, said the Federal Chancellor. ■
Federal Chancellor Schüssel pays official visit to US President Bush
Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel met with US President George W. Bush for an in-depth exchange of views in Washington on 8 December 2005. Items high on the agenda were bilateral issues and the Austrian EU Presidency 2006. After the talks in the White House, Schüssel announced “with great pleasure” that the principle of legal certainty regarding restitution had been satisfied after dismissal of the last US class-action lawsuit pending against Austria and that payments to the victims would start still this year (see Home Affairs). In the context of Austria’s forthcoming EU Presidency, Bush had underlined Europe’s vital importance as a strategic partner of the USA, notably in the trouble spots on the Balkans and in the Middle East.
The western Balkans and the Transatlantic relations, with security cooperation between the EU and Nato playing a major role, would also be a priority of Austria’s EU Presidency, explained Schüssel as the future EU Council President.
With regard to the criticism about the controversial CIA flights to Europe, the US President had explicitly emphasised the respect of human rights and rejection of torture, said the Federal Chancellor. ■
European Council Secretary General Solana meets with Plassnik
Javier Solana, High Representative for Common Foreign Security Policy (CFSP), arrived in Austria on 13 December 2005 for a two-day official visit. His programme included talks with Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik as well as meetings with Federal President Heinz Fischer and Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel.
“I have no doubt that the Austrian EU Presidency will become a success“, stated Solana at a joint press conference with host Plassnik. The EU CFSP High Representative was optimistic that the political leaders in Europe were aware of the increasing number of EU projects, e.g. on the Balkans, and that “more funds” would be made available for crisis management.
Foreign Minister Plassnik was pleased about the fact that on 13 December 2005 Parliament in Vienna had passed a resolution approving Austria’s participation in five EU police and military missions (on the Balkans, in the Palestinian regions and in Sudan). ■
Conference of Presidents of the EU Parliament visits Vienna
On the occasion of the Austrian EU Presidency in the first six months of 2006, the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament paid an official visit to Austria on 19 December 2005. The leader of the delegation was President of the European Parliament Josep Borell Fontelles.
At a meeting at Vienna’s Hofburg, the federal government headed by Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel announced the priorities of the Austrian EU Presidency. The event was followed by a meeting with Federal President Heinz Fischer. ■
OeNB forecast: Austria again growth leader
“Austria will remain the growth leader in the euro zone”, said Governor of the Austrian National Bank (OeNB) Klaus Liebscher at a presentation of the OeNB’s latest macro-economic forecast on 5 December 2005. According to this outlook, Austria’s economic growth in 2005 is 0.5 percentage points higher than that of the euro zone. Austria will register a gross domestic product (GDP) for 2005 of 1.9% – vs. 1.4% in the euro zone. The OeNB expects the Austrian GDP to grow by 2.3% annually compared to a plus between 1.4 and 2.4% in the euro zone.
Austria’s economic growth was very remarkable as in 2006 Austria’s two main trading partners, Germany and Italy, were likely to grow by merely 1.2 and 1.5%, respectively, stressed Liebscher. In this context, the OeNB chief highlighted the favourable development of incidental unit labour costs in Austria as well as exports to expanding markets in Central and South Eastern Europe. The economic policies of the federal government (tax reform, growth and employment packages) had provided a powerful stimulus. Moreover, private consumption was increasingly becoming a growth engine, said Liebscher. ■
Austria among top five in innovation performance in the EU
Austria has succeeded in significantly improving its innovation performance over the last few years. According to the European Innovation Scoreboard 2005, Austria is number five in a ranking of the EU-25 (index: 0.51). The top position is held by Sweden (0.72), followed by Finland (0.68), Denmark (0.60) and Germany (0.58).
For this ranking the innovation performance of the EU Member States and other European countries as well as the USA and Japan were compared on the basis of 26 different indicators, e.g. research expenditure by the public sector and the economy, number of university graduates of natural scientific and technical disciplines, access to broadband Internet, the ratio of patents filed to total population or export of high-tech products. ■
First programme for sustainable forest management
The future of the Austrian forests seems safe. On 5 December 2005 the “Austrian Forest Pro-gramme” was adopted. The set of measures, jointly developed by 80 organisations chaired by Minister for the Environment Josef Pröll, covers above all aspects of ecological forest management. “It will provide us with a basis for the sound management of our forests and allow us to enjoy them on a long term basis, while taking into account the great demands of economy, environmental protection and society“, said Pröll. This novel and extensive interdisciplinary approach to forestry policy is to be integrated into an EU Action Plan for sustainable forest management during Austria’s EU Presidency. ■
Siemens Austria led by Ederer continues on highroad to success
The new Director General and CEO of Siemens Österreich, Brigitte Ederer, has ambitious growth plans for Austria’s largest industrial and technology group and wants to present record results also in the next years. In 2006 the group with 30,300 employees was likely to register annual sales of more than 7 billion euro. Moreover, additional acquisitions in Central and Eastern Europe were planned, stated Ederer at the press conference on 14 December 2005, where she presented the balance sheet together with her predecessor Albert Hochleitner.
