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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

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

Blooming apricot trees in the Wachau area.
It's beautiful spring weather again today. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Austria’s Chancellor condemns Russian war crimes

Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer has joined Europe’s political leaders in condemning Russian atrocities in the Ukrainian city of Bucha and areas around Kyiv.

He tweeted that “war crimes were committed” and “those responsible must be held accountable”.

Special debate to help Austrians with high inflation

The opposition SPÖ party has called an emergency meeting so the Austrian federal government can discuss ways to lessen the impact of sky rocking inflation in Austria. The meeting will take place on Tuesday. 

The leader of the SPÖ, Pamela Rendi-Wagner is calling for income tax to be cut, for pensions to be adjusted for inflation, tax cuts on fuel, gas and electricity and the withdrawal of the benchmark rent increase. In addition, she wants to create a ten percent windfall tax on the profits of energy companies. 

Close relationship between Austria’s far right and Russia uncovered

Newly discovered documents uncover the close relationship between Europe’s far right parties and the Kremlin, broadcaster ORF reports, commenting they  were closer than expected. The parties with links to Russia are generally Eurosceptic, against immigration and believe in ‘family values’.

The documents disclose details about  Austrian politicians such as Heinz-Christian Strache and Johannes Hübner, both FPÖ, and their links to Russia.

Documents and e-mails were leaked to the London Dossier Centre, an investigative journalism nonprofit organisation. They show that an employee of the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev’s Zargrad group suggested that the FPÖ politician Johannes Hübner could work in Austria to have sanctions against Russia lifted.

The fee for this service was quoted as $20,000, plus an additional $15,000 “if a vote is successful.” In June 2016, Hübner introduced a motion for a resolution in parliament called “Lifting of sanctions against Russia”, which was rejected.

Hundreds of thousands of vaccine certificates in Austria due to expire

Around 456,000 people in Austria have let their ‘Green Pass” corona vaccination certificates expire and have not received any further vaccinations. 

The Ministry of Health announced on Thursday that 600,000 green passes will expire by May if those affected do not recover from Covid-19 or get more jabs.

There is still no solution for people who received third booster vaccinations which are due to expire before a fourth vaccination is recommended, but the Ministry of Health has made assurances there will be a timely solution.

Vienna calls for more funding to deal with thousands of Ukrainian school children

More than 13,000 people who fled Ukraine have already registered themselves as living in Vienna. Around 40 percent are children and young people. This presents Viennese kindergartens and schools with major challenges, the Vienna Chamber of Labour (AK) told Radio Vienna on Monday.

The Chamber predicts around 13,000 refugee children under the age of six will need childcare in Vienna this year – along with 27,000 children of compulsory school age.

The AK is asking for 55 million euros from the federal government to cope with the influx of children to the capital. A recent recruitment campaign to get retired teachers back into work has not been a huge success, with just five retired teachers returning to work, the AK said.

Lower Austria towns report parking problems

Towns surrounding Vienna in Lower Austria are starting to be filled up with people parking their cars and taking public transport into town, due to the capital’s new stricter parking measures, broadcaster ORF reports.

Parking zones will now be set up in Gerasdorf (district of Korneuburg) and Purkersdorf (district of St. Pölten), allowing only residents to park their permanently. Locals say they can no longer find parking spaces since the measures came into effect.

READ MORE: What you need to know about parking in Austria

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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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