Vienna Philharmonic to fund refugee house

The renowned Vienna Philharmonic orchestra is raising money for a new home for four refugee families in Lower Austria, that will also function as a “place for cultural dialogue” and a concert venue.

Vienna Philharmonic to fund refugee house
The Vienna Philharmonic's famous New Year's Day Concert. Photo:

The Vienna Philharmonic has put €25,000 towards buying and renovating a former inn in St Aegyd, and it has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise a further €75,000.

In a statement, it said it decided to take direct action with a sustainable project to help some of the thousands of refugees who have been arriving in Austria over the past months.

Andreas Grossbauer, chairman of the orchestra, said the project is not just about a humanitarian attitude but also about “encouraging an understanding in which everyone can benefit long term – the communities and our own society.”

The building will house four refugee families and will also function as a meeting place and according to the orchestra, “a place for cultural dialogue”.

The house will be managed by the Diakonie Refugee Commission, but Grossbauer said that Philharmonic members will remain “personally connected” with residents of the home through benefit concerts and other activities.

WIENER PHILHARMONIKER HAUS für Asylsuchende from Wiener Philharmoniker on Vimeo.

The project has the backing of conductors Sir Simon Rattle, Christoph Eschenbach and Daniel Barenboim.

German-born Eschenbach, who was orphaned during World War II, said: “I was a refugee. I know exactly what a refugee must go through who has suffered, for example, in Syria, under the Assad Regime and finally, somehow, finds his way out and then is confronted with the question: 'Will I be accepted or not? Will I survive or not?' We have to help.”

Daniel Barenboim called it “an absolutely necessary campaign” during “an extraordinary time in human history”.

People who donate money to the crowdfunding project are offered incentives ranging from one of the orchestra's recordings (for a €30 donation) to a standing ticket to the orchestra's world-famous New Year's Day Concert for a donation of €500.


‘Discrimination’: Austria’s benefit cuts for immigrants ‘go against free movement’

Benefit cuts imposed by Austria on immigrants whose children live in their country of origin contradict EU law becasue they constitute "discrimination on the ground of nationality", a legal adviser at the bloc's top court said on Thursday.

A picture of the sign and logo of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg
A picture of the sign and logo of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg on January 13, 2020. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

The opinion is the latest legal hitch to befall a series of measures — imposed by a previous government that included the far-right — which sought to restrict benefit payments to foreigners.

Richard de la Tour, advocate general of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), said the cuts to child benefits constituted “an infringement of the right of free movement conferred on EU citizens”.

The specific case relates to reforms that came into effect in 2019 which indexed child benefits according to where the recipient’s children live.

This meant reduced payments for tens of thousands of eastern Europeans who work in Austria — notably in the care sector — but whose children remain in their countries of origin.

The advocate general’s advice is not binding on the court but it is seen as influential.

De la Tour found that the cuts were “indirect discrimination on the ground of nationality which is permissible only if it is objectively justified”, and that Austria had failed to do so.

They contravened the principle that “if a migrant worker pays social contributions and taxes in a member state, he or she must be able to benefit from the same allowances as nationals of that state”, he added.

In 2020 the European Commission, supported by six eastern member states, brought an action before the CJEU claiming Austria was “failing to fulfil its obligations”.

Former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had said he hoped the cuts would save 114 million euros ($130 million) a year but in 2019 they recouped 62 million euros.

The former coalition also introduced benefit cuts for immigrants who failed to reach a certain level of German, but those measures were subsequently overturned by the Austrian courts.

The government that introduced in the cuts was brought down in a corruption scandal in May 2019.

It included the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (OeVP), which is still the senior partner in the current government.

However their current coalition partners, the Greens, opposed the benefit cuts at the time.