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Austria backs giant EU investment plan

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Austria backs giant EU investment plan
Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: APA
10:15 CET+01:00
Austria’s government has said it fully supports a €300 billion ($374 billion) European Commission investment package, designed to pull Europe out of its economic slump over the next five years.

At the heart of EC President Jean-Claude Juncker’s agenda is a €21bn European Fund for Strategic Investment aimed at stimulating growth and jobs. He will be revealing more details on Wednesday.

Chancellor Werner Faymann said on Tuesday that economic forecasts of European countries show "relatively small increases" in economic growth, too small to support employment, education, research, and development, and as such growth must be strengthened by sustained investment, both domestically and on an EU-level.

Vice-Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner said that Austria has submitted €28 billion worth of project proposals, and while he did not expect to receive the full sum, he hoped for a substantial part of it.

The list of investments and infrastructure projects will take months to sift through. The scheme has been heavily criticised as it relies on subprime forms of financial engineering, and will leave EU taxpayers bearing the heaviest risk.

If the scheme goes ahead the money will be used to build roads, renew railways, refine energy grids or upgrade high-speed internet. It requires the consent of EU leaders and legislation next year.

Britain is opposed to such a full-scale spending spree, but Germany has given it a warm welcome.

Austria has emerged remarkably well from the economic downturn, having registered economic growth since 2009. Only Germany boasts lower unemployment, and only Luxembourg has higher productivity per head of population. 

However, growth predictions have been cut and the cost of winding down Hypo Alpe Adria, a failed bank, will push Austria's public debt to around 87 percent of GDP.

Business leaders have also called for a reform to the tax system, with steep social security and pension costs hampering Austria's competitiveness - but it remains unclear how such a cut in income tax will be financed.

 

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