The Chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel (ÖVP), this week repeated his demand for an end to the bilateral political sanctions against Austria. In an interview with the Spanish newspaper ABC, he denounced what he called the "Franco-German directorate [of the EU] who dictates to the others what to do." He also emphasised that the planned referendum on the sanctions was to be an illustration of the support of the Austrian population for the European idea rather than an ultimatum to the EU. Schüssel warned Austria's EU partner states that the sanctions could constitute a risk to the European integration project and argued that the first hundred days of the government demonstrated its commitment to European values.
One of the possible options to bring about the lifting of the sanctions is the possible "monitoring" of Austria by the European commission. Schüssel suggested that a report could even be ready for the next EU summit in June in Feira (Portugal). This idea was however strongly rejected by the leader of the Freedom party's parliamentary group, Peter Westenthaler who argued (in Täglich Alles on Sunday 14 May): "'Monitoring' is an instrument applied to developing countries. I do not want Austria to be put in the same category as Uganda and Albania. We do not need a 'Big Brother.'"
Monday 15 May marked the 45th anniversary of the signature of the State Treaty which led to the end of the occupation of the country by the four Allied powers (Britain, France, the US and the USSR) and spelt out Austria's status of "permanent neutrality." Schüssel took the opportunity to justify the decision of the People's Party not to renew its grand coalition with the Social-Democrats (SPÖ). According to him, "the change was necessary" and it was the alliance with the Freedom Party which embodied that change. The SPÖ chose on the same day to address a different issue and denounced the introduction by the government of neo-liberal economic and social reforms.
Alexander Van der Bellen, leader of the Green Party and a resolute proponent of the maintenance of the neutrality, bemoaned the fact that Schüssel did not make mention of the continuing validity of neutrality "as a modern instrument of security and foreign policy." He accused the Chancellor and leader of the ÖVP to betray the legacy of ÖVP statesmen such as Leopold Figl (one of the negotiators and signatories of the State treaty).
Jörg Haider provoked a new controversy on Monday when he proposed during a joint conference with Justice Minister Dieter Böhmdorfer that state representatives which had acted against the interests of the country should be sanctioned and liable to lose their positions (and the measure would apply to the president too, Haider added). The idea was firmly rejected by the chairman of the SPÖ Alfred Gusenbauer who contended that the first victim of such a "totalitarian"-oriented law was likely to be Haider himself. It was also dismissed by the chairman of the national assembly Heinz Fischer who thought the project was reminiscent of a rule implemented in the Communist-led German Democratic Republic. The leader of the SPÖ group in the European parliament Hannes Swoboda compared Haider's suggestion to the rule of former populist prime minister Vladimír Mečiar in Slovakia.
On Tuesday 16 May, the government-appointed commissioner for the compensation of WWII slave labour workers Maria Schaumayer presented her plan during a so-called "reconciliation conference" to delegations from Belarus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. US Vice-Finance Minister Stuart Eizenstat was also present and it was agreed that Austria would pay a sum of about AUS six billion (USD 0.4 billion) as a "gesture" of reparation. Schüssel also announced two days later that the former Austrian ambassador to the United Nations, Ernst Sucharipa, would take charge of the negotiations concerning the "Aryanisation" issue - the restitution of Jewish properties confiscated during the Nazi era.
President Thomas Klestil was on an official visit to Ukraine on Tuesday and Wednesday. He was accompanied by Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner and held talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma and Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yuschenko.
The first budget of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition was adopted on Thursday despite the opposition of the SPÖ and the Greens. The net deficit should reach AUS 54.66 billion (two per cent of the GDP) in 2000.
Magali Perrault, 19 May 2000
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