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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

Every weekday, The Local brings you an English-language summary of the news you need to know in Austria.

Crowds walk past a clothing store at Vienna's famous shopping street, Mariahilferstrasse, in Vienna
Crowds walk past a clothing store at Vienna's famous shopping street, Mariahilferstrasse, in Vienna. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

Austria to give €150 to people on low incomes

Around 750,000 people are expected to benefit from the decision in Austria’s parliament this week. A one-off €150 payment will be given to people who are unemployed as well as beneficiaries of several different benefits, intended as ‘inflation adjustment’ to compensate for the higher cost of living.

Vienna launches free restaurant voucher scheme for shoppers this weekend

Anyone who shops at a brick-and-mortar store in Vienna (not online) this weekend can submit their receipt to receive vouchers to use at restaurants in the capital. The city council said that “at least 50 percent of the invoice amount will then be reimbursed, up to a maximum of €100” and that the vouchers would be given in €25 amounts.

To be eligible, your purchase needs to take place on December 18th or 19th — the retail sector has been allowed to open on Sunday to make up for some of the turnover lost during the fourth lockdown in a rare exception to Austria’s strict Sunday closing laws. 

Only receipts from shops which were closed during the lockdown are eligible, so pharmacies, supermarkets and food shops are not included.

Vienna and Burgenland likely to be downgraded from ‘very high risk’ to ‘high risk’ for Covid

That’s if the weekly update from Austria’s Corona Commission under its traffic light system follows its current criteria. For several weeks, all nine regions have been marked as red or ‘very high risk’ due to a combination of factors including incidence rate and ICU capacity. This week, the figures in both Vienna and Burgenland are sufficient for these regions to turn ‘orange’, which still means ‘high risk’ for Covid-19 — unless there is any change to the system, for example due to the spread of the Omicron variant. The updates aren’t showing on the official website yet but should do later today.

Hundreds join illegal protest against Covid measures

Up to 650 people joined a protest in central Vienna on Wednesday afternoon against the Covid-19 measures, which had not been given the police permission required to take place. Police described the event as “loud, but peaceful”, though some reports were made due to non-compliance with mask regulations. Similarly, an unregistered rally against the measures gathered several hundred participants in Graz and was not broken up by police as it remained peaceful, though the organiser has been reported.

In Vienna, demonstrations this weekend are only permitted from 6pm onwards, due to a request from the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, Der Standard reports. This applies also to a planned silent memorial, which will now take place at 6.30pm with a minute’s silence at 7pm, instead of earlier in the afternoon.

Salzburg streets will retain Nazi names

A majority in Salzburg’s regional council voted against renaming any of 66 streets named after prominent Nazis and Nazi supporters.

A commission of historians set up by the city had recommended renaming 13 of these, and the Green Party and the KPÖ voted in favour of this, with the conservative ÖVP and far-right FPÖ voting against. The centre-left SPÖ voted to rename five streets.

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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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