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Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Wednesday

The Local Austria
The Local Austria - [email protected]
Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Wednesday
Vienna, Austria - old apartment buildings. (Credit: tupungato GettyImages)

The number of births in Austria continues to fall; asylum applications in the EU surge in November 2023 - but drop in Austria, the liberal party calls for an early exit from Russian gas contracts and more news from Austria on Wednesday.

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The number of births in Austria continues to fall

Preliminary figures from Statistics Austria reveal a concerning trend in birth rates, with 77,296 births registered in 2023, marking a 6.5 percent decrease from the previous year and a notable 10.2 percent decline from the pre-pandemic average of 2015 to 2019. Contrastingly, there were 88,744 deaths, resulting in a birth deficit of 11,448 individuals for the fourth consecutive year.

Statistics Austria Director General Tobias Thomas noted a 7.1 percent increase in deaths compared to the pre-pandemic average, even without the pandemic's impact. Final death figures are expected to rise to around 90,000 due to late registrations. Births, however, are anticipated to see only a marginal increase.

The birth decline was observed across all federal states, with Tyrol experiencing the sharpest decrease at 9.2 percent. Only three federal states, notably Vienna, recorded a positive balance of live births and deaths.

In addition, civil weddings declined by 5.3 percent in 2023, returning to pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, divorces increased slightly by 0.3 percent, with Tyrol witnessing the most significant rise at 9.1 percent.

The data also revealed a decrease in same-sex marriages by 2.4 percent, although 38 conversions from registered partnerships to marriages were recorded.

The overall trends suggest ongoing demographic challenges for Austria, with declining birth rates and shifting marriage patterns.

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Asylum applications in EU surge in November 2023 - fall in Austria

In November 2023, the European Union saw a notable increase in asylum applications, with 108,950 people applying for asylum for the first time, marking an eleven percent rise compared to the previous year. However, according to Eurostat, Austria witnessed a significant decline, with only 2,270 asylum applications compared to 11,745 in November 2022.

Syrians constituted the largest group seeking asylum across the EU, followed by Turks, Afghans, Venezuelans, and Colombians. Germany, Italy, Spain, France, and Greece were the countries with the highest number of applications.

The EU recorded 24.3 asylum applications per hundred thousand inhabitants, with Cyprus and Greece reporting the highest rates. Among the applicants were 3,510 unaccompanied minors, mainly from Syria and Afghanistan. Austria saw 85 unaccompanied minors seeking asylum.

Additionally, there were 6,375 applications from individuals who had previously undergone an asylum procedure in an EU country, with Austria registering 200 such cases in November.

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SPÖ advocates constitutional protection for pension insurance 

The Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) is pushing for elevating statutory pension insurance principles to constitutional status, aiming to secure legal entitlements for workers who have contributed to the system for decades. SPÖ leader Andreas Babler, alongside social affairs spokesman Josef Muchitsch, highlighted the need to safeguard the state pension system against potential interventions.

By enshrining the principles of compulsory insurance and pay-as-you-go financing in the constitution, the SPÖ seeks to bolster the protection of the pension system. Additionally, the party proposes incentives to encourage a higher de facto retirement age, aiming to ensure the system's sustainability.

In a joint press conference, Babler and Muchitsch outlined their party's vision for a robust pension system, including initiatives to strengthen health, child education, and care sectors, combat the "part-time trap" faced by women, and resist raising the statutory retirement age.

These proposals have been formally submitted to the National Council's Social Affairs Committee as a motion for resolution. 

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Liberal party NEOS calls for early exit from Russian gas contracts

NEOS has announced plans to table a motion for resolution in the National Council, urging the government to amend the Gas Industry Act to facilitate an early exit from OMV-Gazprom supply contracts and a gradual cessation of Russian gas imports by 2027.

Karin Doppelbauer, NEOS energy spokesperson, highlighted OMV's unique position among Western European energy companies for maintaining its Russian supply contract without contesting the unilateral supply cuts in 2022.

Energy expert Walter Boltz echoed the sentiment, affirming that Austria's exit from Russian gas is feasible given the current well-supplied European gas market, lower prices, and ample storage capacity. Despite Austria's heavy reliance on Russian gas imports, which constituted 65 percent of total imports in 2023, Doppelbauer stated the urgency of diversifying energy sources and reducing dependence on Russian gas, which cost Austria billions of euros annually.

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New residential construction slowed, fewer rental apartments under construction

The real estate industry in Austria faces significant challenges amidst a sharp decline in new residential construction projects, Kurier reported. 

With soaring interest rates and persistently high construction costs, the current economic landscape has led to a massive reduction in construction starts and the postponement of numerous projects, resulting in a significant supply shortage in the rental apartment sector.

According to Daniel Riedl, a board member at Buwog's parent company Vonovia, the economic viability of developing affordable rental apartments has become increasingly complex, with construction starts for 2024 currently on hold.

Karina Schunker, Managing Director of EHL-Wohnen, highlights that the scarcity of rental apartments has led to a decrease in lease terminations as residents opt to stay in their current accommodations due to a lack of viable alternatives.

Moreover, the surge in interest rates has made homeownership unattainable for many prospective buyers, further exacerbating the housing crisis. 

As a result of these challenges, the construction of new residential units in Vienna is expected to plummet by over 46 percent compared to 2019, signalling a bleak outlook for the sector. Experts anticipate further declines in construction activity in the coming years, exacerbating the housing shortage and posing significant obstacles to addressing Austria's housing needs.

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