Banks and campaigning parties focus on immigrants

Around 6,000 immigrants have opened accounts at Erste Bank in the past three years following a groundbreaking project targeting foreigners.Peter Thier, a spokesman for the institute, said today (Fri): “Our pilot project worked so well that we decided to keep and expand it.”He explained five clerks speaking Serbian, Croatian and Turkish worked in branches in Vienna, Schwechat and Mödling to support immigrants with banking. Thier said their number will be expanded to 26 as of now after Erste Bank won 6,000 new customers with a so-called migration background with the initiative.Other banks have also increased their efforts in reaching the 1.47 million people living in Austria who were born abroad or were raised by parents who settled in the country after migrating from somewhere else.A spokeswoman for BAWAG PSK said at least one employee in one in three branches across the country speaks Bulgarian, Czech, Croatian or other south-eastern European languages.Raiffeisenzentralbank’s Vienna-Lower Austria (RLB NÖ) department has employed more than 30 clerks speaking Turkish, Bosnian and other foreign languages for two years.Tiemon Kiesenhofer, a spokesman for UniCredit subsidy Bank Austria (BA), said BA has “many” employees speaking several foreign languages especially in its 160 branches in the capital Vienna.Volksbank AG (ÖVAG) announced it will start a project focusing on immigrants next year.Banks reportedly also increased their portfolio of products and services to match the demands of migrant customers. Thier said Erste Bank has started offering credits for famously lavish Turkish weddings.Migration also dominates the current campaigning for the 10 October Vienna city parliament election.The right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) has accused the ruling Social Democrats (SPÖ) of doing more for foreigners than “honest, hard-working Austrians” and Austrian families.It also branded the SPÖ – which rules with an absolute majority after garnering 49.1 per cent in 2005 – of having become an “Islamist party”. The FPÖ claimed the Social Democrats would focus on winning the support of the city’s Muslims while doing too little for its Jewish community. The FPÖ however also stressed it had nothing against people who are well integrated and have a job.SPÖ Vienna official Christian Deutsch said the FP֒s campaigning was nothing but agitating against minorities and an attempt to create hatred among the 1.7 million residents of the city.The Social Democrats have pointed out that Vienna reached good rankings in various international living quality surveys and are expected to focus on these aspects further as the ballot approaches.SPÖ Mayor Michael Häupl stressed it was important for him that everyone living in the city got along with each other, and that Vienna was a safe place to live 24 hours a day.All parties nominated migrants or politicians coming from families of migrants. The Greens have the most migrant runners of all parties in their 20 top-listed positions with seven competing for councillor posts.Athens-born Vienna Greens chief Maria Vassilakou said she wanted to become vice mayor also since a female vice mayor with a foreign background must be FPÖ boss Heinz-Christian Strache’s “biggest nightmare”.Analysts are at odds over which of the three middle-sized parties – the Greens, the FPÖ and the People’s Party (ÖVP) – has the best chances of coming second. The ÖVP reached second place in the previous city vote five years ago with 18.8 per cent, while the FPÖ (14.8 per cent) narrowly beat the Greens (14.6 per cent) for third place.Some experts have claimed the FP֒s populist campaign full of controversial statements about crime rates and against foreigners could scare off more moderate supporters of right-wing ideology.It has to be seen whether the FPÖ will manage to get the support of disappointed SPÖ working class supporters or if the Social Democrats win back the votes of estranged former backers because of some of Strache’s statements.The Greens’ bid to come second suffered a dramatic blow recently when several influential district department officials left the party to found their new Echt Grün (Real Green) faction. Former federal party leader Alexander Van der Bellen – who has supported the Viennese Greens on the campaign trail – labelled the incidents as a “soap opera”. Vassilakou said the current political circumstances posed a “unique chance” for the Greens to come to power in Vienna.The SPÖ is however expected to approach the ÖVP for talks if it fails to retain its majority in seats. New ÖVP Vienna boss Christine Marek promised her party would be a “control authority” for the Social Democrats in a possible coalition cooperation. She pledged the ÖVP will cause a “fresh breeze” in City Hall after the election, adding one of her party’s key targets was to reduce the dominating SP֒s influence of day to day life in the city.Marek recently appointed Croat-born swimmer Dinko Jukic to run for her party in the district of Meidling. The 2008 European Champion’s sister Mirna – who announced her retirement from professional swimming last night – has publicly backed the SPÖ in previous elections.The ÖVP is popular among Vienna’s Roman-Catholic Polish migrants, while the SPÖ can be certain of the support of almost the whole Turkish community.The FPÖ does badly among all migrant groups, but increased its efforts to become popular among people from former Yugoslavian countries since the 2008 general election. Research however has revealed that such measures have been rather fruitless so far, while the Greens have strong support among all ethnic minorities.While media coverage has mostly focused on immigration issues and the “duel” between Häupl and Strache the FPÖ has called out, the most powerful group of voters are those who did not participate in the 2005 ballot when four in 10 residents eligible to vote stayed away from the polling booths.