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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

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

A wall behind the Soviet War Memorial (that commemorates the Soviet soldiers who were killed in the battle for Vienna during WWII) is painted in Ukrainian national colours
A wall behind the Soviet War Memorial (that commemorates the Soviet soldiers who were killed in the battle for Vienna during WWII) is painted in Ukrainian national colours. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Austria’s leaders broadcast messages of solidarity with Ukraine

Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen have broadcast statements expressing solidarity with Ukraine, which will also be shown on Ukrainian television.

The Federal President said: “We are deeply affected by the injustice that is being done to you in front of the eyes of the world,” while the Chancellor vowed to make sure “that Russia’s violations of international law do not go unanswered.”

The statements went live this morning at 07:00 CET. 

Viennese paint Russian memorial wall in Ukrainian colours

A wall at Vienna’s monument to Russians killed in World War II has been painted in Ukrainian national colours. 

The wall next to the ‘Heroes Monument of the Red Army’ at Schwarzenbergplatz was painted in yellow and blue on Tuesday as a protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

UPDATED: How Austria could be impacted by the war in Ukraine

The police, who have kept a presence at the memorial in recent days, told Austrian media they had no reason to intervene to prevent the painting. 

The painting was completed by those associated with the Palais Schwarzenberg. 

The Russian embassy in Vienna, which is headquartered close to the monument, posted about the painting on social media, taking a generous interpretation of the painting in saying it was intended as a reminder of the Russians and Ukrainians who died fighting the Nazis in World War II. 

Germany removes all countries – including Austria – from “high risk” list

From Thursday no country will be considered by Germany to be a Covid-19 “high risk” area. This also applies to Austria, which has been on the German list of high-risk areas since January 16th.

The regulation comes into force on Thursday at midnight, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Pressure growing on former Austrian Chancellor to rethink role at  Russian oil firm.

Pressure is growing on former Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel to rethink his supervisory board position in the Russian oil company Lukoil, broadcaster ORF reports.

Schüssel’s spokesperson Heidi Glück defended his role last week in Austria’s ZIB programme, pointing out Lukoil is not a state-owned company, but is listed on the London Stock Exchange. National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka (ÖVP) also agreed with this point of view at the weekend.

Tyrol’s governor Günther Platter (ÖVP), who formerly served as Minister of Defence under Schüssel, said it was a matter for the federal government.

However, the Austrian opposition parties SPÖ and NEOS have both called on Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) to persuade him to give up his place on the board, saying it is about Austria’s reputation. 

No great rush for Novavax jab

Austrians are not rushing to be vaccinated with Novavax, the protein subunit or “dead” vaccine which became available in Vienna on Tuesday.  According to the Ministry of Health, only eight people in Austria have been vaccinated with Novavax since the weekend, broadcaster ORF reports. In Vienna, a total of 8,096 people had pre-registered for a Novavax vaccination. Of those, 1,133 had made an appointment to receive the jab. Austria has ordered 3.1 million doses of the vaccine.  Vaccination with Novavax will start this week in most federal states.

READ MORE: When will the Novovax vaccine be available in Austria?

New corruption inquiries begin

A new U-Committee investigating corruption allegations against the People’s Party (ÖVP) will start today (Wednesday) with Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer. After Nehammer, the investor and entrepreneur Alexander Schütz will be interviewed.

The U-Committee will look into the federal government’s spending on advertising, which rose dramatically under former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. It will then look into how appointments were made to posts in the state investment company Öbag.

The committee will then turn to possible government influence on the economic and corruption prosecutor’s office (WKStA) and conflicts in the judiciary are to be examined. Finally, the selection of personnel for state-owned companies by the ÖVP party will be examined by the opposition left wing SPÖ, right wing FPÖ and liberal Neos parties.

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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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