Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Friday
Confusion over rouble payments for Russian oil, Parliament re-opening delayed, and more news on Friday.
Struggle for Austria's OMV energy company to pay for Russian gas without breaking EU sanctions
The Austrian oil, gas and petrochemical company OMV has responded to a media report in the Financial Times that it wants to open a rouble account with Gazprombank in Switzerland to pay for gas deliveries from Russia. An OMV company spokesman told the Reuters news agency that the company was working on a solution which would comply with the EU’s sanctions.
A European Commission spokesman said on Thursday that if companies pay in euros for Russian gas, they would not be in breach of the sanctions. However, it would become a breach of sanctions if companies were obliged to open a second account in roubles and if the payment were complete only when payment had been converted into roubles, Reuters reported.
As the Local reported on Wednesday, Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer took to Twitter to deny allegations made by the Russian state-owned news agency TASS that Austria had agreed to pay for natural gas supplies in roubles.
However, Donald Tusk, the President of the European People’s Party tweeted on the same day that he had heard Austria, Hungary and Germany were willing to take this step.
Return to Parliament delayed until January 2023
The opening of Vienna’s historic parliament building on Vienna's Ringstrasse has been further delayed until January of next year. An opening ceremony planned by National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka (ÖVP) for this year's national holiday in October has had to be canceled due to acoustic problems in the newly designed plenary hall, he said in an interview with the Kurier newspaper. A rehearsal carried out before re-opening revealed the renovated glass dome was making every word uttered echo three times – a problem also initially experienced at the German Bundestag. Now the carpet is to be removed again and soundproofing put in place on the ceiling and floor. Parliament will not have to pay for the work.
The costs for the renovation of the more than 140-year-old building have already soared to 420 million euros - 70 million euros more than originally planned. The renovation was delayed by more than two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Calls for headscarf ban in Austria's kindergartens to be overturned
Federal states in Austria are calling for a headscarf ban in kindergartens to be overturned. Austria’s former ÖVP-FPÖ government coalition attempted to ban headscarves in kindergartens in 2018 and a few months later also in elementary schools. The ban on headscarves in schools was repealed by the Constitutional Court (VfGH) at the end of 2020, but not in kindergartens. The Constitutional Court argued that it contradicts the requirement of the state's religious and ideological neutrality since it is aimed exclusively at Muslims.
The negotiators for the federal government - including the ÖVP-led ministries for finance, family and education as well as the Federal Chancellery - are sticking to the headscarf ban, broadcaster ORF reported. There has been no official statement from Integration Minister Susanne Raab (ÖVP). Attempts are now being made to find a solution at state level. The Green party, which is also in the coalition government with the ÖVP has called the headscarf ban “absurd”.
Interior Ministry denies accusations of racism
Austria’s Interior Ministry has been accused of racism, after Cobra officers searched a house for drugs in Lower Austria, and entered a bathroom where a 13-year-old was in the shower. A 24-year-old who was in bed, had her blankets pulled off her by officers. The house search in Groß-Enzersdorf (Gänserndorf district) was one of 11 house searches aimed at tackling drug dealing. No drugs were found at the address. Two people in the house were from South Africa and said they suspected there was a racist background to the search. However, the Ministry responded that the search was carried out on the basis of an order from the Vienna public prosecutor's office at various locations and had absolutely no connection with people’s ethnic origins, broadcaster ORF reports.
Cycling is booming in Lower Austria
More than half of tourists visiting Lower Austria are there on cycling holidays. Bike riding has boomed thanks to the Covid pandemic, but even before 2020, around 252 million euros were generated though cycle tourism in Lower Austria annually. Michael Showerer, Managing Director of Niederösterreich-Werbung, told broadcaster ORF that Lower Austria will offer more public transport networks to cyclists this year, as well as more rental and repair stations, shuttle services and guides. The Danube Cycle Path was the busiest bike route last year, with 1.1 million tourist bike rides between April 1st and September 30th, 2021. Other heavily frequented cycle paths are the EuroVelo 9 in the Weinviertel, the Kamp-Thaya-March route, the Traisental cycle path and the Triesting-Gölsental cycle path.
Hopes it will become easier for skilled third country nationals to work in Austria
Austria's government has been looking at ways to make it easier for skilled workers from third countries to access the labour market. This means people from European countries that are not members of the EU or the European Economic Area (EEA).
There are currently 24,000 job vacancies in Austria and business experts say they want foreign skilled workers to have easier access to the Austrian labor market.