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.
Austrian far-right leader quits, leaving succession open
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."
Israel’s flag risen on the roof of Austria’s chancellery in sign of solidarity
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.‘‘
Commission approves €146.5 million Austrian support in favour of companies joining research and innovation project in microelectronics
The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, €146.5 million in Austrian support in favour of three companies joining the existing Important Project of Common European Interest (‘IPCEI') in microelectronics approved by the Commission in 2018. The public funding is expected to unlock an additional €530m of private investments, i.e. more than three and a half times the public support.
Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “To deliver on the digital and green transition, we will need highly innovative and sustainable microchips and sensors for many products in our economy, ranging from mobile phones to aircraft. The Important Project of Common European Interest in microelectronics that we approved in 2018 has been supporting the development of important cutting-edge technologies in this field. The IPCEI's integration is very important for its success – we have approved additional support by Austria to three projects because they meet the high bar of adding significant value to the existing IPCEI, with important collaborations with the existing participants.”
In December 2018, the Commission approved, under EU state aid rules, an IPCEI to support research and innovation in the field of microelectronics (the ‘2018 IPCEI Microelectronics'). The project was jointly set-up and notified by France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. The approved public support amounted to €1.75 billion. The 2018 IPCEI Microelectronics, which aims at developing innovative microelectronics technologies and components for automotive, Internet of Things (IoT) and other key applications (such as space, avionics, and security) and their first industrial deployment, originally involved 27 companies and two research organisations.
In December 2020, Austria notified to the Commission its plans to join the 2018 IPCEI Microelectronics, by providing €146.5m of public support to three companies (Infineon Austria, AT&S Austria and NXP Semiconductors Austria) that will carry out additional research and innovation falling within the scope and contributing to the objectives of the existing IPCEI. The companies will focus in particular on the areas of security, energy efficiency, and integration of packaging technologies for microelectronics.
The joining of an already established and ongoing IPCEI by an additional member state and projects is an exceptional circumstance. It requires a complex assessment by the Commission, to verify that the new individual projects are properly integrated in the existing roadmap and structure of the IPCEI, for example by means of establishing sufficient and valuable collaborations with the initial participants, and are genuinely adding significant value to the IPCEI in order to reach its objectives.
The Commission takes note of and welcomes the increasingly transparent, open and inclusive practice that member states have now established in designing IPCEIs to ensure that all interested member states join from the start, so that these important European projects generate even more benefits to the entire EU without unduly distorting competition.
The Commission's assessment
The Commission assessed Austria's plans under EU state aid rules, more specifically its Communication on Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI). Where private initiatives supporting breakthrough innovation fail to materialise because of the significant risks such projects entail, the IPCEI state aid Communication enables member states to jointly fill the gap to overcome these market failures, while ensuring that the EU economy at large benefits and limiting potential distortions to competition.
The projects that Infineon Austria, AT&S Austria and NXP Semiconductors Austria will carry out aim at delivering additional technological innovations in energy efficient power semiconductors, on advanced security and interconnections, as well as on organic packaging technology aspects.
In this respect, the Commission found that the projects will add significant value to the 2018 IPCEI Microelectronics and will contribute to and enhance the integration of existing IPCEI. In particular:
- They will significantly contribute to the achievement of common objective pursued by the existing IPCEI in supporting a strategic value chain, in particular through the development innovative microelectronics, technologies and components for automotive, IoT and other key applications (such as space, avionics, and security), by aiming at technology solutions that were not (sufficiently) addressed.
- They will add significant value to the existing IPCEI by bringing important contributions to its objectives, integration, collaborations, scope, and research and development content.
- They are highly ambitious, aiming at developing technologies and processes that go beyond current technology.
- The companies will establish significant and valuable additional collaborative research with the existing direct partners and support the development and objectives of the relevant technology fields.
- The projects involve significant technological and financial risks, and public support is therefore necessary to provide incentives to companies to carry out the investment.
- The aid to each of the three companies is limited to what is necessary, proportionate and does not unduly distort competition.
- Additional important positive spill-over effects will be generated throughout Europe.
On this basis, the Commission concluded that the Austrian plans to join the 2018 IPCEI Microelectronics are in line with EU State aid rules.
In June 2014 the Commission adopted a Communication on important projects of common European interest (IPCEI), setting out criteria under which Member States can support transnational projects of strategic significance for the EU under Article 107(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). This framework aims to encourage Member States to support projects that make a clear contribution to the EU strategic objectives.
The IPCEI Communication complements other State aid rules such as the General Block Exemption Regulation and the Research, Development and Innovation Framework, which allows supporting innovative projects with generous conditions.
Since 2014, the IPCEI Communication has been applied in the field of infrastructure as well as for integrated projects in the area of research and innovation, for microelectronics (in December 2018) and for the battery value chain (in December 2019 and in January 2021).
The IPCEI Communication is currently being reviewed to ensure it fully contributes to the Commission's green and digital objectives, following an evaluation or ‘Fitness Check' completed in October 2020. On 23 February 2021, the Commission launched a public consultation inviting all interested parties to comment on the draft revised IPCEI Communication. In this context, the Commission is proposing, among others, to further enhance the open character of IPCEIs (by, for example, providing that all Member States must be given a genuine opportunity to participate in an emerging project).
Stakeholders can respond to the consultation for eight weeks, until 20 April 2021.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.56606 in the State Aid Register on the competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.
New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the Competition Weekly e-News.
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