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Commission approves Austrian measures to support rail freight and passenger operators affected by the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, two Austrian measures supporting the rail freight sector and one measure supporting the rail passenger sector in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The two measures supporting the rail freight sector will ensure increased public support to further encourage the shift of freight traffic from road to rail, and the third measure introduces temporary relief for rail operators providing passenger services on a commercial basis.

The Commission found that the measures are beneficial for the environment and for mobility as they support rail transport, which is less polluting than road transport, while also decreasing road congestion. The Commission also found that the measures are proportionate and necessary to achieve the objective pursued, namely to support the modal shift from road to rail whilst not leading to undue competition distortions. Finally, the waiver of infrastructure access charges provided for in the second and third measures described above is in line with the recently adopted Regulation (EU) 2020/1429.

This Regulation allows and encourages member states to temporarily authorize the reduction, waiver or deferral of charges for accessing rail infrastructure below direct costs. As a result, the Commission concluded that the measures comply with EU state aid rules, in particular the 2008 Commission Guidelines on state aid for railway undertakings (the Railway Guidelines).

Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “The measures approved today will enable the Austrian authorities to support not only rail freight transport operators, but also commercial passenger operators in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. This will contribute to maintaining their competitiveness compared to other modes of transport, in line with the EU Green Deal objective. We continue working with all member states to ensure that national support measures can be put in place as quickly and effectively as possible, in line with EU rules.”

The full press release is available online

Austria

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.

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Austria

Europe needs more robust plan to deal with foreign fighters, Austria says

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The European Union needs a more robust and coordinated plan for dealing with foreign fighters and those who want to join their ranks like the jihadist who killed four people in Vienna last week, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Monday (9 November), writes Francois Murphy.

Protecting the bloc’s borders should also be part of Europe’s response to Islamist militancy, which Kurz will discuss with the leaders of France, Germany and the European Union today (10 November), he told a news conference.

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Traumatized Vienna silent after gun rampage

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Vienna’s streets lay eerily silent and empty under tight security on Tuesday afternoon (3 November), less than 24 hours after four people were killed in a gun rampage by a convicted jihadist in the busy city centre, writes .

On what was also the first day of a second national coronavirus lockdown, only the occasional car or van could be seen travelling along the broad, tree-lined avenues in front of the University of Vienna, City Hall, and Parliament, and very few pedestrians.

The area around the Stadttempel Jewish synagogue, where the attack began, was still cordoned off and guarded by police with their weapons at the ready, while armed officers controlled cars along the motorway leading to and from the airport.

Those forced to venture outside for work spoke of their shock over the violence.

“It’s crazy, everyone is worried. A life is not worth anything anymore,” said taxi driver Huseyin Gueluem while waiting for passengers at Vienna Airport.

Still visibly shaken by the night’s events, Gueluem compared the violence to militant attacks in Turkey. “Terror is terror, it knows no religion or state,” he said.

A newspaper vendor at the airport who wanted to remain anonymous also spoke of the mental toll.

“It’s all a bit much,” he said. “The attack, the new lockdown, I did not sleep at all tonight.”

Only journalists and a handful of curious residents had come to the area around the synagogue.

“Something like this was to be expected, even in Vienna,” said Josef Neubauer, who lives in Vienna. “It’s a big city. Berlin, Paris - it was just a matter of time.”

Some feared what the social impact of the attacks would be.

“These people want to make Islam bigger and bigger but in fact they make it smaller and smaller,” said student Zaccaria Assalmonashev. “And so they destroy it.”

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