Today in Austria: A round-up of the latest news on Thursday

Find out what's going on today in Austria with The Local's short roundup of the news.

Cafe Korb in lockdown
AFP/ Alex Halada

Virologist says lockdown ‘no longer working’ in Vienna and Lower Austria

The Innsbruck scientist Günter Weiss, believes the lockdown in Vienna and Lower Austria is no longer effective.

He said people had not changed their behaviour enough in the most recent lockdown to control infections. The lockdown is due to end May 2nd, and the expert advocated opening steps in May, broadcaster ORF reports. 

One million extra Pfizer doses for Austria

EU Commission President von der Leyen has announced the EU is purchasing an additional 50 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. For Austria this means one million doses delivered earlier in the second quarter, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper.

Contents of Chancellor’s phone messages to be revealed?

Opposition parties looking into the Ibiza scandal in Austria’s U-Committee (the SPÖ, NEOS and FPÖ) have asked Austria’s  Constitutional Court (VfGH) for access to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s work mobile phone and the SMS, WhatsApp, iMessage, Telegram and signal messages on it.

The Constitutional Court will declare that the Federal Chancellor should comply, broadcaster ORF reports. 

READ MORE: What you need to know about Austria’s Ibiza-gate video

FPÖ MPs criticised for travelling to Paraguay on ‘diplomatic’ visit

Austria’s ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party) has criticised a trip to Paraguay made by FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria) politicians, which they claimed was a “diplomatic” visit. 

ÖVP Bundesrat chairman, Karl Bader, said it was a “slap in the face of those people who have supported all the measures in lockdown for a year”. 

Paraguay is in the list of countries with a travel warning due to the coronavirus infection rate, he said. The trip was reported by the Kronen Zeitung newspaper on Wednesday.

While visiting Paraguay the MPs voted via video conference against the mask requirement in the Austrian Parliament, broadcaster ORF reports. 

EU money for green and digital projects

Austria has submitted its plan for the European reconstruction fund, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper.

Chancellor Kurz made the announcement on Wednesday after the Council of Ministers. It is estimated that €3.5 billion will go to projects, with a focus on digitisation and greening. In the past few weeks, the opposition had repeatedly criticised Austria for submitting its plans too late. 

Weaknesses in Austria’s labour market exposed by pandemic, OECD reports

The OECD (Organisation for economic cooperation and development) warns the pandemic has exposed weaknesses on the labour market in Austria, Wiener Zietung newspaper reports.

These are shortcomings in the digital sector, many long-term unemployed and comparatively few women working full-time on the labor market, according to the OECD paper “Going for Growth 2021: Shaping a Vibrant Recovery”, the outlet reports.

End of the combustion engine in Austria?

Eco-tax reform for Austria could include switching to production of only electric cars from 2025, according to a study from the scientist Gerd Sammer and experts from the Road-Rail-Transport Research Association, Der Standard newspaper reports. 

The study says the 15 year service life of cars means if the goal of climate neutrality by 2040 is taken seriously by the government, from 2025 only fossil-free cars should go into operation, explains Sammer. Petrol costs could rise and cars have to pay road tolls based on distances travelled, according to the study. 

Construction boom in Austria

State aid in Austria has created a building boom and price increases, with entrepreneurs saying construction costs have risen by up to 15 percent.

The higher construction costs completely eat up the investment premium and higher prices generate more tax revenue, Die Presse newspaper reports.

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EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

Vienna's Fiaker - the horse-drawn carriages seen across the city's streets for centuries - are popular with tourists, but animal rights advocates say the practice is cruel, particularly as temperatures rise.

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

The image of two horses carrying a carriage full of tourists mesmerised by beautiful Austrian sights is quite a common one, particularly in Vienna.

The Fiaker, which is the Austrian name (borrowed from French) for the set of two horses, plus a carriage and coachman, are quite popular and represent an important part of Viennese history.

The first license for a Fiaker was granted in the capital around 1700. They rose in popularity before the advent of cars in the 1900s.

“They are just as much a part of Vienna as St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Giant Ferris Wheel: the fiakers”, according to the Vienna Tourist Board.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Now, though, the symbol for the capital has become the target of controversy. For years, animal rights groups have protested against the overworking of the animals, the stressful conditions for the horses on busy Viennese roads and the extreme heat they face in summer. 

What are the main issues raised?

For years now, several animal rights groups have protested against exploiting the animals for touristic purposes.

By Vienna regulations, the horses need to be out of the streets once temperatures reach 35C. Many groups ask for the limit to be at least 30C instead.

Additionally, the temperature base is measured at the stables, in the mostly shaded areas from where the animals leave every morning to work in Vienna’s first district, where the blazing sun and scorching pavements could make temperatures higher by several degrees.

READ ALSO: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

Another issue raised by groups is that the fiaker no longer fits in a busy 21st-century capital – with its busy roads and loud cars. They claim that walking among the many vehicles and tourists of the first district is unnecessarily stressful for the horses.

A traditional Fiaker in the Viennese first district. (photo: Amanda Previdelli / The Local)

What do the fiaker associations say?

Many representatives of the organisations reiterate that the animals are well-cared for and used to the heat.

A spokeswoman for the carriage companies asks for a round table with politicians as debates heat up, ORF reported. The veterinarian Isabella Copar, who works for two Fiaker farms, says there is no basis for the 30C regulation.

“I don’t understand that politicians make a judgment on animal welfare, even though they have no idea about the animals”, she told the broadcaster.

READ ALSO: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Copar mentions a 2008 study by the Veterinary school of the University of Vienna saying that after nearly 400 measurements on the animals, not a single case of “heat stress” was found.

As for the infamous cases when horses have collapsed in the streets of Vienna during particularly hot days, she states that the collapses are usually due to a horse disease.

It was never possible to establish a connection with the heat. “If this happens in the stable, no one is interested,” the veterinarian said.

What is next?

The latest news in the controversy is a major one. The Health Minister, who is also Animal Protection Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens), has stated he would “welcome” a debate about a Fiaker ban.

“You should think about it, really for animal welfare reasons, whether you should expose a horse to this stress.

According to the minister, there is a question also as to whether the use of the carriages fits in the context of a large city at all. “I think that’s a bit outdated”, he said.

READ ALSO: Austria bans ‘senseless’ killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

There is a particular tug of war between the City and the Federal Government regarding whose responsibility it is to act on a possible ban or even tighten the rules.

Both authorities are set to talk about the issue in June. They are set to also speak with the Fiaker associations.

Vienna is unlikely to see a total ban as early as that. Still, a 30C temperature limit after which the horses would need to be sent back to stables could be heading to the capital.