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OPINION & ANALYSIS

ANALYSIS: Is Vienna in good hands with ‘crisis manager’ mayor Ludwig?

No Austrian politician has become more disputed and exposed to the public than Michael Ludwig, the mayor of Vienna. But as his political opponents grow could the city's so-called "crisis manager" yet come out on top?

austria Michael Ludwig Vienna mayor
Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig (C) speaks during the opening of a mobile flu vaccination station "Impfbim" located in a tram in Vienna, Austria, on October 1, 2020. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

‘Pandemic not over’

“Once again I’d like to stress that the pandemic isn’t over,” Michael Ludwig tweeted in September 2021. “The pandemic is not over yet. We are staying on the safe side,” he posted end of May 2022. Like a mantra the city governor would also repeat this statement at the SPÖ Vienna State Party Conference on 28 May 2022, where Ludwig was confirmed as the capital’s federal leader with 94.4% of all delegates.

His most fervent supporters – close party members and Austria’s SPÖ chief Pamela Rendi-Wagner, a trained epidemiologist – keep applauding what Ludwig in his own words calls “the Viennese way”: a path that is supposed to be totally different from the national approach in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. And a path that has involved much stricter measures than in the rest of Austria and Europe: mandatory PCR tests at public outdoor pools for six-year-olds, for instance, or guest registration and “2G” restrictions (only admission to vaccinated persons and those who have recovered from a COVID infection) in Viennese hotels and restaurants.

READ ALSO: ‘The pandemic is not over’: Vienna keeps mask rule in public transport

All these measures were strongly criticised by some economic representatives and ÖVP politicians in particular. They have now been lifted, although FFP2 face masks still need to be used on all public transport in Vienna. Such measures still outrage an increasing number of social media users who blame Ludwig for keeping the health crisis alive to consolidate his power.

In an interview, former Minister of Tourism Elisabeth Köstinger accused the Viennese government of harming Austria’s hospitality and tourism sectors in the long run with its strict Corona policy. Indeed, the capital was hit much more badly than the other eight provinces, with almost 57% fewer hotel bookings than in 2019. Köstinger also questioned the efficiency of Vienna’s testing strategy in relation to high infection numbers.

But what do the Austrians think of Michael Ludwig, who ranges among the ÖVP-Green government’s toughest opponents? According to a survey by the Linz Market Institute, Vienna’s mayor would have been re-elected by more than 50%. This survey, however, was carried out beginning of 2022, before a series of scandals and crises started to tarnish Ludwig’s reputation as a trustworthy “crisis manager”.

An image made of concrete

Just a few days after the poll was published, activists revealed a monument in front of Vienna’s city hall: a concrete image of Michael Ludwig as a clear sign of protest against his climate and environmental policy. Protesters (many of them from the “Fridays for Future” movement and Greenpeace) turned out in force as the mayor insisted on building a highway and a tunnel that was supposed to cross the Lobau, a nature reserve at the Danube. Ludwig remained unimpressed. Like in the Corona crisis, the governor wants to rely on his own team of experts, emphasising that there are no feasible alternatives. Meanwhile, parts of the SPÖ’s base are openly opposing the governor’s hardline policy.

In social media, the number of Ludwig’s critics currently far exceeds his supporters and those in favour of his cautious and considerate “Viennese way”. With the ongoing war in Ukraine and an alarming inflation in Austria, this trend doesn’t seem to be reversed.

Many Austrians have started to wonder why the SPÖ was calling for national incentives to reduce rising costs of living while Vienna’s governor hadn’t offered solutions to bring down rising electricity, heating and housing expenses. One poster in the “Standard” forum also asks why the mayor, who “couldn’t be fast enough to give a press conference right after the federal government had finished their consultations,” was then making himself scarce. Only this week did Ludwig announce any measures to counter rising energy costs.

Is Ludwig able to manage future crises?

In the Austrian capital, the Social Democrats are still perceived as an open-minded and social party standing up for equal rights and opportunities. Members of ethnic minorities and the LGTBQ community feel safe with the SPÖ-run city government. This perception hasn’t changed since Michael Ludwig came into office in May 2018. However, some may now disagree after the governor’s friendly meeting with Turkey’s disputed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul this month.

The Austrian daily “Der Standard” called the consultation a “diplomatic dilemma”, while the reactions of the Kurdish minority and online posters were far less diplomatic. “Is he just overestimating himself by giving cynical, somewhat provincial signals to potential AKP (Erdogan) voters in Vienna, or is it something else?” sociologist Kenan Güngör wonders. One poster suspects that Ludwig’s main motivations for this trip were to gain Austro-Turkish voters, outperform Chancellor Karl Nehammer (who visited Russian President Putin) and prepare himself for leading the federal SPÖ one day.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Austria’s new finance measures could benefit you

With the rising inflation, many Austrians have lost faith in politicians who keep struggling to find efficient solutions against increasing prices and living expenses.

Soon after the federal government announced “climate bonus” payouts of up to 500 Euros per household this year, Michael Ludwig finally also promised an “energy bonus” of 200 Euros for more than 650,000 Viennese households. Will this suffice to calm an array of opponents and voters who have already turned their backs on the SPÖ?

It may, in the end, depend on the solutions Ludwig and his party are going to offer and communicate to the public. One thing is for sure though: The rhetoric of a permanent state of crisis alone isn’t going to be enough anymore.

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VIENNA

Everything that’s new in Vienna in December

From new energy bonuses being sent out to important trials and major events, here are the important changes, dates and events happening in Vienna in December.

Everything that's new in Vienna in December

Vienna will send €200 bonuses to help cushion rising energy costs

The City of Vienna announced more government assistance to cushion rising costs for residents.

