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Investment Plan for Europe in Austria: Fresh lending to help households and businesses build energy-efficient homes 

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The EIB Group has provided a financial guarantee to Hypo Vorarlberg Bank in Austria to expand its lending capacity for households, SMEs and mid-cap customers. This agreement is backed by the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the main pillar of the Investment Plan for Europe. Thanks to this new agreement, Hypo Vorarlberg will be able to support the construction of highly energy-efficient residential buildings, thus helping the environment and the Austrian economy in the challenging COVID-19 context.

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Thanks to this support from the Investment Plan for Europe, Hypo Vorarlberg will be able to increase its lending capacity to households, SMEs and mid-caps for the construction of new energy-efficient homes. This initiative will help the hard-hit construction sector in this difficult time, as well as contributing to the achievement of our climate goals.”

The press release is available here. The Investment Plan for Europe has so far mobilized €535 billion of investment across the EU, benefitting over 1.4 million SMEs in total.

Austria

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.

"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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Austria's Kurz expects to be charged but cleared in perjury case

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Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (pictured) expects to be charged but eventually cleared in an investigation into whether he gave false testimony to a parliamentary commission, he told Sunday newspapers, ruling out the idea of resigning if indicted.

The investigation by anti-corruption prosecutors, made public, last week poses a stiff political challenge for the conservative Kurz, 34, who governs in coalition with the Greens.

Kurz has painted himself as the victim of opposition parties trying to trap him into saying something that could be construed as perjury before the commission, which is looking into possible corruption under his previous coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) which collapsed in 2019. read more

"After every word of mine on 58 pages (of testimony) is put on the scale, I certainly expect a criminal complaint, that's right," he told the Krone newspaper in an interview, adding he had not yet been questioned by prosecutors.

But he said he was confident he would be exonerated in the case, which centres on whether he answered truthfully when asked about appointments to state holding company OBAG.

"I have spoken to numerous lawyers and several university professors. The tenor was always the same: no one can imagine that there will be a conviction here," he told the paper.

In a separate interview with the Oesterreich paper, he rejected the idea of stepping down if indicted.

"I definitely rule that out. Like many people, I have made many mistakes, both privately and professionally. But what I definitely know is that I went into the commission with the intention of answering the questions truthfully," he said.

An opinion poll published by Oesterreich showed Kurz's conservatives winning 35% support should parliamentary elections be held now, down 1 point from a week earlier and 2.5 points from its showing in 2019 elections.

Its Greens partners were on 12%, in fourth place behind the Social Democrats on 22% and the FPO at 17%.

The commission has looked into the appointment in 2019 of a conservative loyalist as chief executive of OBAG, which manages Austria's stakes in companies including oil firm OMV. Text messages examined by the commission showed Kurz telling the candidate before then he would get "everything you want".

The investigation is looking at whether Kurz discussed the appointment with the candidate beforehand and whether the chancellor was involved in selecting members of OBAG's supervisory board, both of which Kurz denied at the commission.

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Israel’s flag risen on the roof of Austria’s chancellery in sign of solidarity

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Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz flies an Israeli flag on the roof of the chancellery building in Vienna in a mark of solidarity with the State of Israel, amid the conflict between Israel and Hamas, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

“The terrorist attacks on Israel are deserving of the strongest condemnation. Together we stand by Israel’s side.”

‘’Today, as a sign of solidarity with Israel, the Israeli flag was raised on the roof of the Federal Chancellery. The terrorist attacks on Israel are to be condemned in the strongest possible terms! Together we stand by Israel’s side,’’ Kurz tweeted on Friday.

Earlier this week, the Austrian leader said: ‘’I strongly condemn the rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip. Israel has the right to defend itself against them. I hope that there will be a de-escalation and that these attacks will stop with immediate effect.‘‘

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