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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.

The Steineres Meer mountains are seen at sunset in Leogang, near Salzburg
Sunshine and warm weather is expected for Friday (Photo by ALEXANDER KLEIN/AFP)

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The headscarf ban in Austria’s kindergartens has been repealed.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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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

Covid-19 numbers on the rise, wages shrinking as cost of living increases, Finance Ministry official online communication and more news from Austria on Friday.

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

Austria’s Covid commission alerts to 70,000 daily infections soon

Austria’s commission to assess the pandemic situation, known as GECKO (Gesamtstaatliche COVID-Krisenkoordination), has alerted to rising Covid-19 numbers, Der Standard reports.

The commission believes the daily number of coronavirus infections could reach 70,000 already this summer. This is mainly because people have been travelling more than in previous years while wearing masks less often.

READ ALSO: Will Austria bring back its mask mandate before autumn?

Wages are shrinking and consumption is rising

Austria’s economy will grow somewhat more strongly this year than expected in March, ORF reported.

However, according to the June forecast of the economic research institutes WIFO and IHS, the outlook for the year’s second half is much gloomier.

Since inflation is higher than expected in March, gross real wages will fall by a historic 3.9 percent. However, if inflation falls, the real wages should increase significantly, about 5.3 percent, in 2023.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Austria’s new finance measures could benefit you

Finance Ministry to contact FinanzOnline users

If Austria’s Finance Ministry contacts you, don’t worry: they will be checking everyone’s data on the FinanzOnline platform.

The goal is to have up-to-date account data so that all the announced bonuses and payments to counter the rising cost of living to be made quickly and with no issues.

The contact will happen via the FinanzOnline website and e-mail to users who allow email contact.

Of course, whenever the government or authorities announce they will reach out to people, there are always criminals looking to take advantage of it. Therefore, ensure that the message you received is from FinanzOnline and check the official website directly instead of clicking on links.

READ ALSO: When will you get your cost of living ‘bonus’ payments in Austria?

School holidays start in the east

Vienna, Lower Austria, and Burgenland students have started their nine-week summer vacations. In the remaining Austrian states, school holidays will only begin next week.

Classes will resume on September 5th for the east and September 12th in the Western states. Austria’s ÖAMTC traffic authority expects heavy traffic jams at the beginning of the month, especially as the summer holidays have also started in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and two German federal states.

READ ALSO: Everything that changes in Austria in July 2022

A break in the heatwave

The west of Austria will have a small break from the heatwave this Friday, Austria’s meteorologic central ZAMG says. A cold front arrives from the west, and maximum temperatures will be between 18C to 21C in the region, with thunderstorms.

In Vienna and Burgenland, though, maximum temperatures continue high, reaching 35C during the day.

READ ALSO: Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

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