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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

Fuel and food costs soar in Austria, Maypole drama and more news from Austria on Monday.

Children jump into a swimming pool
Swimming pools open today in Vienna. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

Inflation at almost seven percent in Austria

Statistics Austria say the inflation rate in March was 6.8 percent in Austria, hitting levels not seen since November 1981.

There has been a  sharp rise in prices for fuel and household energy, and also for food. However, inflation will affect different households depending on car and energy use. Statistics Austria has released an inflation calculator which allows you to calculate how much you are affected personally. 

The price level for petrol and diesel was more than 50 percent higher than in March 2021, fuel cost over two euros per litre for the first time, and the costs of household energy rose by 33.5 percent. On average, heating oil cost more than twice as much as a year earlier, the prices for natural gas and electricity rose by 71.9 and 16.5 percent.

Groceries and non-alcoholic beverages rose 5.8 percent year-on-year. The mini-shopping basket, which is also calculated by Statistics Austria and reflects weekly shopping, but which also includes services and fuel, was significantly more expensive overall (plus 13.7 percent), while  the micro-shopping basket, which reflects daily shopping, became 6.3 percent more expensive.

Call to reduce VAT on everyday goods from Union boss

The President of the Austrian Federation of Trade Unions Wolfgang Katzian has called for the government to reduce VAT on everyday goods or to suspend it for a certain period of time, saying it would bring “quick relief”. 

He said firms which had invested in Ukraine, for example to manufacture cable harnesses for the car industry in Austria, should not be compensated for losses due to the outbreak of war. He told Der Standard newspaper: “It’s not possible to privatise profits and socialise losses.” He also warned of mass unemployment if Russian gas stopped flowing to Austria.

Maypole almost falls on people in restaurant Schanigarten

A Wiener Neustadt maypole almost fell on a number of diners enjoying an outside meal in the main square. The Krone newspaper reports the foundations gave way and the maypole was leaning at a dangerous angle. The Schanigarten customers had to be brought to safety by emergency crews.  

Several maypoles fell down or came close to it over the weekend. In the Baden district, the trees were cut down. In Pottendorf, strangers sawed down a maypole at a roundabout and stole decorative figures, in Deutsch-Brodersdorf the tree in front of the fire station was cut down. In both cases, the trees were left on the road.

Stealing a maypole is a cherished tradition in many parts of Austria and Germany. However, Pottendorf’s mayor  Thomas Sabbata-Valteiner (SPÖ) was wants to press charges against those responsible, saying it could have caused a car accident. 

South Tyrol wants to limit the number of tourists staying overnight

In both North and South Tyrol, discussions are underway about how many visitors the region can continue to tolerate. The South Tyrolean state government wants to introduce an upper bed limit, with bed numbers frozen at 2019 levels despite criticism from the Hoteliers and Innkeepers Association (HGV) and the Association of Municipalities. However, at present an upper limit on overnight stays is not possible in the entire state of Tyrol.

South Tyrol is one of the densest tourism regions in the Alps, according to broadcaster ORF. In 2019, 33 million overnight stays were registered. Around 530,000 people live in the state. Around eleven percent of the added value in South Tyrol can be traced back to tourism.

Campsites and beds that are rented out via booking platforms such as Airbnb have not yet been included in the statistics.

Summer pools open in Vienna

Vienna’s 17 outdoor swimming pools opened on Monday morning, without Covid-19 restrictions. There will be no distance rules or visitor restrictions this year, although it will still be possible to buy tickets online and view the traffic light on the website which shows how busy the pool is. Admission prices will be the same as in 2020.

Later in May, subsidised swimming lessons will be released for children who attended Grade 3 of elementary school in the past three years. They will cost 25 euros per child. These children will also be given six free sessions at  indoor and outdoor pools from the beginning of July to the end of September 2022 with an accompanying adult. You can find out more here.

No way out of high taxes due to strong welfare state in Austria

Austria has one of the highest tax rates on earned income internationally, with contribution rates of almost 40 percent of the gross salary, shared between employers and employees. These costs hinder the creation of new jobs, according to the economists of the OECD and the Economic Research Institute (Wifo), and dampen purchasing power, Der Standard newspaper reports. 

The paper notes more than half of the contributions go towards the state pension which is one of the best in the world and combats poverty in old age more effectively than in Germany, for example. At just under eight percent, the second largest chunk is health insurance contributions. According to the newspaper there is no appetite to reduce contributions in this area due to the rising costs of medicine and an ageing society. 

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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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