In the past financial year 2004/05 ending on 30 September 2005, Siemens increased its sales by 4.5% to 4,029 billion euro in Austria and some Central and Eastern European countries (excluding VA Tech). The result on ordinary activities rose by 9% to 360.4 million euro. ■
Borealis moves to Vienna
Borealis, Europe’s second largest plastics group and a subsidiary of IPIC (65%), OMV’s Arab main shareholder, and OMV (35%) moves its headquarters from Copenhagen to Vienna. The Danubian city had outshone its competitors London and Brussels, informed Gerhard Roiss, Chairman of the Borealis Supervisory Board, on 5 December 2005. ■
Austrian EU Presidency 2006: priorities in educational policy
On 1 January 2006 Austria will assume the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for six months. Austria will not only handle the day-to-day operations of the EU but will also select key policy areas and set priorities. In the field of education the overall motto is “Quality is our goal”. It will be the maxim of all technical meetings – for in a knowledge-based society the quality and efficiency of the educational systems are prerequisites for a deeply rooted awareness of democracy as well as for growth and employment in Europe. It is a major concern of the Austrian Presidency to continue promoting the strategic goals in the framework of the Lisbon process. At the European Council of Lisbon in 2000 the heads of government had decided to make the EU the “most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economic area of the world” by 2010. However, this goal can only be achieved if the framework conditions of the European economy are transformed and if the educational systems are reformed and adjusted to the needs of a globalised world. As a contribution to this goal, the EU ministers of education adopted the Work Programme “Education and Training 2010“, which is to be implemented by the Member States by the year 2010.
Another main priority of the Presidency will be to continue discussions on the education programme “Lifelong Learning”. This new programme comprises well-known programmes like Co¬menius (school education), Erasmus (university education), Leonardo da Vinci (vocational training), Grundtvig (adult education), an integrated programme as well as the Jean Monnet programme (focusing on European integration). Life-long learning is to support the EU in becoming a progressive knowledge-based society with sustainable economic growth, more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.
The Austrian Presidency made the firm resolve to conduct the negotiations (which will also depend on the adoption of the EU budget) on the new European educational programme in the European Council and with the European Parliament with a view to ensuring that full political agreement will be achieved by taking into account the financial aspects.
Another priority of the Austrian Presidency is to support the integ¬ration process of the Western Balkan States into the enlarged European educational area. Since 1999 Austria has promoted regional educational cooperation in South Eastern Europe, also as the chair of the task force “Education and Youth” of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe. On the initiative of the task force, the ministers of education of the region had expressed their commitment to regional cooperation and to ensuring that the European dimension would be taken into account in national educational reforms in a Memo-randum of Understanding (MoU) already in 2003. The Education Reform Initiative of South Eastern Europe (ERI SEE) established under the MoU and initiated by Austria is promoting an exchange of experience at political and expert level. Against the background of these processes, also ministers from the Western Balkan States will be invited to participated in EU discussions in the framework of the Austrian EU Council Presidency. A summit meeting will be dedicated to international research cooperation with Latin America and the Caribbean in May 2006.
