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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.

A woman protects herself from the rain (C) as people walk around Hofburg Palace in Vienna.
It's looking gloomy and rainy out there today. (Photo by ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP)

Austria takes first steps towards gas rationing

Austria has triggered the first phase of its emergency plans to deal with possible gas supply disruption due to a possible payments stand-off with Russia. The reason is Russia’s announcement that future gas deliveries will need to be paid for in roubles, the climate ministry said on Wednesday. However, gas deliveries from Russia are currently continuing without restrictions.


The domestic gas storage tanks in Austria are 13 percent full, which corresponds to the average in recent years, broadcaster ORF reports. In Austria, 80 percent of gas deliveries come from Russia.

On Wednesday, the Russian President Vladimir Putin also assured German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) that European companies can continue to pay their bills for Russian gas in euros,  news agency Reuters reports. 

Nehammer to travel to Berlin to discuss Ukraine with German Chancellor 

Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer  and Integration Minister Susanne Raab (both ÖVP) are traveling to Berlin today to mee the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) and Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP). 

Nehammer wants to discuss how to bring about de-escalation and dialogue in Ukraine with Scholz. Both Austria and Germany are heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies and reject an energy embargo against Russia that Ukraine has called for.

Infections are falling across all states in Austria but risk level is still high

There are a decreasing number of infections in Austria, meaning the risk number assigned by the Covid-19 traffic light commission has decreased in all states this week. Nevertheless, all federal states and the state of Austria as a whole will remain red (the highest risk level) in the latest assessment from the commission.

Vienna has the best risk number at 189.4. This figure takes into account case numbers along with factors such as patient age and vaccination status. Last week it was 229.8. To go into the high-risk orange zone, the number will have to sink below 100. Carinthia has the worst value with 337.3. As far as the number of Covid-19 cases is concerned, Tyrol has the best numbers and Lower Austria the worst.

Who can get unlimited Covid-19 tests in April in Austria?

More details have been revealed about who will be eligible for unlimited Covid-19 testing once the offer is reduced to the general public in Austria in April. From Friday, April 1st, it will only be possible for most people to get five PCR and five antigen home tests per person per month. However, in hospitals, nursing homes and kindergartens, unlimited free testing can continue. Free testing will also remain for residents and staff at care facilities and health resorts. People who are 24-hour carers or assistants to disabled people are also exempt from the restriction, as are employees of rescue services. 

If you have a stash of Covid-19 tests stored away at home, these can still be used in April.  People with Covid-19 symptoms can also receive tests free of charge by calling the health hotline 1450.

READ MORE: Everything that changes in Austria in April 2022

Chair of anti-corruption committee accused of corruption

Yet another political scandal has been revealed in Austria. The Kronen Zietung reports the President of the National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka (ÖVP), who is also overseeing a committee looking into corruption within the ÖVP party, is being investigated for abuse of office. The reason for this is the discovery of phone messages from ex-polician Michael Kloibmüller which appear to show he interfered in the appointment process to a job in the Vienna Deputy State Police Headquarters in 2017. Andrea Jelinek applied to take on the job, but was prevented because she was believed to be too close to the rival SPÖ party, it is alleged. Sobotka has now resigned from chair of the committee looking into  corruption in Austrian politics. However, he says the accusations against him are politically motivated. SPÖ parliamentary group leader Jan Krainer pointed out an  ÖVP politician who is being investigated for corruption could not stay as chairman of a corruption investigation committee. 

Funds to help pets and animals of people fleeing Ukraine

Austria’s Ministry of Social Affairs is providing 65,000 euros to help animals which have accompanied displaced people coming from Ukraine. The Kronen Zeitung reports animal protection organisations have been in crisis mode since the beginning of the pandemic, and the war has exacerbated this situation. The money will be given to animal shelters, clubs and animal welfare organisations which are supporting  Ukrainian refugees in caring for their pets.

Covid-19 pandemic has led to more time spent doing housework 

Austrians are using the time they have saved on commuting during coronavirus pandemic to do more cleaning  according to a survey from ImmoScout24. The survey found 57 percent of Austrians use the time gained for housework, and people aged under 30 are doing the most extra cleaning, the Kronen Zietung reports.

Change to upper limit for Ukrainian earnings

Refugees from Ukraine will be allowed to earn up to 485 euros a month, instead of the usual 110 euros. The decision was announced by the Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) after a conference with the refugee state councillors in Austria. There will also be an increased payment of 60 euros per month for people who are housing refugees. This means that a total of 180 euros per person is available to pay for private accommodation, broadcaster ORF reports. This extra payment will also be available for anyone housing asylum seekers.

According to Karner, 40,000 people from Ukraine have already been registered so far, and around 7,000 are now available for the job market. Vienna City Councillor Peter Hacker estimates that 200,000 to 250,000 people from Ukraine could seek shelter in Austria in future.

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For members


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.