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UKRAINE

EU countries agree to lift visa rules for Ukrainians fleeing war

EU countries have agreed to grant Ukrainians fleeing the war immediate leave to stay in the Bloc without a visa for one year, which can be extended if necessary.

EU countries agree to lift visa rules for Ukrainians fleeing war
Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

A special meeting of European interior ministers on Thursday agreed to apply a little-used measure known as the Temporary Protection Directive to any Ukrainians who want to come to an EU country.

The 90-day rule has been in place for Ukrainians since 2017, and this allows them to enter any EU or Schengen zone country without a visa and stay there for up to 90 days, but until now what happens on day 91 had been unclear.

The activation of the Temporary Protection Directive means that any Ukrainian citizen can stay within the EU or Schengen zone for a year without having to apply for a visa or make a claim for asylum.

During that time they will be permitted to work and children can access education.

The status applies immediately and covers both Ukrainians who have already arrived and those who come in the days or weeks to come.

After the meeting, EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson tweeted: “Historic decision – the EU will give temporary protection to those fleeing the war in Ukraine. The EU stands united to save lives!” 

The measure was welcomed by the interior ministers of countries including France and Sweden.

Anders Ygeman, Sweden’s Minister for Integration and Migration, said: “This is an act of solidarity with Ukraine – that the EU supports those who flee the horrors of war caused by Russia.”

The Directive gives Ukrainians a similar status to that of someone who has been granted asylum, but different countries have different rules on requirements for registering residency. 

The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that 1 million Ukrainians have already left the country and this number is expected to increase in the coming days as Russia intensifies their attacks. 

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, speaking on Sunday, said: “We welcome with open arms those Ukrainians who have to flee from Putin’s bombs and I am proud of the warm welcome that Europeans have given them.

“We are mobilising every effort and every euro to support our Eastern Member States – to host and take care of these refugees.”

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ENERGY

‘Unimaginable’: Austria prepares to reopen coal power station

As an "emergency measure", Austria is getting ready to reopen a coal-fuelled power station near Graz amid fears there will be disruptions to the gas supply from Russia this winter.

'Unimaginable': Austria prepares to reopen coal power station

At the Mellach coal power plant in southern Austria, spider webs have taken over the conveyor belts, and plants and flowers have sprung up around the vast lot that once stored coal.

The plant, Austria’s last coal-fuelled power station, was closed in the spring of 2020, but now the government – nervous that Russia may cut its crucial gas deliveries further – has decided to get the site ready again in case it’s needed.

“I never would have imagined that we would restart the factory,” Peter Probst, a 55-year-old welder, told AFP during a visit of the plant.

“It’s really sad to be so dependent on gas,” he added.

READ ALSO: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Europe had been trying to move away from coal in the fight against climate change.

But as Russia has cut gas deliveries in the wake of sanctions the West has imposed on it for the war in Ukraine, European countries are turning back to coal.

Today, the Mellach plant’s white and red chimney stands out amid fields of corn and pumpkins, the city of Graz in the distance.

Inside, the walls are black, and coal dust clings to the doors and railings.

Some 450,000 tonnes of coal were stored at the plant before its closure as Austria’s conservative-Greens coalition aimed to have all electricity come from renewable resources by 2030.

Site manager Christof Kurzmann-Friedl says the plant operated by supplier Verbund can be ready again in “about four months” — just in time to help tackle any gas shortages in winter.

READ MORE: When will you get your cost of living ‘bonus’ payments in Austria?

Welder Peter Probst reacts to the news that the coal-fuelled power plant in Mellach will be reopened. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

“Emergency measure”

Chancellor Karl Nehammer insisted on Monday that the plant would only go online if necessary, while Austria holds on to its goals to reduce emissions.

“It’s really an emergency measure,” the conservative told foreign correspondents at a briefing.

“It’s really something that shows how extraordinary our times are… We must prepare for any eventuality.”

The 230 megawatt power plant would take over from the nearby gas-fired plant, also operated by Verbund, which currently supplies heating to Graz’s 300,000 inhabitants, according to Kurzmann-Friedl.

FOR MEMBERS: EU oil embargo: How will the sanctions impact Austria?

He warned, however, that the site must still be readied, hooking up all the equipment again, in addition to hiring qualified personnel and above all finding enough coal.

Before, the coal mainly came from mines in Poland’s Silesia region, which the Polish government is aiming to shut.

Because coal prices have risen by as much as three times since 2020, the power produced by the plant will also be more expensive, Kurzmann-Friedl said.

Criticism has already flared with the opposition Social Democrats slamming the decision to reactivate the coal plant as “an act of desperation by the Greens”.

“Will the next step be the reactivation of Zwentendorf?” the opposition asked, referring to the country’s only nuclear power plant.

The Alpine nation of nine million people has been fiercely anti-nuclear with an unprecedented vote in 1978 against nuclear energy that prevented the plant from ever opening.

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