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#PlasticRecycling innovators scoop major award




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Working in the plastic recycling industry for 20 plus years may not sound incredibly enthralling, but for Austrian inventors Klaus Feichtinger and Manfred Hackl, the industry was an opportunity to innovate, writes David Kunz. 

The two began working on a basic design to recycle plastic in 1983. Hackl has been working in the plastic recycling industry for 24 years, Feichtinger for 26, but their desire was always in innovation and invention rather than environmentalism.

“It was not popular, it was not common,” said Hackl about plastic recycling. “The goal was to build a machine,” said Hackl. “Now this has changed completely,” as their company, Erema, now has a more environmental approach as plastic recycling has become more mainstream.


The machines they manufacture turn recycled plastic into small, dense pellets, which can then be used to produce other products.
The two were named as finalists for the industry award for the European Inventor Awards 2019.

On 20 June, they were announced as the winners for their Counter Current technology, beating out an automated cow milking system and a concrete mold to build more effective breakwaters. The two have been granted 37 European patents for their recycling inventions over their careers.

Feichtringer and Hackl began working together in 1983 with a basic design to recycle plastic. After being dissatisfied with the efficiency of one of their machines in 2009, they met with other inventors for a brief 15-minute meeting and found their solution - the Counter Current system.
Feichtinger said “it was a basic idea, it was a basic patent. And totally new and it was quite simple to understand.”


The Counter Current system changes the direction of the rotating tools in the chamber of the recycling machine. In turn, this increased the output and stability of plastic recycling machines. “In the beginning, everybody was joking, ‘okay, such a simple [solution], you’re crazy, this will not work properly,’” said Feichtinger.

But now, the machine is more stable and productive, says Feichtinger. This has allowed them to focus on other areas for improvement. “We would be bad engineers if we only had done such a small adoption,” said Feichtinger. “[The] stability of the machine gives it now the opportunity to put a lot of automation on it,” said Feichtinger.

In 2013, all plastic recycling machines produced by Erema switched over to this design. Since then, they have sold between 1,600 to 1,800 machines and produce over 14.5 million tonnes of plastic pellets annually. The original patent for the Counter Current technology was approved in 2010, but since then, they’ve added 12 more patents to their design.

Not only have they focused on more automation, but they’ve been able to add filters to clean the plastic pellets, as well as a gassing system that deodorizes the pellets prior to sending them to producers.

For the future, the group looks to increase the efficiency of their invention. This includes making their machine more autonomous. “You need very often experienced operators, but experience is expensive,” said Feichtinger. “So you have to try to bring this knowledge to the machine.”


Central and Eastern Europe rocked by political turmoil



The region has seen some exciting yet far from benevolent turn of events, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

Austria has seen Chancellor Sebastian Kurz resigning following corruption accusations. The announcement came days after prosecutors began a criminal investigation into allegations he used public money to pay off pollsters and journalists for favorable coverage.

The allegations relate to the period between 2016 and 2018, when funds from the Ministry of Finance were allegedly used to manipulate opinion polls in favor of his party. At that time, Sebastian Kurz was not yet chancellor, but he was part of the Government. According to prosecutors, a media group allegedly "received money" in exchange for these popularity polls. That group referred to is, according to the Austrian press, the tabloid Österreich.


One of Europe’s youngest leaders, Kurz became the leader of the Austrian Conservative Party in May 2017 and led his party to victory in the elections later that year, becoming, at the age of 31, one of the youngest democratically elected heads of government. He has been replaced by Alexander Schallenberg as Austria’s Chancellor.

In neighboring Czech Republic, Prime Minister Babis surprisingly loses the elections in front of a progressive, pro-European coalition. One of the alliance's parties is the Pirate Party, founded in 2009. Babis appeared this week in the Pandora Papers, with 20 million euros put in undeclared offshore to buy a castle in France. For the first time in 30 years, the Czech Communist Party will not be in parliament, failing to get the required 5%. The Communists supported Babis' government.

