The publication of the first comprehensive opinion polls since the establishment of the so-called "dark-blue" coalition between the People's Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party (FPÖ) on Thursday by the magazine News has been widely commented upon. The ÖVP, which had been lagging behind the FPÖ in the polls and had even registered an historical low of under 20 percent support not so long ago, appears to have made a significant recovery. With 27 percent, it has regained the level of support it had obtained in last October's parliamentary elections. This increase in the ÖVP's popularity has been largely at the expense of its coalition partner, the FPÖ (23 percent instead of 30 percent last month). The Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the Greens are stable with 32 and 15 percent respectively.
The ÖVP ministers are also far more popular than their FPÖ colleagues. Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel got an "approval rate" of 47 percent (a nine percent increase compared to last month), behind president Thomas Klestil (61 percent) but better than the chairman of the SPÖ Alfred Gusenbauer (31 percent).
Another earlier survey published by Profil (Monday 3 April) confirmed these trends and gave the following results: SPÖ, with 33 percent, ÖVP, with 31 percent, FPÖ, with 17 percent and the Greens, with 15 percent.
On Thursday, the ÖVP avoided being excluded from the European People's Party (the Association of European Conservative and Christian-Democratic Parties) when a compromise solution was found.
A three-member delegation of the group will visit Austria and prepare a report on the actions of the government (respect of human rights, EU enlargement policies, fight against racism...) before June.
On Friday 7 April, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia was officially opened in Vienna, the first European Union institution to be set up in Austria. The director of the institution, Beate Winkler, had denounced the participation of the FPÖ to the Austrian government and welcomed the bilateral sanctions against Austria, in February. Winkler provoked controversy when she refused to invite the members of the Austrian government to the inauguration party and limited the Austrian representation to President Klestil, the chairman of the National assembly Heinz Fischer (SPÖ) and the Mayor of Vienna, Michael Häupl (SPÖ). Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner, however, attended the party as "a member of the delegation of President Thomas Klestil," Winkler stated.
Ferrero-Waldner was in Slovenia on Wednesday, where she declared that Austria will support Slovenia's accession to the EU. Her comment that Austria would not ask for the closure of the nuclear plant of Krško [as a precondition for Slovene EU membership], however, provoked strong reactions not only from Jörg Haider (who accused Ferrero-Waldner of having lost a sense of "reality") but also from Social-Democratic politicians and environmental groups.
Haider confirmed this week that he will officially step down as FPÖ chairman during the party congress, in Klagenfurt on 1 May. The governor of the Land of Carinthia also announced that he will attend a plenary session of the EU Committee of regions next week in Brussels (the institution of 222 delegates from the EU regions and cities).
Finally, the controversy over the attitude of the Social Democratic Party vis-á-vis some former members of the National Socialist Party after 1945 (and its willingness to accept in its ranks former Nazis) took a new turn with the long-awaited publication on Thursday of a statement by the new Party Chairman, Alfred Gusenbauer. The declaration admits that the party had not always reflected on the necessity to "fight the Nazi within" and had been a refuge for some former members of the Nazi party after the war: "we deeply regret these mistakes and ask ...for forgiveness...," he stated. Gusenbauer also emphasised the duty of the party to "fight even more decisively all tendencies towards fascism, racism, antisemitism and xenophobia".
Magali Perrault, 8 April 2000
Some Useful Websites (in German)
http://www.orf.at (Austrian TV)
http://www.apa.at (Austrian Press Agency)