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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 wind turbine rises above field in Burgenland.
Austria is trying to move to using mainly renewable energy, such as wind energy, but it 'won't happen overnight' according to the Chancellor. (Photo by Joe KLAMAR / AFP)

Green pass validity extended by next week

The validity of the “Green Passport” will be extended. Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) announced on the broadcaster ORF “Report” on Tuesday that the extension would be in place by the beginning of next week at the latest.

He made assurances that Austrians’ Easter holidays would not be affected by  an expiring green pass, which shows proof of a Covid-19 vaccination or recovery from the disease. He also said the current reduced testing regime will last until autumn.

READ MORE: Why are the numbers of fully-vaccinated people going down in Austria?

More EU sanctions against Russia

The EU tightened its sanctions against Russia again on Wednesday. It is believed to  have proposed a ban on coal imports, an insider told the Reuters news agency. Wood, cement, rubber, chemicals and luxury foods and drinks such as caviar and vodka are also to be included in the sanctions list.

The export of semiconductors, high-tech machines, certain liquid gas technology and other equipment is to be banned. Russian ships and trucks should not be allowed to enter EU countries.

While Austria and Germany have spoken against a gas or oil embargo, several German and Austrian economists have repeatedly spoken out in favour of stopping Russian oil imports in recent weeks. 

The boss of Wifo (the Austrian Institute of Economic Research) Gabriel Felbermayr supports this plan, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports. 

READ MORE:  ​​

Unlike gas, only ten percent of domestic oil imports come from Russia. Almost half of the oil consumed in Austria comes from Kazakhstan and Iraq. Oil exports make up around a third of Russian exports, compared to gas, which is only seven percent. In theory, an oil embargo would hit Russia’s economy harder than gas sanctions.

The Vienna Institute for International Economic Comparisons (wiiw) expects the Russian economy to shrink by between seven and 15 percent this year, while inflation in Russia could rise to 30 percent.

Gas import ban ‘unrealistic’ says Austria’s Chancellor

Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) has described an active import ban on Russian natural gas as “unrealistic” at a crisis cabinet meeting in the Federal Ministry of Defence on Tuesday. Austria is trying to diversify its gas imports and create more sustainable energy production. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen overnight,” he told the meeting, broadcaster ORF reports. 

READ MORE: Austria’s Nehammer to visit Zelensky in Ukraine

Austria does not plan to expel Russian diplomats

Despite many other EU countries expelling Russian diplomats, Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg does not want to follow suit. He told the ORF Zib 2 programme that he found it “regrettable” that each state was acting individually, rather than in co-ordination with each other.

He said expelling Russian diplomats would lead to Austrian diplomats being expelled from Russia. However, he said he would “reserve the right to expel diplomats,” and criticised the Russian embassy in Vienna as a “propaganda machine.” He also said there could be no return to Austria’s previous relationship with Vladimir Putin, stating “We all misjudged him.”

Opposition SPÖ party calls for Austria to do more as inflation hits almost seven percent

The opposition SPÖ leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner criticised the government for allowing benchmark rents on Altbau apartments and buildings to rise, as inflation hits almost seven percent in Austria, at a special meeting of the National Council on Tuesday. She said the rent increases would force inflation even higher.

She argued people were starting to have to choose between eating or heating due to rising energy and food prices, while energy companies made big profits and the Ministry of Finance received VAT revenues on electricity and gas.

The SPÖ leader also criticised the recent warning by Finance Minister Magnus Brunner (ÖVP) that unions had to hold back on wage rounds in order to prevent a spiral of wage savings.

However, Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) defended his measures, citing recent cost-of-living packages designed to help people particularly affected by rising energy costs. He also referred to the suspension of the green electricity flat rate, which would relieve all households, broadcaster ORF reports.

50,000 refugees from Ukraine now registered in Austria, including 5,000 schoolchildren

So far around 50,000 refugees from Ukraine are registered in Austria, most of them women and children. Around 5,000 children and young people who have fled Ukraine are now enrolled in the schools.

