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Austrian report
by Euro Reporter
2014-09-27 11:52:11
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Austria to speed up tenders for high-speed internet infrastructure

Austria will tender for Internet infrastructure projects worth up to 300 million euros ($380 million) in 2015, speeding up a 1 billion euro-package promised to telecoms firms, the government said on Friday. In July, Austria had said it would offer tenders for an initial 200 million euros as part of plans to invest some of the proceeds from a controversial mobile frequency auction, which is now the subject of a court case, into broadband infrastructure. Spending on the projects will only start in 2016 no matter when the tenders begin.

The public investments are designed as a subsidy to help telecoms companies build infrastructure giving high-speed Internet access to remote areas, for examples in the Alps, where such investments are especially expensive. The government also aims to generate jobs and growth at a time when the economy is sluggish. An Austrian court is set to rule by November whether to annul the 2013 auction for mobile frequencies which brought the state 2 billion euros, but which some telecom companies say was flawed.

Hutchison Whampoa's Austrian unit Drei and Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile appealed against the sale, which was then Europe's most expensive for fourth-generation (4G) frequencies per head of population. Hutchison withdrew its appeal after Austria announced the 1 billion euro broadband infrastructure plan.


Smokers' paradise Austria struggles to stub out habit

In the wood-panelled rooms of Vienna's traditional coffee houses, tobacco-lovers can still light up pretty much as they please. But one of the last smokers' havens in Europe may be on course to kick the habit. Even diehard smokers, when arriving in Austria, are in for a shock at the clouds of blue haze filling bars and restaurants, long after the rest of western and central Europe stubbed out puffing in public places. A partial smoking ban came into force in Austria in January 2009, but the list of exceptions was long. Small cafes and eateries under 50 square meters (500 square feet) can ignore the ban, while larger establishments need only provide a non-smoking section. Many punters simply prop the doors open and carry on puffing regardless, prompting self-proclaimed "sheriffs" to patrol the streets and file complaints.

"The current law was set up to fail," says Manfred Neuberger, a professor at Vienna's Medical University, who has led several studies on smoking bans in Europe and Austria. But the anti-smoking camp is set for a boost after Austria's newly appointed health minister Sabine Oberhauser called for a total ban on smoking in public places within five years. "I would like to finalize this now, agree to a transition period and have a total ban in place by a deadline – the aim being within five years," she said in a recent interview. Her plan is likely to run into stiff resistance and she admits no decision will be taken without involving the hospitality industry, which strongly opposes a ban.

Many agree however it's time for some clarity. "This law we have, I find it pretty ridiculous: either you have a ban or you don't. This just doesn't suit anyone," said 38-year-old Roman, sat in the landmark Cafe Drechsler in central Vienna. The Viennese institution bade farewell to smokers after a court ordered it to make the path to the toilets smoke-free, which would have required costly alterations. But it is a rarity. Even Vienna's General Hospital has a "Tabak" selling cigarettes right in the entrance.


Austria to launch legal challenge if EU approves British nuclear plan

Austria will launch a legal challenge if the European Commission approves Britain’s plan to build its first new nuclear plant in a generation, Vienna’s environment minister has warned. The £16bn Hinkley Point project is on the verge of getting the green light after a spokesman for EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said on Monday that Brussels will “propose . . . to take a positive decision in this case”. However, Andra Rupprechter, Austria’s minister for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management, on Wednesday voiced his anger at the decision.

“This scandal has to be fought by all legal means possible,” he told the Kurier newspaper, adding that he would apply to the European Court of Justice to have the decision annulled. Austrian Green MEP Michel Reimon said Mr Almunia had shown “genuflection to the nuclear lobby”. “It is incredible that Commissioner Almunia will make an exception for the nuclear industry by simply waving [through] this illegal aid,” he added. The EU began an investigation into Hinkley Point, in Somerset, in December and initially warned that generous consumer-funded subsidies to developer EDF Energy may constitute illegal state aid. UK energy consumers could pay EDF and its partners as much as £17.6bn in subsidies over a 35-year period.

Although Mr Almunia’s decision requires confirmation by the rest of the EU’s commissioners, this is expected within weeks. Together with Austria, which has no nuclear power stations, a number of other countries have also expressed concerns that EU approval would make a mockery of the bloc’s stated policy to promote solar and wind power.


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