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COST OF LIVING

Why is Vienna no longer the ‘most liveable’ city in the world?

After three consecutive years in first spot, Vienna has fallen twelfth in the latest global liveability rankings. Why?

Why is Vienna no longer the 'most liveable' city in the world?
A view of the city skyline from Vienna's Stephansdom. Photo: Roland Geider (Ogre)/Wikicommons

Vienna is no longer the most liveable city in the world, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranking in the the “Global Liveability Index”.

After topping the list since 2017, Vienna is now only ranked twelfth for quality of life.

READ MORE: Vienna ‘world’s most liveable city’ for second year in a row

The top three cities are the New Zealand port city of Auckland, followed by Osaka in Japan and Adelaide in Australia. Damascus in Syria occupies last spot on the list in 140th. 

Auckland’s first place was thanks to the “successful approach in containing the Covid-19 pandemic”, wrote the authors

This is the first time the rankings have been carried out since the start of the pandemic. 2020’s list was cancelled, meaning the previous figures are from 2019. 

Why has Vienna fallen so far?

As with many questions over the past 15 months, the answer has been “coronavirus”. 

Regarding Vienna, the authors said the second wave of the virus and the subsequent lockdowns had been particularly significant in the city’s fall to 12th. 

The EIU research unit found the coronavirus pandemic led to a global collapse in quality of life in the ranking, particularly affecting cities in Europe, due to lockdowns, a lack of cultural offerings and burdens on the health system.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on global liveability. Cities across the world are now much less liveable than they were before the pandemic began, and we’ve seen that regions such as Europe have been hit particularly hard.

The cities that have risen to the top of the rankings this year are largely the ones that have taken stringent measures to contain the pandemic.

New Zealand’s tough lockdown allowed their society to re-open and enabled citizens of cities like Auckland and Wellington to enjoy a lifestyle that looked similar to pre-pandemic life.

The ranking is based on the health system, education, culture and infrastructure along with social security, political stability and the crime rate.

Which cities were hardest hit?

While the coronavirus pandemic has spread around the globe, the impact has not been uniform. 

In Europe, Asia, Africa and much of North and South America, Covid-19 has forced lockdowns and put great strain on healthcare facilities. 

READ MORE: So why is Vienna the most liveable city in the world?

In some of the world’s more isolated countries however, the impacts have been comparatively minimal. 

In particular, Australia and New Zealand have been comparatively unscathed by the pandemic, while several Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have also been able to avoid the worst parts of the pandemic. 

Six of the top ten cities were in Australia or New Zealand, with two more in Japan

The American city of Honolulu benefited from its relative isolation, rising by 46 places to 14th – the most of any city in the rankings. 

Zurich and Geneva were the only European cities that remained in the top ten.

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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

How Austria’s TV licence changes may affect you (even if you don’t watch TV)

Proposed changes to Austria's TV licence system look set to result in expensive cost increases. Stefan Haderer looks at how the new system will impact you, even if you don't watch TV.

How Austria's TV licence changes may affect you (even if you don't watch TV)

On July 18th the Austrian Constitutional Court ruled that receiving TV programs online and streaming them without paying so-called GIS fees is “unconstitutional”.

As a consequence, the court has asked the legislative powers (Austria’s National Council, Federal Council and Federal Assembly) to take action by “closing the streaming gap” by end of 2023.

This raises many questions for residents of Austria. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to pay Austria’s TV and radio tax, or (legally) avoid it

In which ways could the TV licence change affect people who don’t even own a TV and use their laptops only?

What could be alternatives to mandatory fees and how likely are they? And which preferences do the political players and the population actually have?

Long running debate on TV licence fees

The debate of introducing general TV fees in Austria isn’t new.

For many years Austria’s largest media provider, the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF), the government and the parties have been discussing ways to solve increasing financial issues. The ORF is not profit-oriented but an independent public media enterprise.

Two-thirds of its revenue comes from TV licence fees, that is, from households paying a monthly charge. These fees were increased on February 1st this year and now range from €22.45 to €28.65, depending on the state due to varying taxes.

According to a recent survey by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Austria is the most expensive EU country with regards to annual television fees.

More than 25,000 payers missing in 2022

Beginning of this year, Roland Weißmann became the corporation’s new CEO. He warned the ORF foundation council members about a minus of approximately €12 million, which he considered to be an effect of the constantly declining numbers of GIS payers.

In Austria, the younger generations in particular prefer streaming on their laptops or mobile devices, or they have switched to alternative private channels like Netflix and YouTube to avoid the fees.

Because of this trend, Weißmann stated a decrease of about 25,400 paying households for this year, an overall loss of more than €5.5 million for the corporation.

In 2015, Austria’s Supreme Administrative Court accepted a Viennese man’s objection to paying GIS fees for listening to radio programmes on his computer.

That ruling was regarded as a breakthrough for streamers and all those refusing GIS charges. The ORF, however, swore to “close this legal gap” and revive the debate of introducing “household fees” in the near future. The latest ruling by the Constitutional Court is definite. Although many Austrians and foreign residents hope to see licence fees abolished in Austria like in France, chances are rather slim.

ORF content can be easily found and watched online on a smartphone or computer. (Photo by ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP)

READ ALSO: Cost of living: Seven tips to save money in Austria

Household fees becoming more likely 

So what are the options for the legislative powers to close the gap between streamers and TV owners? The two coalition partners still disagree, the ÖVP being against a new tax while the Green Party advocates a “household fee”.

This option, based on similar models in Germany and Switzerland, seems pretty likely for a number of reasons: The administrative efforts of control would be minor as four million households would be obliged to pay, regardless of having a television set at home or not.

Charges could also be lowered to about €18 a month (as in Germany) and more easily adapted to the real household income. The rates, however, would also be raised every year.

Another alternative preferred by a large number of users in forums would be a “pay-wall” for watching ORF content online. Many viewers consider this to be the only fair solution because, they say, one shouldn’t pay for a service not consumed. Logins and access keys may be easily abused, though. Besides, a pay-wall wouldn’t solve the corporation’s biggest issue, its decreasing revenues.

While the government hasn’t come to a decision yet, the TV licence is going to be a hot topic at the next elections. Other party members have already commented on the debate: The Socialist Party (SPÖ) strongly supports licence fees in order to consolidate a politically independent and unbiased national broadcasting corporation. NEOS calls for affordable household fees based on real income. 

Only the right-wing FPÖ demands GIS fees to be dropped like at present in France and presumably in the United Kingdom as well.

Their strong rejection of TV licence fees is expected to attract many angry voters at the expense of the ruling ÖVP. With state elections ahead in Tyrol, this could also explain why the ÖVP is still refusing to give a clear statement on this topic.

Will a referendum change anything?

Many people who don’t watch ORF state that the quality of the programme has deteriorated over the past few years.

They criticise permanent reruns of German soap operas, old American sitcoms and crime series, in particular. On channels like Netflix, some young people said, they are free to pick what they like, even if they have to pay. 

In the Standard forum posters also complain about the poor quality on ORF channels. Not surprisingly, some feel very angry about the recent court ruling. Others support a referendum which has been initiated and approved.

Citizens opposing GIS charges can sign it from September 19th until September 26th. Similar popular initiatives concerning the abolition of TV fees were launched in Austria in the past.

However, even if more than 100,000 persons sign the referendum, it won’t have any legal effect. Sooner or later the government needs to make a decision which certainly isn’t going to be very popular.

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