The largest number of Ukrainian students are in Vienna (around 1,300) and Lower Austria (around 1,400), followed by Styria and Upper Austria (around 500 each), Tyrol (around 400), Carinthia, Salzburg and Burgenland (around 300) and Vorarlberg (around 100), broadcaster ORF reports.

‘Ghost’ cruise ship finally taken away

A river cruise ship in Vienna which was stranded in front of the marina in Döbling for two years after its operator went bankrupt during the Covid-19 pandemic has finally been taken away. The ship left Vienna on Monday evening, broadcaster ORF reports.

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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

First monkeypox case found in Austria, Van der Bellen to run again, millions of Russian assets frozen, and more news on Monday

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

First case of monkeypox in Vienna

The first case of monkeypox has reached Vienna. A 35-year-old man is being treated in an isolation ward in a clinic in the Favoriten district after developing typical symptoms of the disease: a slight fever and pustules. Contact tracing is already underway, broadcaster ORF reports. Experts are unsure why the disease, which is normally only occurs in Africa, is spreading throughout Europe.

READ MORE: Monkeypox in Austria: What causes it and is it serious?

Alexander Van der Bellen to run for President again 

Austria’s President Van der Bellen has announced on Twitter that he will stand once again for the President of Austria. This was expected last week, when a TikTok video was released showing footage of the President which played The Clash song, “Should I stay or should I go?”.

The Greens, liberal NEOS and left wing SPÖ parties have all welcomed the decision, but the far right FPÖ party has announced it plans to put up a rival candidate, broadcaster ORF reports. The FPÖ’s leader, Herbert Kickl, criticised Van der Bellen for his support of the Covid policy in Austria and for “weakening Austria’s neutrality”, the broadcaster reports.

EXPLAINED: How does Austria’s presidential election work?

Russian assets worth millions of euros frozen in Austria

Around 254 million euros in Russian assets have been frozen in a total of 97 accounts in Austria as part of  EU sanctions, the Federal Chancellery announced on Sunday. Broadcaster ORF reports this is twice as much as Germany has managed. A task force led by the Directorate for State Security and Intelligence (DSN) in the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for investigating the assets. The investigators also managed to locate five land register entries that were supposed to have served to conceal assets.

Villa in Attersee occupied by squatters

Anarchist squatters gained access to a villa believed to be owned by a Russian oligarch villa in Burgau am Attersee in the municipality of St. Gilgen on Saturday The squatters demanded sanctions from the Russian owner Igor Shuvalov, who , according to media reports, is said to have vacated the villa in March. The squatters have since left the building.

Austria’s former foreign minister could face sanctions soon

UPDATE: Austrian ex-minister who danced with Putin quits Russian oil company Rosneft

On Monday morning, the EU Commission announced Austria’s former foreign minister Karin Kneissl could face EU sanctions for failing to resign from her job with Russian oil giant Rosnef.

Later on Monday, Kneissl announced her resignation – although it is unclear what impact this will have on the sanctions process. 

Austrian media reports the rule includes an annual salary of 515,000 euros. The EU Commission could include her on the sanctions list, which could soon mean her assets are frozen and her bank accounts are blocked. 

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has left his position with the firm after sanctions were threatened. 

Note: this story was updated on Monday afternoon after Kneissl quit her board position at Russian oil giant Rosneft.

Vienna’s Uno City promised 30 million euro refurb

Vienna’s UNO City, which is home to the city’s international organisations and its 5,000 workers, has been promised a 30 million euro refurb by the Republic of Austria, which owns the high rise buildings. The  office towers in the Donaustadt are more than 40 years old and urgently need renovation. The total costs could end up being ten times higher than the 30 million euros promised so far. for the first phase. Broadcaster ORF reports the buildings no longer comply with building and fire regulations. 

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