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What happened to Maria Vassilakou?

It has become quiet around the former deputy mayor. She was the one who caused the most heated debates in Vienna.

She wishes for “more love” in Viennese traffic, Ulli Sima announced a few weeks ago. Effective in the media, including famous cabaret artists in the video. Anyone who knows Ulli Sima knows that it was also a – namely not the first – side blow in the direction of her predecessors in the Vienna Transport Department. This was occupied by the Greens for ten years until autumn 2020. While Birgit Hebein only gave a short interlude, it was above all the Deputy Mayor Maria Vassilakou who set accents.  She did not shy away from conflicts, but was probably the city politician who polarized by far the most.

It was clear from the beginning that things would not always be harmonious. In 2010, Vassilakou was the first with whom the red squad in the town hall had to share their power again after almost 10 years of sole government. Vassilakou, who achieved the best election result to date for the Greens, went into the coalition with declarations of war: The car as a “holy cow” was a discontinued model, Vienna instead needed more public transport users and cyclists in Vienna.

Little love, but all the more controversy there was about Mariahilferstraße and its transformation into a meeting zone. Shortly after taking office, she commissioned a study on traffic calming, with more than four years to go until completion. There were many critics and they were loud, but Vassilakou pulled through her vision – almost with blinkers – and put her stamp on Vienna in the long term: Meanwhile, the “Mahü” is considered a successful Viennese project.

The Greens celebrate the result of the Mariahilferstraße referendum in February 2014.

The 365-euro annual ticket and the expansion of parking space management to almost all districts also went to their cap – with effects on the modal split, which the Vienna city government still likes to pin on its flags today.

“Not for Lulus”

The “Mary” also had to take it. Not only from the opposition, but also the tabloid media ran some very subversive campaigns against the deputy mayor. As a woman and migrant, who also tackles and does not greet her kindly, she has united some things that certain people can hate, she said in 2019 shortly before her farewell. But that, according to the native Greek with dual citizenship, must be endured. Or in – also their – other words: “Governing is not for Lulus”.

Vassilakou and Häupl – an old married couple?APA/HELMUT FOHRINGER

But there was also room for a bit of love in the city government, although not quite as obvious: Mayor Michael Häupl and his vice-president sometimes seemed like a moody old couple, who are crusling each other, but actually can’t do without each other. It is not without reason that Vassilakou still reaps only laurels from the ex-mayor in his interviews, which have become rare.

Heumarkt project seals end

However, the fact that Vassilakou remained loyal to her coalition partner on the Heumarkt project and ignored the party base was her undoing. And as a result, the federal party, which flew out of parliament in the 2017 National Council elections. She was still able to avert an internal party recall, but it was already clear that her political career was coming to an end.

One is still left: club boss Maria Vassilakou, federal spokeswoman Eva Glawischnig and Alexander van der Bellen in 2009.APA

Since her official abdication in June 2019, it has become quiet around Vassilakou. She was moving abroad, she said at the time. Well, the office of your consulting company has an address in Vienna-Dornbach. With “Vienna Solutions” it offers consulting, development and management activities as well as training in urban development and urban transformation strategies, according to the homepage. Its customers are likely to include cities, educational institutions, companies, multilateral organisations and NGOs. Who exactly uses their services is not known. Vassilakou was not available to the “press”. As work samples, all projects from her time as deputy mayor are listed on her website, such as the expansion of the cycle path network or the Seestadt Aspern.

However, it seems to be true that their expertise is likely to be in demand internationally. So Vassilakou’s name can be found on numerous panels of various types ofconferences and organisations, for example at the “European Research and Innovation Days”, the conference “Urban-Rural Partnerships” in Leipzig, or the “AIPH 2021 Green City Conference”.  Vassilakou has also been working for the European Commission since September 2019, as a member of the Horizon Mission Board “Climate neutral smart Cities”.

In recent days, however, Maria Vassilakou’s name has also been mentioned again in connection with Vienna’s transport policy. So it was she who in turn set up the expert commission on the construction of the Lobau Tunnel, to whose report the proponents of the project still refer today. The fact that she could not stop the construction during her term of office was one of her great defeats. There will be no tunnel with the Greens, she said in 2015, and at least she should be right.

Arjun Sethi
Passionate guitarist, gamer and writer. Lives for the perfect review, and scrapes texts until they are razor-sharp.


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