In Poland tens of thousands took to the streets in support of European Union membership after a court ruling that parts of EU law are incompatible with the constitution raised concerns the country could eventually leave the bloc.


Polish Constitutional Court ruled that some articles in EU treaties are incompatible with the country's constitution, calling into question a key principle of European integration and fueling an anti-EU rhetoric from the ruling party.

Hungary and Poland, countries led by conservative governments, have repeatedly been criticized by Brussels for violating "rule of law" and "European values".

In the south-eastern part of the continent, in Romania, the liberal government was ousted following a no-confidence vote overwhelmingly endorsed by parliament. The cabinet, led by Florin Cîţu, faced the largest coalition ever created against an incumbent government. The no-confidence motion needed 234 votes to pass, but got 281 - the largest number of votes ever recorded in Romania for such a motion. Another first for the ousted cabinet was also that two motions of no confidence were simultaneously tabled against it.

The political crises which began over a month ago, after the reformist USR party backed down from the centre-right coalition, saw not only the Social Democrat Party which tabled the motion and populist Alliance for the Union of Romanians opposition parties backing the vote, but also the Save Romania Union party (USR), a former governing coalition partner, vouching to oust Cîţu.

In post-communist Romania, over 40 motions of no confidence were tabled, 6 were adopted, making Cîțu’s cabinet the sixth dismissed following a vote of no confidence.

According to the Romanian constitution, the president will now consult parliamentary parties on appointing a new prime minister. Meanwhile, Cîţu will remain as interim PM for the next 45 days.

Dacian Ciolos, a former PM himself, was designated by president Iohannis to form a new government. The designated prime minister will request, within 10 days from the appointment, a parliamentary vote of confidence. If he fails and if two consecutive prime ministerial proposals are rejected the constitution says that the president may dissolve parliament and trigger early elections. While Cîţu's National Liberal Party hopes to get the now interim PM reappointed and back into his old job, the opposition Social Democrats want early elections.

Just 10 days before being designated to form a new government Cioloș said he was not interested in the job: "I was prime minister, but now I'm not concerned about this position. I have responsibilities in the European Parliament, I have a mandate there".

But regardless of who the next PM will be, Romania's Covid crisis is only getting worse.

Further down south, Bulgaria has been in crisis mode since this summer’s legislative elections, leaving it without a regular government for months. After dissolving the parliament, President Rumen Radev has called Bulgaria's third parliamentary election this year for Nov. 14 after inconclusive polls in April and July failed to produce a government.

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Commission approves €1.6 million Austrian scheme to support public companies active in the pool and wellness sector in the context of the coronavirus outbreak



The European Commission has approved a €1.6 million Austrian scheme to support public companies active in the pool and wellness sector affected by the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Austrian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. The measure was approved under the State aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, the aid will take the form of direct grants up to €400,000 per beneficiary.

The measure will be open to publicly owned micro, small and medium-sized enterprises active in the Salzburg region and operating a thermal or indoor swimming pool with sauna and/or wellness area. The public support will cover part of the fixed costs incurred by these companies during periods in which they experienced business disruption due to the restrictions in place. The purpose of the measure is to mitigate the sudden liquidity shortages that these companies are facing due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Commission found that the Austrian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed €1.8m per beneficiary; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions of the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64490 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.


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NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Austria's recovery and resilience plan



The European Commission has adopted a positive assessment of Austria's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €3.5 billion in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility. This financing will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Austria's recovery and resilience plan. It will help Austria emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RRF – at the heart of NextGenerationEU – will provide up to €672.5 billion (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Austrian plan forms part of an unprecedented coordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today, the European Commission has decided to give its green light to Austria's recovery and resilience plan. Austria is already a forerunner in the green transition. By placing a special emphasis on investments and reforms that further support our climate objectives, Austria is making a clear statement. We have endorsed your plan because we fully agree that bold action is needed to deliver the green transition.”