Viennese households will receive €200 in a new “energy bonus’, as The Local reported. The administration said the bonus would benefit about two-thirds of all city homes.

Single households with a gross annual income of a maximum €40,000 or multi-person households with an income of up to €100,000 gross per year are entitled to receive the payment. 

In December, every household in the capital should receive an information letter with a password they will need to use for an online application for the bonus. Once applied for, the money should arrive within a few days”.

READ MORE: Vienna Energy Bonus: How to get a €200 payout

Influenza vaccination appointments

The City of Vienna has made available 64,000 influenza vaccination appointments for December in the city’s vaccination centres and those of the ÖGK. 

The City is investing a total of €9.9 million to be able to offer the flu vaccination campaign in Vienna free of charge again this year.  The campaign will run until the end of the year unless an extension becomes necessary due to high demand.

The influenza vaccination campaign focuses on people aged over 65. This avoids multiple exposures to Covid-19 and the “real flu”. Chronically ill people, children and health or care workers are also among the priority target groups. However, influenza vaccination is also recommended to all other people.

READ ALSO: Reader question: How to get a flu vaccination in Austria?

Vienna starts inquiry committee over Wien Energie

Starting on December 2nd at the Vienna City Hall, the City Council’s investigative commission on the Wien Energie case will meet every two weeks.

On the initiative of the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), it will investigate the events surrounding the dramatic financial needs of Wien Energie that became known in the summer. The commission can summon people to testify and request documents.

They will focus on two issues.

The first concerns the extent to which Mayor Michael Ludwig and City Finance Councillor Peter Hanke have exercised their ownership rights regarding Wien Energie, which is wholly owned by the city via Wiener Stadtwerke. Specifically, the commission wants to know whether the two SPÖ politicians reacted in time and appropriately to the price increases in the electricity markets in the summer.

The second matter revolves around Ludwig’s emergency powers as head of the city, with which he granted Wien Energie loans totalling €1.4 billion. It is to be clarified whether this procedure was legally compliant and whether Ludwig should have informed committees such as the City Senate earlier.

READ ALSO: Why did Wien Energie ask for €6 billion from the Austrian government?

Terror trial continues

On November 2nd, 2020, a jihadist terrorist shot dead four people and injured more than 20 in the centre of Vienna before police forces killed him.

Now, the country is going through a complex trial involving six men who allegedly helped the shooter prepare for the attack started. The process first started in October, as The Local reported, but a final verdict is not expected until at least February.

In December, tricky trial stages are scheduled, including questioning people suspected of having sold weapons to the terrorist.

READ ALSO: Austria starts trial over Vienna jihadist shooting

Armed police officers stand guard by the area where the terrorist attack took place in Vienna, Austria on November, 2020. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

This Human World Festival

The This Human World Festival is celebrating its 15th anniversary and it focuses on the theme of human rights. In four Viennese cinemas (Schikaneder, Topkino, Gartenbaukino, Stadtkino) and two other venues (Brunnenpassage, Brotfabrik) you can watch films that deal with human rights, current conflicts and crises from December 1st to 11th. 

About 90 feature films, documentaries and short films await you – some of them will celebrate their Austrian premiere at the festival. 

The aim of the film festival is to draw attention to political and social grievances in a sensitive, stirring and occasionally humorous way.

You can read more about the event HERE.

Harry Potter: The Exhibition

“Harry Potter: The Exhibition” is touring worldwide and the major exhibition about the wizard’s universe will get its first European location in Vienna on December 16th, 2022. The show will be housed in the METAStadt in the 22nd district (Dr.-Otto-Neurath-Gasse 3).

The ticket sale has already started on the official site of the exhibition and via oeticket. Tickets are available from € 24.90 for children (up to 12 years) and € 29.90 for adults (from 13 years).

Weihnachtsmärkte

Last year, many markets around the country were cancelled after a snap lockdown in November, although some events still went ahead with strict rules in place.

But this year, the Christmas markets are back in full swing without restrictions, so make sure you visit one (or two) to really get into the Christmas spirit. Austria’s most famous markets are in Vienna, like the Christkindmarkt in front of the Town Hall that runs from November 19th to December 26th.

The Viennese markets are drawing in thousands of tourists to the Austrian capital. Don’t miss out on all the Glüwein (even if it is more expensive this year), geröstete Kastanien and Weihnachtskugeln you can get. 

FOR MEMBERS: IN PICTURES: A guide to the main Christmas markets in Austria

Public holidays

Besides Christmas (December 25th) and Stephan’s Day (December 26th), December 8th, when Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Mariä Empfängnis), is also a public holiday in Austria.

Of course, there are also several celebratory dates in December. For example, every Sunday until Christmas is an Advent Sunday, and Austrian families commemorate it in many ways, including lighting up candles.

On December 4th, there is Barbaratag, while on December 5th, Krampus pays his visit to Austrian villages and cities. On the next day, December 6th, it’s time for St Nikolaus to bring chocolate and tangerines to children who were nice during the year.

Christmas Eve, Day, and St Stephen’s Day (December 24th, 25th and 26th) are important dates for Austrian traditions.

It’s also worth noting that Austrians celebrate Christmas on the evening of December 24th, usually with a family meal.

READ ALSO: Austrian Christmas traditions: The festive dates you need to know

New Year celebrations

Expect lots of fireworks on New Year’s Eve (Silvester) in Austria – and especially in Vienna.

In the capital, the bells ring out at St. Stephan’s Cathedral to welcome in the New Year, which is also broadcast on national television. This is followed by fireworks and some even take part in a communal waltz on Rathausplatz in front of the Town Hall.

But if you really want to celebrate New Year like an Austrian, then give a marzipan pig to your nearest and dearest. The little pigs represent a good luck charm and are handed out every year on New Year’s Eve.

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