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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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Migration Economy: Who are the migrants starting businesses in Austria?

Self-employed migrants - or those building businesses in Austria - contribute hugely to the local economy, a new study has found.

Migration Economy: Who are the migrants starting businesses in Austria?

People born outside of Austria rely, in large part, on self-employment or opening up businesses (and then employing other migrants) as a path to working in the country, a study conducted by the Institute of Advanced Studies (IHS) on behalf of the Integration Fund (OeIF) found.

The study, Migration Economy in Vienna (Migrantische Ökonomien in Wien), also found that some nationalities tend to stick to specific industries – which could be partially explained by how migrants rely on informal networks of people of the same origin to start a business.

READ ALSO: Being self-employed in Austria: What you need to know

For example, people from the former Yugoslavia, Eastern Europe and Turkey often work independently in the construction sector. People from China are strongly concentrated in gastronomy, along with people of Turkish, Syrian, Thai and Maghreb origin.

Migrants originally from Asia and Africa, and especially India, Egypt and Afghanistan, are concentrated mainly in postal and courier services, including bicycle messenger services. Finally, the study found that people from Turkey and former Yugoslavia also appear more often than average registered as taxi drivers.

How much money do they bring in?

Figures from Austria’s Chamber of Commerce (Wirtschaftskammer) showed that business owners in Vienna with a migration background generate € 8.3 billion in revenue and create around 45,500 jobs. 

Plus, these companies pay around € 3.7 billion every year in taxes and duties.

Walter Ruck, President of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, said: “Companies with a migrant background not only enrich the diversity of the corporate landscape in Vienna, but they are also an economic factor.”

READ MORE: Diversity and jobs: How migrants contribute to Vienna’s economy

Who are these migrants?

Part of the survey involved a qualitative research with migrant entrepreneurs in Vienna, but also a comprehensive quantitative data analysis of registered businesses.

Many of the entrepreneurs interviewed were first generation (meaning they were not born in Austria), and most were between 26 and 35 years old and male. In total, the small businesses surveyed employed two to a maximum of four employees, most of whom were related to the owner.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The main Austrian ‘tax traps’ foreigners should be aware of

The entrepreneurs with a migrant background who were interviewed generally either did not have higher school-leaving qualifications (known in Austria as the Matura) or have not yet had their foreign certificates recognised in Austria and therefore do not work in their sector of study. 

First-generation migrants, in particular, tend to have lower educational qualifications, which has a negative impact on their chances in the labour market, the study said. Because of that, the respondents named a lack of occupational alternatives as one of the decisive factors for starting a business.

Additionally, many of the respondents said they relied on a network of people from their own nationality for help setting up a business. Many of them weren’t aware of the support offered by official bodies, including the Chamber of Commerce. 

READ ALSO: What is the new cost of living ‘credit’ for self-employed people in Austria?

The study concluded that language barriers and some cultural aspects played a role, but since most entrepreneurs were interested in getting more detailed information on starting and running businesses, there was potential for better communication and targeting by the public offices.

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