After the publication of the "wise men' report and the end of the bilateral political sanctions imposed on Austria by its fourteen EU partners, the chairman of the European Commission Romano Prodi reflected on the crisis in an interview for the Austrian newsmagazine Format: "I think - and that is important for the future - that we will have in ...Europe many cases of...problematic election results...I think that we must respect these elections, as long as there is no breach of democratic rules."
Backlash against tuition fees
The government decision to introduce tuition fees of ATS 5000 (EUR 365) a semester for university education has provoked a storm of protests from the student community. Demonstrations were held in Vienna and across the country and student leaders have contested the legality of the move, arguing that Austria signed an international agreement in 1978 which pledged it to the maintenance of free higher education.
The Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, in an interview for Die Presse, defended the introduction of tuition fees as the only way to ensure that Austrian universities remain competitive. The alternative - the abolition of family benefits for those aged19 or up- would have been worse and compensatory measures to help students in financial hardship are to be implemented.
The Green party leader, Alexander Van der Bellen, admitted that tuition fees were a feature of American and British universities, but stated that in Austria, such an approach to higher education was simply unacceptable.
An opinion poll published in Format and conducted by OGM, an Austrian polling agency, showed that 58 percent of Austrians opposed the introduction of tuition fees while 36 percent approved this measure. The issue is likely to become a major campaign issue ahead of next year's regional elections.
Austrian troops for EU force
The defence minister, Herbert Scheibner, officially agreed to commit Austrian troops to the EU-led "rapid reaction forces" due to become operational by 2003. Austria will allocate 2000 soldiers to the 60,000 already in the unit. Scheibner emphasised that Austria's participation in the Common Foreign and Security Policy did not amount to "Nato membership through the backdoor," but was rather "a necessary contribution to a common European security order. There is now, as before, a potential for crises in Europe, which would involve, directly or indirectly, Austria." However, the Green European deputy, Johannes Voggenhuber, criticised the government's commitment to a European raid reaction force as endangering the military principles of Austrian neutrality.
The agriculture minister, Wilhelm Molterer, was due to meet the Czech environment minister Milos Kucvart on 23 September. The talks- the first at ministerial level between Austria and the Czech republic since the end of the sanctions against Austria- were expected to focus on the Czech nuclear plant, Temelin. For safety reasons, Austria has asked the Czech republic to reconsider its decision to activate the nuclear reactor.
The leader of Vienna's Jewish community Ariel Muzicant suggested on Thursday that a share of the product of the planned privatisations could be devoted to the compensation of the victims of the Nazi era.
Heide Schmidt included in elections
The former president of the Liberal Forum, Heide Schmidt, who had resigned and left politics after the failure of her party to retain parliamentary representation in October 1999, announced this week that she has accepted, "out of solidarity" to be included on the party list for the municipal elections in Vienna next year. Schmidt, who remains a popular figure as well as the leading foe of Jörg Haider ever since creating the Liberal Forum from the liberal wing of the Freedom party in 1992, will appear in the last position on the list.
Carinthia, the province governed by Haider, looks set for financial austerity. The regional finance minister, Karl Pfeifenberger, declared his intention to follow the lead of the federal government and introduce a programme of budgetary savings.
Austrian medical research made headlines when it was announced this week that scientists of the University of Vienna had so far successfully tested a vaccine against cancer on animals. The first tests on humans could start as early as next year. However, the team of researchers cautioned that the discovery of an effective treatment against cancer was unlikely to happen in the near future.
Finally, Austria, a nation of skiers traditionally more successful during the winter Olympics, managed to get its first gold medal in a summer Olympics since 1988 this week when Roman Hagara and Hans-Peter Steinacher won the "Tornado" event in the sailing competitions.
Magali Perrault, 23 September 2000
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