The end of the Portuguese EU presidency at the close of June saw the bilateral political sanctions against Austria remain in place, even if a breakthrough was seemingly achieved after the publication of a plan which could lead to the end of the Alpine republic's diplomatic isolation.
The Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres presented, a compromise based on the appointment of a committee of three "wise men" (three judges from the European Court of human rights in Strasbourg) which would be asked to "deliver, on a thorough examination, a report covering: the Austrian Government's commitment to the common European values, in particular concerning the rights of minorities, refugees and immigrants and the evolution of the political nature of the FPÖ."
The Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel declared his intention to accept the deal, even if he publicly regretted that Austria's partner states did not set a timetable for the report, and the lifting of the sanctions.
France, who takes over the EU presidency from Portugal, is considered unlikely to speed up the process and many expect the sanctions to be lifted only when Sweden holds the presidency in January 2001.
Jörg Haider criticised the plan, arguing that "Austria is not Rwanda" and did not need to be "observed" by three "wise men." He continued to say: "you have to be careful with the three wise men because even the visit of the three wise men could not prevent Jesus from being crucified."
The government is set to meet on 4 July to decide whether to go ahead with its proposal to hold a referendum on the sanctions and the EU in the autumn.
EU relations further strained
Relations between Austrian and its EU partners have also been affected by Austria's demands to reduce the quota of road freight transports allowed to pass through the country.
Following the blockade of the Brenner Pass organised last week by the environmentalist group Transitforum Austria-Tirol, a meeting of EU transport ministers in Luxembourg on Monday failed to produce an agreement on the issue. The EU treaties allow the passage of 1.61 million lorries a year through the Brenner Pass, but the quota was exceeded by 100,000 last year.
According to Austria, a reduction of the number of road freight transports by at least 330,000 before the end of the year is necessary. The Transport Minister, Michael Schmid, stated that Austria could take its case in front of the European Court of Justice.
The Austrian position has been criticised by representatives of Germany and Italy, the two states which stand to lose the most, were the traffic through the Alpine republic restricted.
Austria also rejected a compromise drafted by the European Commission which would have led to a gradual reduction of the traffic.
Trade Union opposition
The trade unions demonstrated their opposition to the government's plan to reform the pension schemes by calling for a "day of action" (as opposed to a "strike") on Wednesday. Rail traffic came to an halt between 11 and 12 am and there was some disruption to Vienna's public transport network.
The vice-chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer (FPÖ) presented a ATS 4 billion [USD 277 millions] government saving plan for education, which could include an increase in the number of working hours and a decrease in overtime hourly rates for primary and secondary school teachers.
Riess-Passer and the leader of the FPÖ parliamentary group Peter Westenthaler suggested that the duties of Austrian teachers would remain in any case far below the OECD average (while their wages are higher than average).
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She also pointedly added (in an interview for the Austrian TV ÖRF): "Teachers work like everybody else 1793 hours a year. I was a teacher myself and I feel personally offended when somebody says that the teachers do not work enough."
Carinthia, the Land ruled by Haider, received a "gift" from the highly controversial Libyan president, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The state-owned Libyan Arab Foreign Bank made a deposit of ATS 350 billion (25.4 billion Euros) into the account of the Carinthian Hypo Ape Adria Bank in Klagenfurt.
The move seems to have been favourably received by Carinthia's business community, which hopes to develop trade links between the region and the North African state (a major oil producer).
The critically-ill Slovak President Rudolf Schuster was transported on Wednesday to the hospital in Innsbruck, where the Czech president Václav Havel was treated from the Austrian medical team led by Ernst Bodner two years ago.
Schuster's family had accepted the offer from the Austrian President, Thomas Klestil, to organise the transfer from Bratislava to the Tirolean capital.
The sixth European Forum held in Wachau (in Lower-Austria) ended on Sunday 25 June. Debates largely focused around the future enlargement eastwards of the European Union. In this context, Schussel made clear that he thought the process of European integration should take into account the interests of small states.
Slovak Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda added: "Slovakia does not want to get in the EU for economic reasons only. The main reasons are the political and security aspects. This cooperation is important in order to have also in the future a stable Central Europe" (ORF, 26 June 2000).
Finally, according to official statistics (ORF, 30 June 2000), Austrians travel more and more but are still amongst the least enthusiastic tourists in the EU. Only 49 percent of Austrians take holidays, far below the Greeks who topped the table with 66 percent.
63 percent of these Austrian holidays are spent abroad and the most popular destinations are the sea resorts of Italy, Greece, Croatia and Spain.
Magali Perrault, 1 July 2000
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ORF (Austrian TV)
APA (Austrian Press Agency)