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Austrian report
by Euro Reporter
2015-03-22 11:34:32
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Austria defends new law on foreign funding of mosques

austria_400_01Austria’s foreign minister has rejected criticism of the country’s new law on Islam aimed at cutting off foreign influence and funding, arguing that the legislation should become a model for the rest of Europe. In an interview with the Guardian, Sebastian Kurz, whose role in the Austrian government also includes the portfolio for social integration, took particular aim at the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, suggesting Erdogan’s opposition to the law was motivated by fear of losing political influence on Austrian Muslims. “I’m not surprised by the criticism from President Erdoğan. This was to be expected,” Kurz said. “In our opinion, imams should be role models for young Muslims and must show that it is possible to be a proud Austrian and a believing Muslim at the same time and so there will be no need for Turkish imams in the future. Imams must show that it is possible to be a proud Austrian and a believing Muslim at the same time.

“And this is maybe the point why Erdoğan is so critical about our Islam law. At the moment we have more than 60 imams from Turkey and in the future we will have our own Austrian imams,” Kurz said. “It will not be possible in the future to have imams employed by the Turkish government.” The new legislation, passed last month, is an update of a century-old law establishing the legal status of Islam under the Habsburg empire. The reform strengthens protections for Muslims, giving official status to their religious holidays, recognising the status of Islamic graveyards and the right to have Islamic pastoral care in public institutions like hospitals. Kurz said that Austrian right-wingers were also against the law for those reasons, “so it seems we have reached a good middle ground in my opinion”. The section of the law which has drawn the most ire from Muslims inside and outside Austria restricts foreign funding for Austrian mosques and Islamic communities. Critics point out that equivalent laws do not exist for the Orthodox Christian and Jewish communities who also have foreign links.


Commerzbank considers legal action over Austrian ‘bad bank’

Commerzbank is considering its “commercial and legal options” in the face of potential write-downs on securities from Heta Asset Resolution, the so-called bad bank set up to deal with the stricken Austrian lender, Hypo Alpe Adria. Earlier this month, the Austrian government ordered a 15-month moratorium on principal and interest payments for about €10bn bonds issued by Heta, after an audit of its balance sheet revealed a capital hole of up to €7.6bn, far more than previously feared. In its annual report, published on Wednesday, Commerzbank said that it had about €400m of exposure to Heta, which was set up last year. “At the beginning of March 2015, prices for the securities in the market were quoted at between 40 per cent and 50 per cent,” Germany’s second-largest lender said. “Commerzbank is presently evaluating its commercial and legal options.”

Commerzbank’s statement is the latest example of the ripple effects from the collapse of Hypo Alpe Adria, which was nationalised by the Austrian government in 2009 after a breakneck expansion into the Balkans ended in failure. Austria has since had to inject more than €5bn into the bank. Last weekend, Düsseldorfer Hypothekenbank, a small German property lender, had to be rescued because of its €350m exposure to Heta, while Deutsche Pfandbriefbank said on March 9 that it would take a €120m hit for the same reason. Analysts at the credit rating agency Fitch, said last week that they expected the losses for German banks as a result of the Heta moratorium to be “material” but “manageable”.

“Assuming a haircut of 50 per cent and that German banks hold around 40 per cent of Heta’s liabilities that are affected by the moratorium, we do not expect Heta-related losses to exceed 15 basis points of the German banking sector’s common equity tier one ratio,” the analysts wrote. “However, we estimate this could cost up to 10 per cent of the sector’s 2015 net profit, illustrating the potential of a single resolution to dent the performance of even large, diversified banking systems under the EU Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive regime.” Fitch analysts said that BayernLB, the Bavarian regional lender that co-owned Hypo when it was nationalised, would be “the most affected” of Germany’s Landesbanken, with €2.35bn unsecured loans at the end of 2014.  “However, BayernLB’s published 12.8 per cent common equity tier one ratio at [the end of September] provides an adequate buffer,” Fitch said.


Anti-Muslim attacks soar in Austria

Reflecting soaring Islamophobia across Europe, a new racism report warned of increasing attacks against Muslims and asylum seekers in the central European country of Austria. “A lot of political capital has been made by talking about the danger of immigrants who fail to integrate,” Claudia Schäfer, managing director of ZARA, a Vienna-based NGO which works to combat racism and promote civil courage, was quoted by the Local on Sunday, March 20. “But sadly this is contributing to increasing prejudices against certain groups and a general suspicion of Muslims.” Released by ZARA, the report showed a slight increase in the number of reported racist attacks between 2013 and 2014. While 731 racist incidents were reported in 2013, about 794 attacks were reported in 2014, with notable increase in attacks against Muslims and Jews.

Out of the 794 attacks, “20 percent of these cases were related to racist remarks or attacks in public places, 19 percent in economic life such as during the provision of goods and services”, the report revealed. It also added that “17 percent on the internet, 8 percent in the politics and media, and 7 percent from the police”. As the anti-Muslim attacks have doubled since 2013, more than 61 incidents against Muslims have been documented by ZARA in 2014. According to the NGO, the anti-Muslim attacks increased after the emergence of the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) last summer. Despite Muslims' condemnation of the extremist group, ISIL heinous crimes have fuelled anti-Muslim sentiment in the European country. Biased Austrian media coverage and offensive remarks by politicians have fuelled racist attacks, according to ZARA's Schäfer. Austrian Muslims are estimated at about half a million or nearly 6 percent of the European country's 8 million population.

In Vienna, Islam is the second-largest religious grouping, after Roman Catholicism. The Austrian parliament has passed controversial reforms to the country’s century-old law on Islam, adding more restrictions on mosques, imams and funding of worshipping houses. Last month, the Austrian parliament has passed controversial reforms to the country’s century-old law on Islam, adding more restrictions on mosques, imams and funding of worshipping houses.

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