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Austrian centre-right calls for ban on far-right Identitarians

Austria's centre-right party has said it will insist on banning the far-right Identitarian Movement (IBÖ) as a condition of any coalition after next month's elections.

Austrian centre-right calls for ban on far-right Identitarians
File photo of the Austrian parliament. Photo: Alex Halada/AFP

Such a ban “must be in the next coalition agreement”, ÖVP parliamentary group leader August Wöginger said in a statement released to Austrian media.

The IBÖ, previously best known for its anti-immigration stunts, sparked controversy in Austria earlier this year after it was revealed that its leader Martin Sellner received money and exchanged emails with the suspected perpetrator of gun attacks on mosques in New Zealand in March which left 51 people dead.

The ÖVP's call for the movement to be banned comes as it tries to maintain its commanding poll lead ahead of parliamentary elections on September 29th while at the same time distancing itself from its former coalition partner, the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ).

Austrian media reports have documented numerous links between Identitarian activists and FPÖ party members.

After the ÖVP first floated possible moves against the Identitarians earlier this week, the FPÖ's former Interior Minister Herbert Kickl rejected the possibility of banning the IBÖ, saying such a move would be “a deep attack on the rule of law”.

Wöginger said in his statement that Kickl had become the Identitarians' “principal patron saint”.

The coalition between the ÖVP and the FPÖ was sworn in in late 2017 but was dogged by frequent scandals over extremist statements by FPÖ party members.

The government collapsed in May after a video emerged of the then leader of the FPÖ, Heinz-Christian Strache, appearing to offer public contracts to a fake Russian donor in return for campaign help for the FPÖ.

The scandal prompted Strache to resign as vice-chancellor and led then Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to call fresh elections.

Earlier this week Strache's house was raided as apart of another investigation into possible corruption offences surrounding the appointment of an FPÖ official to a high-ranking position at a gambling corporation.

Despite the scandals, and the recriminations that have flown between the ÖVP and the FPÖ since their coalition collapsed, a fresh government composed of the two parties is seen as one of the most likely outcomes of September's poll.

For members

IMMIGRATION

‘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.”

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