Two prominent Austrian journalists step aside over graft scandal

Two prominent Austrian editors are stepping aside over a wide-ranging graft scandal that led to the resignation of top politicians, including former conservative chancellor Sebastian Kurz, their news outlets, Die Presse and ORF, said Monday.

Two prominent Austrian journalists step aside over graft scandal
A photo taken on October 18, 2021 shows a copy of Austrian news magazine 'Falter' featuring an illustration of former Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz on its front page amid various other Austrian newspapers in Vienna. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

The so-called “Ibizagate” corruption scandal that broke in 2019 has rocked Austrian politics, with leaked material revealing close links between top politicians, business people and the media.

READ ALSO: What measures against foreigners is Austria’s far-right trying to take?

Rainer Nowak, publisher and editor-in-chief of top newspaper Die Presse, will relinquish his day to day duties at the title pending an internal probe of the allegations against him, his group announced.

Also on Monday, public broadcaster ORF ordered senior editor Matthias Schrom to go on leave pending an internal probe. According to the leaks, Nowak exchanged messages with an ally of ex-chancellor Kurz to discuss being appointed to ORF, while Schrom exchanged friendly notes with former far-right leader and vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache.

In a letter to readers last week, Nowak apologised for the messages’ “tonality and inappropriate closeness”.

Last month, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen called for wide-ranging reforms of the country’s political culture following fresh
revelations relating to the scandal.

READ ALSO: Is Austria’s Freedom Party a ‘far-right’ party?

The scandal broke in 2019 when a video filmed on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza showed Strache offering public contracts in exchange for campaign help to a fake Russian oligarch.

Ex-chancellor Kurz — who had been hailed as the “Wunderkind” of Europe’s conservatives — quit last year after being implicated in the investigations that followed the video’s publication. Kurz himself has dismissed any allegations of wrong-doing and has not been charged so far.

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‘Inhuman speech’: Austria’s far-right blasted for wanting to tie social benefits to German skills

Politicians in Austria criticised a far-right FPÖ leader who called for a suspension of citizenship granted to non-Europeans and for the tying of social benefits to proof of German skills.

'Inhuman speech': Austria's far-right blasted for wanting to tie social benefits to German skills

Austrian politicians criticised Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) member Maximilian Krauss in Vienna after he demanded proof of German as a prerequisite for social benefits and asked for “no citizenship to be granted to people who come from outside Europe”.

Jörg Konrad, a member of the liberal party NEOS, denounced the “inhuman speech” and said that the sole criterion for receiving the benefits was “need”. “Serious politics and striving for solutions simply cannot be expected from the FPÖ,” Konrad said.

During a Vienna Parliament session on Wednesday, Krauss, chairman of the FPÖ, pointed out that more than two-thirds of the total 260,000 people “collecting” minimum benefits in Austria lived in Vienna. 

READ ALSO: What measures against foreigners is Austria’s far-right trying to take?

According to him, the majority of them, almost 60 percent, did not have Austrian citizenship and were “making themselves comfortable at the taxpayers’ expense” in Vienna.

“The majority of minimum income recipients were social migrants unwilling to work”, Krauss said.

The FPÖ representative stated: “By now, we know that neither rocket scientists nor the urgently needed skilled workers came to our country in 2015”.

Krauss called for obligatory German language skills for tenants of municipal apartments or proof of German as a prerequisite for social benefits, such as the minimum income. He also demanded that Austrian citizenship should not be granted to people who come from outside Europe and said that immigration or family reunifications must be slowed down or suspended.

What is the ‘minimum income’?

The issue was raised because, according to Krauss, migrants came to Austria and, in particular, to Vienna, looking to live off of the country’s social system and the city’s “Minimum Income” (Mindestsicherung).

According to the City of Vienna, the “minimum income” is financial support to secure the cost of living and the rent of Viennese with little or no income. Only Austrians, EU or EEA citizens, persons entitled to asylum or third-country nationals who are long-term residents can apply for this assistance. 

The applicant must also generally prove their willingness to work via registration with the labour office AMS. In addition, there are several other preconditions and required documents to apply for assistance.

The monthly payment amount varies according to each person’s conditions, but, in 2022, it’s not more than € 978 per person, with possible extra payouts of up to €117 per minor child and up to € 176 if the person has a disability.

A sign reading ‘control’ (‘Kontrolle’) stands on the road at the German-Austrian border near Lindau, southern Germany. (Photo by STEFAN PUCHNER / DPA / AFP)

‘Xenophobic instincts’

“The minimum income serves as a social safety net against poverty, especially for children, single parents and people who are particularly at risk of poverty”, said centre-left SPÖ member Kurt Wagner. 

He went further: “The FPÖ rarely contribute to solving a problem but are often the problem themselves because of their populism and xenophobic instincts”.

READ ALSO: Is Austria’s Freedom Party a ‘far-right’ party?

Green politician Viktoria Spielmann said that the minimum income is enough to ensure the most basic needs: “Have you ever had to make do with such an amount? To put the amount into perspective, rents in Vienna averaged €500. So the minimum income was the least that would secure people’s existence.” 

For her, calling recipients “lazy” or unwilling to work is unfair.

So, how much do foreigners take up?

In 2021, 135,649 Viennese received the minimum income, according to Stadt Wien data. The number of non-Austrians receiving the payments was 77,746, accounting for about 57 percent of recipients. 

However, the City of Vienna mentioned that the Austrian capital has a higher proportion of foreign residents and cited a study that concluded that compared to Austrians, migrants from non-European countries had more difficulty getting jobs, even after years of living in Austria.

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

Additionally, foreigners also bring money into the Austrian economy. 

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. 

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.”