Education for sustainable development is an important policy area of the Austrian Presidency. Young people should learn to understand complex interrelations in a globalised world and to take appropriately adjusted actions in a spirit of responsibility. Building on the campaign of the Netherlands “Education for de¬mocratic citizenship“ and the UK Presidency’s priority “Youth participation“, Austria will focus on “Education for responsible global citizenship“. Hence, Austria will host a technical meeting titled “Education for responsible global citizenship“ as a contribution to the “UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development“. The focus is on acquiring knowledge, attitudes and skills for an active citizenship in a globalised world. ■
Madrid: citizen’s card concept of the Austrian Federal Chancellery wins award
With its citizen’s card concept, Austria won the first prize for best practices in data protection in the European public administration. The award was presented in Madrid on 14 December 2005. It is granted to those public bodies in Europe which safeguard the principles of civil rights and data protection in their administrative procedures in an outstanding way. “The fact that this award was conferred on Austria underlines once more the exemplary role Austria plays in the e government sector in Europe. This prize demonstrates Austria’s internationally acclaimed competence in the field of “identity management” and is another essential factor in the successful development of the Austrian e government strategy, said Secretary of State for the Arts and Media Morak. Identity management would be another priority of the Austrian EU Presidency in the field of e government. The Austrian citizen’s card – similar to the bank card, the health insurance e card and other chip-based cards or the mobile phone – is based on electronic signature and the master data identification administered by the Data Protection Commission and offers citizens an excellent tool to prove their identity reliably to public administration but also the private sector. Identification limited to special sectors prevents screening and unrestricted transparency. Last but not least, this means that the citizen is effectively protected against the data protection risks of electronic procedures. ■
Milo Dor died – Schüssel and Morak paid homage to the great author
Federal Chancellor Schüssel described the author Milo Dor from Serbia, who died (aged 82) in Vienna on 5 December 2005 as “the most important mediator across language barriers”. With his amiable character Dor had “created many bridges between Austria and the Balkan States”. In his books “Austria found an alarmingly lively description of the tragic history of Yugoslavia during the years of the National Socialist occupation”. The Federal Chancellor undoubtedly referred to Dor’s famous trilogy “The Raikov Saga“ consisting of the novels “Tote auf Urlaub“, Nichts als Erinnerung“ and “Die weiße Stadt“. Secretary of State for the Arts Morak also explained that Dor had “defended his existence as an independent writer in a time of extreme poverty and called for the foundation of an interest representation of Austrian writers and the establishment of a Welfare Fund for writers many decades ago“. By the way, an excellent film adaptation of his novel “Die weiße Stadt” (“The White City”) had been produced by Michael Kehlmann, film director and former head of the television play department of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF). Kehlmann had died aged 78 in Vienna on 1 December 2005. ■
Haneke and other Austrian film-makers showered with prizes
In the last few weeks Austrian film directors won high honours. Michael Haneke triumphed at the European Film Awards ceremony in Berlin. At the European Film Academy’s gala four awards in the categories Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (Daniel Auteuil) and Best Cutter (Michael Hudecek and Nadine Muse) as well as the Prize of the International Federation of Film Critics (Fipresci) for the Best Film 2005 went to Haneke’s film “Caché“ (“Hidden”), which had been nominated in seven categories.
Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s documentary “Unser täglich Brot“ was granted the Special Jury Award at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA), the world’s largest festival for this genre of films. Michael Glawogger’s documentary “Workingman’s Death“ dealing with extremely heavy work was not only nominated for a European Film Award but received three festival prizes in Leipzig, London and Copenhagen and also won the Special Jury Award at the International Film Festival of Gijón (Spain). ■
Merit Award for integration of the disabled goes to Mezzanin Theater Graz
Secretary of State for the Arts and Media Morak conferred this year’s Merit Award for art and culture projects promoting the integration of people with disabilities on the Mezzanin Theater in Graz for its initiatives dedicated to the theme “people with disabilities and art”. The Promotion Prize went to bild.balance, a women artists’ group developing exhibitions and workshops together with artists with disabilities. The Merit Award had been launched in 2003 to promote the “sustainable social inclusion of people with disabilities“, stated Morak. ■
Egon Schiele at Albertina
Vienna’s Albertina presents a sensational exhibition of water-colours and drawings by Egon Schiele (1890-1918) – on show until 19 March 2006. 130 works come from the Albertina’s own collection, 90 works are important loans from various public and private collections. A highlight are the 10 water colours the exorcist of existentialist loneliness painted during his traumatic imprisonment in Neulengbach (Lower Austria). ■
André Heller – a flood of projects: football world championship, Africa and a salt mine
The organisation of the football world championship in Germany in 2006 will certainly be outstanding. Universal artist André Heller from Vienna will be responsible for the cultural concept, which serves as a basis for the work of ground-breaking directors, film-makers, poets, exhibition-makers, choreographers and visual artists.
A typical Heller project is a circus with rap and dance, but without animals: “Africa! Africa!“. This idea occurred to the Viennese about 40 years ago when he visited a festival of dance and acrobats lasting several days in Zagora on the fringes of Sahara (southern Morocco). About 120 artists from all regions of Africa presented acrobatics, music, dance and comedy at the show’s first night in Frankfurt/Main. The project is supported by UNESCO and the Goethe Institute. African art is featured in accompanying exhibitions. In 2007 the show will tour to Vienna.
