Austria, one of the self-described ‘frugals’ within the bloc, has called on EU chiefs to end state aid rules aimed, in happier times, at preventing countries from giving firms an unfair advantage. This would give the give ministers in Vienna the power to freely implement a plan to spend roughly a tenth of last year’s economic output on keeping its economy ticking over.
As a net contributor to the EU budget, the Alpine republic eventually backed a rescue package for member states hardest hit by the outbreak while opposing the idea of mutualised debt, or ‘coronabonds’, to fund it.
Austrian Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel called for the EU to let his nation “show solidarity with our own companies”.
He said: “This solidarity cannot be a one-way street.
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“We also want to be able to show solidarity with our own companies and we therefore demand that this crisis be used for solidarity in that we suspend the EU state aid regime for the duration of the crisis.”
It comes after cracks in the bloc’s unity were laid bare when EU member states spent weeks squabbling over a rescue package worth half a trillion euros to aid battered economies which was finally agreed.
EU finance ministers signed off a half-a-trillion euros deal to support coronavirus-battered economy, but left open the question of how to finance recovery in the bloc headed for a steep recession.
The deal did not mention using joint debt to finance recovery – something Italy, France and Spain pushed strongly for but which was a red line for Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Austria.
It comes as Austria took its first step in relaxing its month-old restrictions last Tuesday by letting DIY stores, garden centres and smaller shops reopen.
Other shops and hairdressers should follow from May 1 and Austrian cultural spaces including museums and libraries will reopen from mid-May as part of a gradual loosening of the coronavirus lockdown.
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Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler said: “The conservative-led government said the action it took early in the outbreak and the fact infections are increasing by less than 1 percent a day make it possible to reopen parts of the economy, but it will make adjustments if infections accelerate.
“From mid-May it will be possible for presentation venues in the artistic and cultural field, definitely museums to reopen.”
The government said it would review the situation and see what kind of cultural events can be allowed from early July, such as open-air cinema, Lunacek said.
For theatres, many factors were being considered on how they might reopen safely.
Junior minister for art and culture Ulrike Lunacek said: “What happens on stage? Several people on stage?
“And in the theatre there is often a lot of action. Maybe there is a fight or maybe a love scene. That will not be possible, probably.”
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