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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

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

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JOE KLAMAR / AFP

It’s decision day for Austria, with the federal government, states, municipalities and social partners meeting  to discuss the gradual easing of the corona measures announced by the government from mid-May.

READ MORE: Austria to open up mid May but will the green passport and Vienna be ready?

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has promised everything from culture to sport, gastronomy and tourism will open up, but there will be strict conditions.

The opening commission will meet at 11am in the Federal Chancellery. There should be an announcement with more details by early afternoon.

READ MORE: Travel and testing in bars and restaurants, how Austria plans to open up in May

Another virus variant found in Tyrol

Tyrol is once again a hotspot for a new virus variant. The Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports there has been an increase in Covid-19 infections with a virus variant in which the so-called E484K mutation is present in addition to the B1.1.7 or British variant. B1.1.7 + E484K is likely to be even more contagious compared to B1.1.7, the paper reports.

Preliminary PCR tests have found 1,800 instances of this variant. Previously Tyrol was a European hotspot for the South African variant of the virus. Broadcaster ORF reports the mandatory exit test for Tyrol will be extended up to and including 5th May.

Better internet for Austria?

Austria has one of the slowest internet speeds in the EU, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper.

It reports €1.4billion is planned by the government to speed up the network, with €891 provided by EU funding. 

Wirecard revelations continue

More shocking revelations have come in the Wirecard scandal, which involve two Austrians at the highest level: Ex-managing director Markus Braun, who is in custody, and ex-board member Jan Marsalek, who has gone into hiding and has numerous connections in secret service circles according to broadcaster ORF.

The latest is a report in the Financial Times that Wirecard employees regularly looted millions of euros in cash out of the group’s Munich HQ, carrying out the cash in supermarket plastic bags.

10,000 deaths from coronavirus 

Austria has now sadly recorded 10,000 deaths from coronavirus, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports.

More unemployment benefits

Around 220,000 people without a job will benefit from the increase in emergency aid to the level of unemployment benefit decided by the National Council, which will come into effect retroactively from 1st April, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports.

Labor Minister Kocher gave more details on how he plans to get 50,000 long-term unemployed people  back to work by the end of 2022. The government will create incentives for employment with combined wage models.

Tax deferred for companies a further three months

It will be possible for companies to defer paying taxes for a further three months from July on request, with only a symbolic amount of 0.5 or 1% due in this period, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports.

The Chamber of Commerce [WKÖ] sees this as an “important partial success”, it reports. Otherwise, companies will have to repay taxes deferred in the pandemic from July. 

Member comments

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    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBIuFEwOsv4

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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Friday

Austria needs to 'wake up' in terms of neutrality, kindergarten headscarf ban overturned and more news on Friday.

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Friday

Former foreign minister says Austria needs to examine its security policy 

The former Austrian ÖVP Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik has given a speech calling for Austria to look again at its security policy in the light of the debate over neutrality. “Austrian security policy has been dormant for almost a quarter of a century. We cannot afford to sleep for decades,” said Plassnik, according to broadcaster ORF, speaking at the Medienzentrum Ausseerland conference in Grundlsee organized by the Association of Foreign Press.

She said it was time for an update of the security policy, which is now ten years old, and to carry out a “careful, impartial and EU-compliant current risk analysis”. Plassnik suggested an “options report” should be carried out in 2022. This has been attempted before in 1998, but failed because Austria’s SPÖ party did not want to examine NATO membership at the time.

Following the decision of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, 23 EU countries now belong to the North Atlantic Defense Alliance. Only Ireland, Malta, Cyprus and Austria remain outside.

Plassnik called for debate, saying Austria was a “stowaway” in terms of security policy, in which its neighbors, the NATO members, paid the insurance policy. She added while Austrians may “carry neutrality in their hearts” it was important not to lose their heads. 

READ MORE: ‘No country is an island’: Is it time for Austria to abandon its neutrality policy?

No more headscarf ban in Austrian kindergartens

The headscarf ban in Austria’s kindergartens has been repealed. The measure will no longer be included in the new 15a agreement between the federal and state governments, broadcaster ORF reports. A law banning headscarves in Austrian schools, introduced under the previous ÖVP-FPÖ coalition government was overturned previously because it was found not to be compatible with Austria’s federal constitution. However, state laws mean in kindergartens, the ban is still in force, except in Salzburg and Tyrol. The constitutional court said in a statement that these laws were probably also unconstitutional

 A new 15a agreement is currently being negotiated between the federal and state governments, as the current regulation expires at the end of August. The details will be revealed later today (Friday). It is expected the government will announce payments of a  “kindergarten billion” distributed over the next five years. This will mean Austria’s federal states will receive money to expand their offer in the compulsory kindergarten year before school, and to give better language support. The agreement is already drawing criticism for not including enough quality criteria around group sizes or care. 

Virologist calms fears over monkey pox in Austria

The virologist Norbert Nowotny has sought to reassure people in Austria over the recent outbreaks of monkey pox which have been seen around the globe, in an interview with Puls 24

So far there have been no cases in Austria, but the virologist said it was possible there would be one or two imported cases. For people with a healthy immune system monkey pox was “no big deal” he said. However in immunocompromised people, the infection can be more severe.

Gewessler calls for Austria to adapt “circular economy”

Leonore Gewessler, Austria’s Green Minister for the Environment is working on a strategy for a circular economy, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing and recycling existing materials and products rather than buying new ones. She said repairs were an important factor to allow Austria to become climate-neutral by 2050 and operate sustainably. In order for long-lasting devices and repairs to be better established on the market, many other coordinated measures are needed in addition to the new repair bonus – as is the case for the entire strategy itself, which could be completed by June.

READ MORE: Repair bonus: How to get money back when electrical items break in Austria

Law changes to give more support to displaced people from Ukraine

Austria’s laws will change to give more support for people displaced from Ukraine, despite the ‘no’ votes of the FPÖ. Ukrainians have now been included in an Integration Act, giving them access to German and orientation courses. It should become easier for Ukrainians to enter the labour market, and have their educational qualifications and professional qualifications recognised, broadcaster ORF reports.

European parliament votes in favour of sanctions against Austria’s former foreign minister

The European Parliament voted by a large majority in favor of sanctions against politicians and Europeans who draw large amounts of money from Russia on Thursday, naming Austria’s  former FPÖ Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl along with Germany’s ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. 

The text also mentioned Austria’s former Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel (ÖVP), noting he had “recently resigned” from his office in a Russian company in contrast to politicians such as Kneissl, broadcaster ORF reports.

Payments for Russian gas can be made in roubles, according to ‘EU circles’ 

According to information from EU Commission circles, gas importers such as Austria are also allowed to open a rouble account with the Russian Gazprombank as long as they pay their bills in the agreed currencies, euros or dollars, to another account. Commission officials clarified on Thursday that this would be in line with EU sanctions. The exchange of western currencies into roubles would then have to be carried out via the second account on the Russian side.

The commission recommended states should not set up rouble accounts if possible, but this recommendation has no legal consequences, broadcaster ORF reports. 

At the end of April, Austria’s ÖVP Chancellor, Karl Nehammer, said that it was “fake news from Russian propaganda” that states such as Austria were willing to pay for the gas in roubles and insisted Austria’s energy company, OMV, would continue to pay for gas deliveries from Russia in euros. The Polish politician and former EU Council President Donald Tusk then accused Austria and Germany of having entered the “rouble zone”.

 The Russian energy company Gazprom has halted its gas  supplies to Poland and Bulgaria since they refused to pay for their gas in roubles.

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