The foreign minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner (ÖVP) expressed her hopes that the bilateral political sanctions against Austria could be discussed during the EU summit at Feira, perhaps on the basis of a report prepared by the European Commission.
The leader of the Social-Democratic Party, Alfred Gusenbauer, travelled to Berlin on Monday and Brussels on Tuesday where he held talks with the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel. Gusenbauer's proposal to put Austria under international observation was, however, heavily criticised by the People's Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party (FPÖ), and Chancellor Wofgang Schüssel (ÖVP) described Gusenbauer's foreign trips as "completely counter-productive."
On Tuesday, the Danish Prime Minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, consulted his Portuguese counterpart, Antonio Guterres, about the possibility of an "exit strategy" which could lead to the lifting of the sanctions against Austria. However, Guterres, whose country holds the presidency of the EU until July this year, remained cautious: "My view is very simple: there was consensus among the 14 [Austria's EU partners] countries [to impose sanctions]...and obviously there won't be a change until there is a consensus to do so." (The Guardian, 24 May 2000)
Louis Michel and the French Minister for European affairs, Pierre Moscovici, have both emphasised this week that their countries did not intend to bring the sanctions to an end. President Thomas Klestil and Schüssel remained optimistic but circumspect about the prospects for a speedy end of the sanctions.
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After the adoption of the 2000 budget last week, Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser (FPÖ) has now started to draft the 2001 budget. He refused to exclude the possibility of tax increases in order to reduce Austria's budgetary deficit.
The Governor of Carinthia, Jörg Haider (FPÖ), was again at the centre of a controversy after the publication of reports that claimed he had met Libyan President Muammar Al Gadaffi during a trip to Tripoli on 9 May. Haider described the meeting as a "private visit," but he was criticised by the leader of the Social Democratic party in Carinthia, Herbert Würschl, who wondered whether the visit was the beginning of a "Klagenfurt [the capital of Carinthia]-Belgrade-Tripoli axis."
The negotiations between the government and union leaders about the reform of the civil servants's pension scheme project failed to produce any agreement. The talks collapsed on Thursday evening. Vice-Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer criticised the Trade Union of the Civil Service (Gewerkschaft öffentlicher Dienst- GÖD) for its failure to propose an alternative to the government's plans. Chairman of the GÖD Fritz Neugebauer rejected the accusation and warned that the government would be faced with "protests" were it to go ahead with the current project. The government's objective to start implementing the reforms on 1 October was also a source of concern. Trade unionists and opposition leaders suggested that the constitutional court could be asked to rule about the constitutionality of the plans, a move which would considerably delay the implementation of the reforms.
Ferrero-Waldner argued on Thursday in a speech to the foreign ministers of NATO member countries that neutral Austria should engage a dialogue and develop closer links with NATO. This was, according to the Foreign Minister, the necessary consequence of the growing complementary relationship between NATO and the EU, as well as of the process of redefinition of Austria's defence doctrine that the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition intends to begin.
Magali Perrault, 26 May 2000
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