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Austrian report Austrian report
by Euro Reporter
2012-02-04 10:50:25
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Austria leads European gas-price surge as Russian supply drops

Austrian natural gas jumped by more than a third this week as Russian flows declined and freezing weather left about 250 people dead across Eastern Europe. Gas for delivery Monday at Austria’s Central European Gas Hub in Baumgarten leapt 39 percent, while German prices gained 33 percent. The country yesterday reported a 30 percent drop in flows from Russia, which supplies a quarter of Europe’s gas. Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Italy have also been affected. The death toll in Eastern Europe climbed as a Siberian freeze and heavy snowfall struck the region.

“The EU gas market overall is quite resilient to supply shocks coming from Russia,” said Marco Boeri, an analyst at BNP Paribas SA in Paris. “The most important consuming countries in continental Europe can resist between 35 and 55 winter days without Russian flows, provided that an adequate volume of gas is available in their underground storage facilities.” Gas for delivery on Feb. 6 at Baumgarten jumped as much as 9.20 Euros ($12.10) to 32.50 Euros a megawatt-hour, and was at 30.50 Euros at 3:54 p.m. London time, according to broker prices on Bloomberg. Day-ahead gas at Net Connect Germany was 7.10 Euros higher at 30.75 Euros a megawatt-hour, taking this week’s increase to 33 percent. Dutch gas at the Title Transfer Facility climbed 14 percent to 30.40 Euros per megawatt hour.

Europe imports 80 percent of its Russian gas via Ukraine, which today blamed its neighbour for cutting shipments. Transits to the European Union are at 415 million cubic meters of gas a day, compared with a maximum level of 490 million cubic meters, RIA Novosti reported, citing Ukrainian Energy and Coal Minister Yuriy Boyko. Russia cut gas shipments to Ukraine for two weeks in January 2009 after accusing the country of stealing gas amid a price dispute. More than 20 European countries were affected. There has been a 30 percent drop in Russian gas to Austria, a 24 percent reduction to Italy and an 8 percent decline to Poland, EU Commission spokeswoman Marlene Holzner told reporters in Brussels today. Natural-gas storage facilities across the EU are full and the situation doesn’t qualify as a “state of emergency” because the affected countries have been able to use natural gas from elsewhere, she said. “The contracts that Russia has apparently allow for certain flexibility in case they also need the gas, and that’s the situation that Russia’s facing at the moment,” she said.


Austria cancels award to far-right leader Strache over anti-Semitic remarks

Prestigious award is retracted after Austrian daily quotes Freedom Party leader as saying, 'We are the new Jews,' in response to protesters who heckled guests arriving at an event on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Austrian President Heinz Fischer is dropping plans to grant a prestigious award to far-right Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, in the wake of Strache's anti-Semitic remarks uttered at a gala ball in Vienna last week.  "We are the new Jews," Strache was overheard saying in response to protesters who heckled guests arriving at the event attended by right-wing extremists and alleged neo-Nazis. Strache. The turmoil was "like Kristallnacht," Strache was further quoted as saying by the Austrian daily, Der Standard.

Strache was slated to receive the "Decoration of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria" for his decade of service in government. But on Wednesday, following a public outcry, Fischer announced that he would not get the honour. Former U.S. Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat, who played a crucial role in talks that led to the $1.25 billion settlement by private Swiss banks to compensate Holocaust survivors, and Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal are among past recipients of the award, as are many former and present world leaders, including Haile Selassie, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.

The Freedom Party maintains that the conversation was distorted by Der Standard, and that Strache had not intended to minimize the Jews' suffering, but rather just to note that the “attacks” on the ball goers by the close to 3,000 demonstrators outside Vienna's imperial Hofburg Palace had reminded him of “horrible reports about the disastrous Nazi era.” The right wingers' annual winter waltz, which all the more provocatively took place this year on Holocaust Memorial Day, is in and of itself controversial. Although the organizers insisted the timing was accidental and that the ball was always held on the last Friday in January, Green Party leader Eva Glavischnig said that guests would be "dancing on the graves of Auschwitz,” and later urged parliament to throw Strache out for his comments. “He has gambled away any legitimacy as a politician,” she said. Jewish and anti Racism groups, in turn, described the event as a “scandalous ball for people nostalgic for the Third Reich," and deemed Strache's comments a "monstrous provocation." Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger told reporters he was "profoundly disgusted" by Strache's words and urged him to apologize immediately.


Austrian post opens call centre to boost customer service

Austrian Post has opened a new call centre as it works to expand its customer service operations and improve service quality. The new operation in Klagenfurt is the postal operator’s second largest call centre, capable of handling more than 1.1m calls each year, but a further increase from the initial 23 staff is on the cards. Staff has been taken from the operational and retail network, with around 4,000 hours of training provided.

Georg Pölzl, the Austrian Post CEO, said using existing staff in the call centre would not only mean a “new and exciting” challenge for the staff members, but would also mean better customer service because of their past experience at the postal service. He said: “The people here available to answer callers’ questions are long-time and well-trained staff who previously worked in various areas of the company, in the service or in stores. Through their acquired knowledge they are in the best position to help our customers with their concerns.”

Pölzl said space was already allocated for more jobs to be created, adding that expanding the facility in future would see Klagenfurt turned into a centre of activity for Austrian Post.

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