Austria almost at top of EU rich list

Austria has been found to be among the European Union (EU) nations with the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.

Eurostat, the European Commission’s (EC) research and statistic agency, said today (Thurs) that Austria’s per capita GDP was 25 per cent higher than the EU average last year. The institution found the same rate for Denmark and Ireland. Eurostat said that, among all 27 member states, only Luxembourg and the Netherlands did better in this regard in 2010. Bulgaria came last on the list with 43 per cent.

Eurostat explained that it considered aspects such as actual consumer price rates in the EU-27 to create a sensible comparison of the nations’ GDP levels. The agency also announced that non-EU member Albania was the poorest state of the continent. The economically weak state – which wants to join the EU – registered an average per head income of 29 per cent of the average figure established for the EU’s current member countries.

Previously released figures show that Austria has also been doing well in terms of the labour market situation. The country’s jobless rate has ranged between four and five per cent in the past one and a half years. Only the Netherlands weathered the crisis better than Austria among the EU-27 as far as the unemployment rate is regarded.

Austrian Social Democratic (SPÖ) Labour Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer recently identified the fight against youth joblessness as his ministry’s chief issue.

The minister said earlier this week that an additional 8,700 people had joined the domestic job market since 1 May. On that day, Austria was forced to lift all potential barriers jobseekers from Eastern Europe (EE) were confronted with before when looking for work in the Alpine country. The ruling applies to people from 10 countries in EE which joined the EU in 2004. Austria and Germany successfully convinced the EU to allow them to restrict their job markets to natives with some exceptions. This seven-year agreement expired at the beginning of May 2011.

Many economists said it was a mistake to call for this exception due to the possible deficit of the Austrian economy in international competition. Now the Austrian government of SPÖ and the People’s Party (ÖVP) is focusing on the immigration of highly-skilled people from abroad in what is widely seen as a step that was made too late.

News that fewer than 9,000 EE citizens have come to Austria for work since 1 May proves predictions by the Freedom Party (FPÖ) wrong that the country must brace itself for a “wave” of poorly educated jobseekers. The right-wing opposition party warned these people would take jobs away from Austrians. The FPÖ also claimed the upcoming developments would lead to wage dumping.

Austrian think tanks forecast 20,000 to 25,000 additional jobseekers from Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the eight other EU states affected by the end of the special agreement per year.

Hundstorfer said he was convinced the Austrian labour market and the country’s economy would manage to cope with a possible increase of people coming from EE for work. He pointed out that many EE citizens were already working in Austria and added that a new anti-wage dumping and insurance fraud decree meant firms faced fines of up to 50,000 Euros if they were found ignoring Austrian labour laws.