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State aid: Commission approves €120 million public support for broadband network project in the region of #Oberösterreich in Austria

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, a regional broadband scheme in the Oberösterreich region in Austria, aimed at promoting the deployment of a comprehensive next generation access network complemented by a next-generation backbone/backhaul network.

The objective is to guarantee broadband internet access speeds of at least 30 megabits per second (Mbps) in the first stages and progressively up to at least 100 Mbps for both download and upload. These access speeds can be upgraded to 1000 Mbps per second by 2033. The regional public authorities will be provided with a maximum state aid amount of €120 million, which they will use to deploy and manage the network through an in-house company. The new network will be deployed in areas of the country where no equivalent broadband infrastructure is in place or planned in the near future. Access to the network will be provided to third party network operators and service providers on equal and non-discriminatory terms.

The scheme conforms with the Digital Agenda for Europe and the 2025 objectives for high speed internet connections set out in the Commission's Communication on a Gigabit Society. The Commission assessed the measure under its 2013 Broadband Guidelines and concluded that the measure is in line with EU State aid rules because the positive effects of the scheme on competition in the Austrian broadband market outweigh any potential negative effects brought about by the aid.

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More information will be available, once potential confidentiality issues have been resolved, on the Commission's competition website, in the State Aid Register under the case number SA.48325.

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

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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.”

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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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NextGenerationEU: President von der Leyen in Austria and Slovakia to present Commission assessment of national recovery plans

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Today (21 June), Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) will continue her NextGenerationEU tour in Austria and Slovakia, to personally hand over the result of the Commission's assessment and Recommendation to the Council on the approval of the national recovery and resilience plans in the context of NextGenerationEU. On Monday morning, she will be in Vienna for a meeting with the Chancellor of Austria, Sebastian Kurz. Later that day, the President will travel to Bratislava, where she will be received by Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic. She will also meet Zuzana Čaputová, President of the Slovak Republic, and Boris Kollár, Speaker of the National Council, together with Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. In both countries, the President will visit projects that are or will be funded under the Recovery and Resilience Facility, focused on science and the green transition in Slovakia, and on quantum technology in Austria.

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Austrian far-right leader quits, leaving succession open

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The leader of Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) Norbert Hofer (pictured) stepped down on Tuesday but pointedly did not back his high-profile deputy and rival Herbert Kickl to succeed him.

Hofer, widely seen as the most likeable face of the anti-Islam and anti-immigration party that crashed out of government amid scandal two years ago, came close to winning Austria's presidential election in 2016 only to lose a re-run.

He took over as leader from Heinz-Christian Strache after a video sting scandal in 2019 forced Strache to quit as Austrian vice chancellor and brought down a coalition government led by conservative Sebastian Kurz, who now governs with the Greens.

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"In the past months it has been possible to stabilise the party again and bring it close to the 20% mark in opinion polls. I have thus set up the party so that it can be successful in the coming years as well. My own journey at the head of the FPO, however, ends today," Hofer said in a statement by the party.

The statement did not say why Hofer, 50, was quitting but referred to recent treatment for back problems. He has walked with a cane since a paragliding accident in 2003.

There have been several reports in the Austrian media of a rift with Kickl, a more abrasive figure who takes a harder line on opposing coronavirus restrictions and attacking Kurz.

His announcement still stunned the party that has long been running third in polls behind Kurz's conservatives and the opposition Social Democrats.

"I was surprised by the events of the day," party heavyweight Manfred Haimbuchner, FPO leader the province of Upper Austria, said in a statement.

On the next leader, Hofer's statement said only: "I wish my successor in this post good luck for the future."

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