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EUROPEAN UNION

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

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

.     Schönbrunn Palace a on a sunny day in Vienna (Photo by ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP)
Schönbrunn Palace a on a sunny day in Vienna (Photo by ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP)

BioNtech/Pfizer deliveries will be delayed in June

Biontech/Pfizer will deliver 2.5 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine to Austria in June, but that there are some fluctuations to the weekly delivery schedule, with lower numbers expected to arrive initially. This will be potentially mitigated by higher deliveries towards the end of the month, broadcaster ORF reports.

Austrians see the EU in a negative light

An Eurobarometer survey has found Austrians see the European Union in a negative light. Only 34 percent rate the EU positively, and only eight percent have a very positive image of the European community. In contrast, five percent of those surveyed in Austria have a very negative and 22 percent have a negative image of the European Union. 39 percent see the EU as neutral. In the opinion of the respondents, the EU should focus on access to vaccines, both in Austria and across the EU.

Mandatory vaccination for Vienna Health Association employees

The Vienna Health Association now only hires people who are willing to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Not only health workers are affected, but also administrative and cleaning staff – and everyone doing an internship, ORF reports. 

New traffic light colours for Austria

Salzburg has joined Burgenland and Carinthia in the yellow/green coronavirus traffic light zone, which denotes low risk. Tyrol and Vorarlberg are the only states now classified as high risk (red/orange).  Medium risk (yellow) prevails in the rest of the country. Last week the criteria for the colour scheme were changed, so there are now five colours on the traffic light. The category for very low risk is new, which extends to up to five new infections per 100,000 inhabitants . This category will be shown by the colour green.

READ MORE: Explained how does Austria’s coronavirus traffic light system work?

Seven day incidence at 36

The seven-day incidence, or the number of new infections with the coronavirus in the past seven days per 100,000 inhabitants, is 36. With the exception of Vorarlberg (88.4) and Tyrol (52.8), all federal states are below 50 – with Salzburg (21) and Burgenland (17.7) having the lowest values.

Boat trips resume on the Danube

Tours on boats along the Danube in Vienna have started again. Every Sunday the MS Kaiserin Elisabeth goes to the Wachau in Dürnstein. The “3G rules” are a prerequisite for being able to take a ride. All passengers must either have a negative Covid-19 test, have been vaccinated for at least three weeks – or be able to prove that they have already had a Covid-19 infection to board. There is also a FFP2 mask requirement inside when not consuming food. Trips to Bratislava will not be possible until August, broadcaster ORF reports

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ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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