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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.

Man eats a Krapfen
It's traditional to eat Krapfen in Austria today. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Enjoy Austrian Shrove Tuesday!

Today is Faschingsdienstag or Shrove Tuesday in Austria, so get ready to eat a lot of Krapfen (doughnuts) and enjoy watching people wearing crazy carnival costumes. 


All change for parking in Vienna

From today (March 1st), every district of Vienna will require a Parkpickerl (parking permit) or Parkschein (parking ticket), bringing an end to free parking in the capital. In parts of Vienna, such as the 11th, 13th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd districts, it’s the first time that short-term parking zones and resident permits are being used. 

Click the following link for more information. 

READ MORE: Here’s how parking in Austria will change in March

READ MORE: Everything that changes about life in Austria in March

Austria prepares for influx of refugees from Ukraine with welcoming centres, free train travel and helpline

More than 500,000 people had already left Ukraine on Monday, according to a tweet from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, and Austria is preparing for an influx of refugees from the country.

According to Der Standard newspaper, 318 Ukrainian nationals had entered Austria by Monday morning. People fleeing from the war in Ukraine are allowed to use the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) free of charge.

The EU is expecting up to four million refugees from Ukraine to enter its borders over the coming months. EU interior ministers have agreed that Ukrainian refugees will be able to stay in the EU for up to three years without having to apply for asylum.

READ MORE: EU warns bloc nations to brace for millions of Ukraine refugees

Austria’s federal government has already created accommodation for 3,000 Ukrainian refugees. These are located in reception centres in Traiskirchen, Lower Austria and Thalham in Salzburg. Vienna will set up an arrival centre for refugees in the Leopoldstadt Sport Hall in Engerthstrasse, close to the River Danube, which will offer advice, medical and psychosocial care.

More than 100 people have already offered to host refugees by emailing [email protected]. A 24-hour information hotline for refugees in Ukrainian has been set up on 0043 1 2676 87 09 460. 

Warning over Champagne bottles filled with MDMA 

A warning has been issued by the Dutch Authority for Food and Consumer Goods Safety (NVWA) about bottles of Moët & Chandon champagne which could contain MDMA or Ecstasy. So far contaminated bottles have been found  in the Netherlands and Germany.

The three-litre champagne bottles from Moët & Chandon Ice Impérial have the lot code LAJ7QAB6780004. This code can be found on the label on the back of the bottle, according to Austria’s Minstry of Health. 

Fears as potassium iodide tablets run out in Austrian pharmacies

Austrians have been stocking up on potassium iodide due to fears over battles over the Chernobyl disaster site and Russia putting its nuclear weapons on alert.

This has led to some shortages at pharmacies. The tablets can be taken in the event of a nuclear emergency to prevent thyroid cancer. The  Chamber of Pharmacists said there was a bottleneck at present in the supply of tablets and urged people not to take the tablets unless told to do so by the health authorities. 

In Austria, the Federal Ministry of Health has kept a stock of potassium iodide tablets for use in the population for more than 20 years.

The Ministry of Health recommends keeping a store of the tablets at home, for use by anyone aged under 40, and in schools and kindergartens. ​​

People aged under 18, pregnant or breastfeeding women can get the tablets for free at any pharmacy; people aged between 18 and 40 years can buy them at a very low price.

Concerns about school transports in Styria

Politicians in Styria have started a petition due to concerns about free transport for children to school. Since 1971 school transport is supposed to be free in Austria, but often funding from federal government does not cover the full costs, according to broadcaster ORF.

Free travel is only given to children living more than two kilometers from school, although increased traffic and weather conditions sometimes mean it is not safe for them to walk this far in winter. 

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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.