Many years ago, Heller had created the Swarovski Crystal World in Wattens (Tyrol), exploring the various facets of the theme “crystal”. Now he designs a theme park in the salt mine of Berchtesgaden (Bavaria), where he tries to realise his ideas on the subject “salt” together with other artists. ■
“Sound of Europe“ conference
In the framework of the Austrian EU Presidency, the international conference “The Sound of Europe“ will explore the topic “European identity and culture” in Salzburg – the city where Wolfgang Amadé Mozart was born 250 years ago – from 26 to 28 January 2006. About 200 decision-makers, opinion-makers, artists and scientists will discuss approaches to promoting the project of European integration. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti will give a festive concert in the Great Festival Hall of Salzburg. ■
BAWAG: “Line, Drawing, Picture”
BAWAG FOUNDATION hosts the exhibition “Line Drawing Picture” until 25 February 2006. It presents completely diverging positions of eight artists, e.g. of Mike Bouchet (USA), Maria Brunner, Trixi Groiss, Heimo Zobernig (Austria) and Olaf Metzel (Germany). Their first-class works even outshine the drawings of André Thomkins (born in 1930 Lucerne/Switzerland). The spectrum of the exhibition covers pencil drawings, self-made cola, water colours, gouaches, drawings on newspaper cuttings, lacquer skins, an artistically treated wall and Zobernig’s own exhibition banner. The artists present themselves in a fantastic, hyper-realist, ironic and playfully narrative way. ■
Festival “Resonanzen” 2006: “Strangers, Heretics and Rebels”
Between 21 and 29 January 2006 the Festival “Resonanzen” at Konzerthaus (Vienna) will we dedicated to “Strangers, Heretics and Rebels”. They come from different cultures and believe in different religions. 10 concerts will launch an investigation into “the different”. I Fagiolini will sing William Byrd’s Catholic church music from Anglican England, Lucidarium will present Jewish music of the Italian renaissance, and Mudéjar traces the Muslim culture in the Christian Spain. Hiro Kurosaki, Fabio Biondi, Sette Voci, Ensemble Matheus, Private Musicke focus on composers who spread foreign styles and fashions all over the world of music and who (further) developed them against the opposition of their contemporaries. Concertante performances of two operas composed around 1730 are offered by the orchestras Europa Galante and Il Complesso Barocco: Vivaldi’s “Bajazet“ and Händel’s “Rodelinda“. The exhibition “Historical Instrument Making” rounds off the programme. ■
Markus Rogan’s world record
Markus Rogan did not only win in the 200 m backstroke European Short Course Champion-ships covering the distance in 1:50.43, but also established the first world record for the Austrian Swimming Association (ÖSV) in 93 years. The last world record by an Austrian swimmer had been set for 400 m backstroke in 1912 by Josef Selmeczy in Vienna. The “world champion title is a new highlight in his career characterised by constant high performance“, emphasised Federal Chancellor Schüssel. “With this brilliant performance, Markus has reached his best personal result, and with this world record he will go down in the history of swimming!“, Secretary of State for Sport Schweitzer was pleased to state. In his still rather short – but very successful – career Rogan has already won five gold medals (European championships) and four silver medals (Olympic Games and world championships). ■
Sport events benefit from new Security Police Act
The Nationalrat (first chamber of Parliament) adopted the new Security Police Act. This Act will for example permit the police to use the video recordings of private persons subject to the approval of a legal protection officer. Moreover, a security zone of 500 meters around the hotspot may be established at sport events. Last but not least, the Act provides for the establishment of a hooligans database. ■
Business Athlete Award 2005
Norbert Teufelberger, joint CEO of Betandwinn and multiple national youth champion in tennis emerged as the winner of the fourth round of the “Business Athlete Award“ organised by wirtschaftsblatt:online and Sporthilfe. He outstripped the former number one in tennis, Thomas Muster, as well as former fencing champion and Stiefelkönig boss Toni Kampelmühler. Secretary of State Schweitzer and the Business Athlete Award sponsors Telekom Austria, Meinl Success, Alcatel, Economic Chamber and PTI paid tribute to the winners. This award has been granted to former top athletes who turned into successful business people since 2002. In the first year, Peter Schröcksnadel had received the prize. In 2003 it went to Niki Lauda, while Armin Assinger was the winner in 2004. “With medals and victories of Austrian athletes, the sport nation Austria is reinforcing its world-wide positive image – and thus Austria’s position as a business location”, stressed Reinhold Mitterlehner, Deputy Secretary General of the Economic Chamber Austria. ■
Sporthilfe gets a facelift
Ute Heidenreich, who has been active for Sporthilfe for many years, has been nominated interim director. As requested by Sporthilfe President, Secretary of State for Sport Schweitzer, she will conduct the business of the organisation up to the end of September 2007. She succeeds to Anton Schutti, who was presented as managing director of the “Salzburger Winterspiele 2014 GmbH“. But Sporthilfe put another successful project before the public: a new partnership with the Austrian Federal Army has been formed. ■
Agreement on the New Federal Sport Promotion Act 2005
“This Act guarantees the efficient use of the federal budget for sport promotion as well as absolute transparency“, underlined Schweitzer. “Compared to the budget data of 2000, the subsidies more than doubled. With almost 100 million euro sport has been provided with the optimal basis it has demanded for years“, stated Schweitzer. The new law was adopted in Parliament on 16 November 2005 and will enter into force on 1 January 2006. Schweitzer and Vice-President of the Federal Sport Organisation (BSO) Theo Zeh signed the new agreement. ■