Elections in Austria: Yuck

Short version: for the last two years, Austria has been run by a “grand coalition” government of the two largest parties, the Social Democrats and the center-right People’s Party. Everybody hated this arrangement, though, and it didn’t get much done. So they called new elections, which were held yesterday.

Result: both large parties got hammered badly. The Social Democrats seem to have dropped from about 36% to 30%, and the People’s Party from 35% to 26%. (Ironically, it was the People’s Party that pulled the plug on the coalition last month.) Continue reading

More Stages of the Globalisation Process

Who knew Hungary has an entire shopping centre devoted to Chinese-owned businesses? Der Standard reports on the “Asia Centre” in the 16th district of Budapest, home to a community that has made Hungary the biggest entrepot for Chinese goods in central Europe. Last year, $4bn of Chinese exports entered Hungary, of which two-thirds was re-exported. The centre is 90 per cent utilised and is going to expand. Not entirely surprisingly, its owners are the Austrian construction group Strabag and the Austrian mutual banks’ investment arm, Raiffeisen Investment AG.

Apparently, there may be as many as 60,000 Chinese in Hungary, the flourishing legacy of a botched late-communist trade agreement. In order to keep up appearances after the two sides failed to agree anything substantive, they ended visa requirements between China and Hungary. This came into its own a year later, when large numbers of people quit China after the Tiananmen Square massacre and arrived in a Hungary that was about to be the first mover in the wave of revolutions. Originally, their businesses shot out of the ground around the eastern railway station’s freight yards. Later, the Austrian investors built the new centre.

It’s striking that they will be very well placed if this railway project comes to fruition.

On the other hand, there’s a fist. Jörg Haider’s election posters this time around carried photos of two “violent Chechens”, whose access to social services was then cut off. They haven’t been accused of an offence, and neither does the Klagenfurt police know of any case involving a Chechen.

Which side is your bread buttered?

When I lived in Vienna, in 2001-2002, I lived in the 11th District, Simmering, a roughish working-class suburb struck through with railway lines and motorway spurs. Specifically, I lived in one of the four huge brick gasometers of the former city gasworks, once Europe’s biggest, now redeveloped as a mixture of shops, flats and a concert hall.

One thing that cheered me, looking at the dire OVP-FPO government with its mixture of dishonest hacks and barely-contained racist scum, was that surely this provincialism was on the way out. With the enlargement of the EU, not only did Austria stand to make huge economic gains, but surely it would liven up a bit?

There was at least some evidence of change. Around the 11. Bezirk, huge infrastructure projects were going on. The railyards were being enlarged, all kinds of commercial property being built, new terminal buildings at the airport..everyone was looking forward to a good old fashioned concrete binge.
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Seven Down, Eight to Go

It hasn’t attracted a lot of attention, but seven of the EU-15 have now thrown open their doors to the free movement of labor from the new member states (NMS).

A bit of background: when the NMS joined in 2004, the EU-15 gave themselves the right to keep the walls up for up to seven years. The rather complicated agreement required the 15 to review their policies after two and again after five years.

Three countries — Britain, Ireland, and Sweden — decided to just admit people from the NMS. Britain and Sweden placed no restrictions; Ireland put in a modest one that emigrants would not be eligible for benefits for their first two years. (Because Ireland still thinks it’s a poor country? No idea.) Everyone else hunkered down behind walls of varying height.

So, the two-year review deadline came last month. And, lo and behold, four countries — Spain, Portugal, Greece and Finland — decided that they could live just as dangerously as the Swedes and the Brits. These four opened the doors effective May 1.

A couple of thoughts on this.
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David Irving: My Part in His Downfall

David Irving, as no doubt we all know, is beginning his new career as a jailbird, in the great grey walls of the Josefstadt prison next to the even greater and greyer Landesgericht between Vienna’s city hall and its university. Now, there are plenty of facile things to say about this: freedom of expression is vital, dammit!/Nazis must be suppressed!/What if he was a Muslim? But I hope to raise some others.

Total disclosure: I participated tangentially in Irving’s lawsuit against Deborah Lipstadt. At the time I was a student of the world Holocaust authority, Professor Peter Longerich, who was one of the team of historians who acted as expert witnesses under the direction of Professor Richard J. Evans. Whilst Longerich was known to be preparing for one of his court appearances, he asked me to borrow various works of reference from the Bedford Library at Royal Holloway for him. I was not pleased, some time later, when the librarians demanded I pay fines on the books, although Irving’s defeat was some relief.

Irving is a liar who deserves nothing but contempt. (Richard Evans’s book on the case is strongly recommended for detail.) It cannot go unremarked that he has always chosen to “challenge conventional wisdom”, in the charitable way people put it, in front of audiences who are both already converted to his point of view and willing to pay well for confirmation of theirs. His lecture circuit – mad US militias, western European fascists, apartheid South Africa – speaks for itself, as do those who admit to financing him.

And there’s the rub. In Britain, his nonsense might just be tolerable. But this is in a sense a luxury afforded by a lack of fascists. I can think of many countries where this is so:
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Towards a European strategy for the security of energy supply

Here’s the link to the EU Energy green paper I mentioned yesterday. As is to be expected, the report is ‘fair and balanced’. The section on nuclear energy focuses mainly on the sovereign decision making process as to its adoption and emphasises the role of Brussels in ensuring environmental safety. It does, however, contain this intriguing paragraph:
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Petrol, Petrom, and the President

So, President Basescu is unhappy.

This is not unusual. President Basescu is often unhappy. You’d think that, having won the election last December against Prime Minister Nastase, he’d be at least content. But Basescu is a scrapper, and he’s always looking for a fight, and in recent weeks he’s found one. It’s about petrol, and Petrom.

Perhaps I should explain.
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Two for the price of – what?

Hi folks,

It’s Brussels Gonzo, back again – this time as a full member of the team (thank you, David and colleagues). And since my first entry as a guest blogger dealt with Croatia’s membership application, and a later one described the unedifying scenes in the European parliament after their talks failed to start in March, it seems appropriate that my first entry as a regular FoE-er should talk about the linkage between yesterday’s two crucial decisions to start membership talks with Croatia and Turkey. (I hope this doesn’t too much repeat Tobias on the same subject yesterday.)
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Luxembourg compromise.

Something is happening. Although not in Berlin, apparently. The SPD’s steering committe has not (yet officially) accepted what appeared to be an offer from Mr Schröder to pursue coalition strategies that would not include him. Since the SPD’s chairman, Franz Müntefering, explained later that the party’s goal were still a government led by Gerhard Scröder as Chancellor, Mr Schröder’s statement could also be interpreted as tactical move aimed at forcing Angela Merkel to do the same, hoping that the CDU’s more intense internal rivalry might cause her to have to live up to her proposal. Either way, much ado about nothing in Germany today – Meanwhile, in Luxembourg…
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