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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

Austria's Foreign Minister makes headlines after speaking about Ukraine's membership of the EU and other news from Austria on Monday.

Masks will no longer be needed in schools in Austria from today. Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash
Masks will no longer be needed in schools in Austria from today. Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

Austrian Foreign Minister’s views on Ukraine’s membership of EU make headlines around the world 

Austria’s Foreign Minister and former Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg has been dominating headlines in both Ukraine and Russia, after he spoke about Ukraine joining the EU in the Austrian newspaper Heute.

Schallenberg suggested Ukraine could be given a “tailor made” solution, adding this would not necessarily involve full membership of the EU.

He also referred to countries such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania, who he said have been waiting for accession for years and shouldn’t be forgotten, while speaking at the European Media Summit in Lech am Arlberg, broadcaster ORF reports.

Russian and Ukrainian media interpreted this as Vienna giving a categorical no to Ukraine joining the EU, leading to criticism from the Ukrainian Kyiv Independent newspaper. 

Referring specifically to the war in Ukraine, Schallenberg said that Austria was militarily neutral, but not politically. “We don’t belong to any military alliance and we don’t want to,” he said. However, Austria still wanted to make a contribution, for example by supplying helmets to Ukraine.

According to Austrian broadcaster ORF, Schallenberg’s statements became one of the most important online news items of the day in Russia on Saturday.

READ MORE: The history behind Austria’s neutrality

From today no more masks in schools

As of today, masks are no longer compulsory in schools. In classrooms and group rooms, the children and young people have not had to wear a mask or (from the upper school) an FFP2 mask since the end of February.

However, previously children had to wear masks when walking in school corridors or when going to  the toilet. This will no longer be necessary.

READ MORE: Austria to keep masks only in essential places from April 17th

Opposition SPÖ party calls for changes to tax rules due to inflation

Following the announcement by Finance Minister Magnus Brunner (ÖVP) that he was looking  at abolishing cold progression, SPÖ leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner called for the abolition of cold progression on Sunday.  She said the tax brackets should be brought in line with inflation automatically, but only for the lower tariff levels, in the ORF press hour. 

Der Standard newspaper reports more than half of the OECD countries in Europe have installed an automatic system in which tax brackets keep place from inflation. 

READ MORE: Will inflation force tax changes in Austria from 2023? 

‘No future’ for compulsory vaccination against Covid, says opposition SPÖ leader

The leader of Austria’s opposition SPÖ party, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, has ruled out supporting compulsory vaccination against Covid in the future, although the SPÖ supported the measure by the federal government last year.

The former doctor told the ORF press hour that  while in theory, she still supported mandatory vaccination, she no longer believed it was “achievable now or in the future” because the federal government lost the trust of the people that it was still necessary to implement the measure.

She did not support compulsory vaccination for over 60s either, and said it would reassure younger people there was no need for them to get vaccinated.

SPÖ leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner also called on the government to set VAT on food to zero in view of the skyrocketing prices. The EU had made this possible with a new directive, and the government should implement this proposal, she said.

The SPÖ is calling for new elections. Rendi-Wagner said the party did not rule out a coalition with Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s ÖVP party – previously the SPÖ did not want to form a coalition with the  ÖVP party while Sebastian Kurz was in charge.

READ MORE: How Austria’s attempt to make vaccines mandatory changed the country

Kurz to appear at conference, but has no plans to return to politics

Austria’s former chancellor Sebastian Kurz is to come to Graz to give a speech to the ÖVP on May 14, when Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer is officially elected ÖVP party leader.

A political comeback is out of the question for Kurz, according to a friend of the former politician speaking to the newspaper Heute. The ‘friend’ is quoted as saying: “It’s definitely not an option for him. I can rule out that he does that.” Kurz is reported to be doing well outside politics, where he is successful in the private sector and happy with his girlfriend Susanne and son Konstantin.

Vienna’s beloved musician Willi Resetarits, also known as “Ostbahn-Kurti”, has died

The Austrian pop star Willi Resetarits has died on Sunday, the day after opening Vienna’s Refugee Ball. The much-loved musician made his alter-ego character of “Ostbahn-Kurti” a star – and  used his success for social and socio-political projects to help refugees.

He founded an integration house for migrants coming to Vienna and also co-founded the organisations “Asyl in Not”, and “SOS Mitmensch”. In addition he was a chairman of the “Projekt Integrationshaus” association. This brought him awards such as the Bruno Kreisky Prize for Human Rights, the Josef Felder Prize for the common good and civil courage and the Fritz Greinecker Prize for civil courage.

In 2013 he received the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art and was named Austrian of the Year in the category “Cultural Heritage”. In 2017 he received the Amadeus Austrian Music Award for Lifetime Achievement and in 2019 the Honorary Award at the German Cabaret Prize.

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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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