The Commission assessed Austria's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms set out in Austria's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.

Securing Austria's green and digital transition  

The Commission's assessment finds that Austria's plan devotes 59% of the plan's total allocation to measures that support climate objectives. This includes reforms to Austria's tax system that target reducing CO2 emissions through incentives for climate friendly technologies, preferential tax rates for low- or zero- emission products, and pricing of CO2 emissions. These measures are flanked by targeted tax relief for companies and households in need. Other measures invest in energy efficiency, renewables, the decarbonisation of industry, biodiversity and circular economy. These investments are accompanied by related reforms, including the overhaul of the support framework for renewables and the phase-out of oil heating systems.


The Commission's assessment of Austria's plan finds that it devotes 53% of its total allocation to measures that support the digital transition. This includes considerable investments into connectivity, with a particular focus on the widespread deployment of Gigabit-capable networks and the establishment of new symmetrical Gigabit connections in underserved, disadvantaged and rural areas. The plan also includes significant investments in the digitalisation of education, e-government and SMEs.

Reinforcing Austria's economic and social resilience

The Commission considers that Austria's plan includes an extensive set of mutually reinforcing reforms and investments that contribute to effectively addressing a significant subset of the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Austria. The full-time labour market participation of women is expected to improve due to an increased availability of quality early childcare facilities. The long-recognised challenge related to the gender pension gap is tackled through measures in the plan. The plan addresses some of the social and economic challenges that have emerged or were exacerbated during the COVID-19 crisis. Targeted compensation of educational and learning deficits due to the pandemic will combat an increase in inequalities in education outcomes. A series of active labour market policy measures are expected to address the increased need for help to the low-skilled and raise the labour market opportunities of disadvantaged groups.

The plan represents a comprehensive and adequately balanced response to Austria's economic and social situation of Austria, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis (pictured) said: “We have today endorsed Austria's recovery plan to create a more equitable, digital and sustainable economy. This plan strikes the right balance, with over half of total allocation geared towards climate objectives, such as investments to retire outdated oil and gas heating systems, support emission-free public transport and safeguard biodiversity. The plan will also drive forward digital connectivity in Austria and help foster pupils' digital skills. I especially welcome measures to lend a hand to low-skilled and disadvantaged groups thanks to targeted labour market opportunities, and to make it easier for women to work full-time.”

Supporting flagship investment and reform projects

The Austrian plan proposes projects in seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects which address issues that are common to all Member States in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the twin transition. For instance, Austria has proposed to invest €159 million to retire outdated oil and gas heating systems and €543 million on the construction of new train lines and the electrification of existing ones. 

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Austria's recovery and resilience plan contains a truly wide-ranging set of initiatives that will improve the lives of citizens and the competitiveness of businesses in all parts of the country. Measures include the important eco-social tax reform - an excellent example of how taxation policies can help to protect our climate in a way that is socially fair. Together with measures like the phase-out of oil heating systems and the mobility masterplan, Austria will receive a strong boost in its efforts to be climate-neutral by 2040. I also welcome reforms will support health and long-term care, childcare facilities and education.”

The assessment also finds that none of the measures included in the plan significantly harm the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.

The control systems put in place by Austria are considered adequate to protect the financial interests of the Union. The plan provides sufficient details on how national authorities will prevent, detect and correct instances of conflict of interest, corruption and fraud relating to the use of funds.

Next steps

The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a Council Implementing Decision to provide €3.5 billion in grants to Austria under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.

The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €450 million to Austria in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total allocated amount for Austria.

The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the Council Implementing Decision, reflecting progress in the implementation of the investments and reforms. 

For More Information

Questions and Answers: European Commission endorses Austria's recovery and resilience plan

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Questions and Answers

Factsheet on Austria's recovery and resilience plan

Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Austria

Annex to the Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Austria

Staff-working document accompanying the proposal for a Council Implementing Decision

Recovery and Resilience Facility

Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation

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