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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

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

Polar bears
Polar bears in Vienna's Schönbrunn zoo, just named the best in Europe. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

School ‘strikes’ across Austria today

Student groups across Austria have announced plans to ‘strike’ on Tuesday over the Covid strategy in schools.

A group of more than 100 student representatives wrote to the Minister of Education Martin Polaschek, calling for increased mental health measures for students, increased safety measures including air purifiers, and for exemptions to be made possible to the Matura, Austria’s secondary school leaving qualification.

In 2021 and 2020, it was not compulsory to carry out the usual oral element of the exam, but that has been reintroduced for this year — with Polaschek attracting criticism for saying this could be done in some situations even in hospital.

A separate group called ‘Action by Critical Students’ (AKS) has also called for similar changes and for students to protest by striking.

School attendance is usually compulsory by law in Austria and students may only be absent with a doctor’s note or other form of permission, but at the moment that’s been waived due to the pandemic. That means today’s ‘strikes’ are more of a symbolic protest.

Suspected trafficker shot at police at Austria-Hungary border

A man suspected of people trafficking shot at Austrian police at the border with Hungary on Monday before escaping, after the police tried to stop the vehicle for routine checks.

Police said nobody was injured but the shooter escaped; a second man was arrested on suspicion of trafficking.

Twelve refugees were also in the van, who were reported to be unharmed, and applied for asylum in Austria.

Austria reaches new Covid case record for a Monday

As expected, Covid cases are continuing to increase this week as Austria faces an Omicron wave.

Yesterday 15,717 were recorded, more than ever before on a Monday. 

Austria’s vaccine mandate passes parliamentary healthcare committee

The committee passed the bill with a large majority on Monday evening, although the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) voted against.

Before making the decision the committee listened to the opinions of experts with one expert nominated by each party.

The next step is for the bill to be voted on by Austria’s National Council on Thursday.

Vienna has Europe’s best zoo

Vienna’s Schönbrunn Zoo has been voted the best in Europe for the sixth time in the ranking by British zoo expert Anthony Sheridan.

Sheridan evaluated 160 zoos from 29 countries, rating criteria such as the number of animals and visitors but also the standard of care for the animals.

Kitzbühel tightens Covid measures after apres-ski video

Yesterday we wrote about a bar in Kitzbühel at the centre of a scandal after a startup founder posted videos of a lively apres-ski party there. Now Austrian media have reported that the bar received €137,000 in coronavirus aid.

The local authorities have responded by closing outdoor gastronomy for the rest of the week, while the Hahnenkamm Races ski event is ongoing, and stepping up Covid checks in the town.

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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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