The results of the Danish referendum on the Euro were analysed by Austrian politicians in many different ways. The leader of the Freedom Party (FPÖ) parliamentary group, Peter Westenthaler, welcomed the Danish "no" and stated that "it was a fantastic sign of a working democracy. The people actually decided." He bemoaned the fact that Austrians had not been given the chance to vote on the euro, but acknowledged that leaving the single currency was now impossible for his country. He suggested that the enlargement issue might be an opportunity for the Austrian people to have a direct say in the future of the EU.
However, the FPÖ was divided since the Finance Minister and member of the Freedom Party, Karl-Heinz Grasser, publicly regretted Denmark's decision not to join the Euro—an attitude also adopted by the People's Party and the Chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel. Foreign minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she was "very sad" about the results of the referendum, and the two opposition parties, the Social-Democrats and the Greens, regretted Denmark's choice to stay out of euroland.
University tuition fees
The government decision to introduce tuition fees of ATS 5000 (USD 320) a semester for university education continues to meet with widespread criticism and protest from students. Demonstrations have been held in Vienna, and talks between student representatives and the government have failed. Student leaders are due to meet on 4 October to adopt a resolution "against tuition fees and for a reform of the universities."
In an interview for Austrian Television (ÖRF) the Education Minister, Elisabeth Gehrer, (People's Party, ÖVP) defended the project, arguing that the state would increase bursaries and study awards by ATS 400 million and that, in addition, the tuition fees would help to modernise the universities. The finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser confirmed that one out of ATS two billion raised by the tuition fees will be reinvested in higher education institutions.
The civil servants' trade unions are also protesting against the austerity measures of the government, which include a pay rise of 1.2 percent for the next two years (the trade unions are asking for 2.87 percent per year) and the elimination of 15000 posts in the civil service. The negotiations with the Vice-Chancellor, Susanne Riess-Passer, have so far failed, and the trade unions having threatened to call a general strike.
Austrian President, Thomas Klestil, pleaded on Friday for more moderation from all parties before talks resume on Tuesday.
Following last week's talks between the Austrian Agriculture Minister, Wilhelm Molterer, and the Czech Environment Minister, Miloš Kužvart, a delegation of independent Austrian experts and parlamentarians will visit the controversial Czech nuclear plant of Temelín on Saturday 30 September. The Austrian authorities have long expressed their concern about the safety of the Czech nuclear installation, located only 60 miles from the Austrian border. Certain members of the Freedom Party have argued that the closure of Temelín should be a condition of the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union.
Bank Austria, one of the largest Austrian banks, merged this week with the German bank, Hypovereinsbank. The new financial institution will be the third largest in Europe. Bank Austria will remain specifically responsible for Austria and Central and Eastern Europe. The European competition authorities are expected to approve the merger.
Foreigners in Vienna
The Viennese regional authorities have planned to allocate 650 out of the 220,000 flats owned by the city to foreigners facing financial hardships. The decision, announced by the Social-Democrat Mayor of Vienna, Michael Häupl, will be effective from December this year. An opinion poll conducted by Fessel showed that 72 percent of the Viennese supported the measures while 26 percent disapproved.
Austrian Olympic gold
Austria will come back from Sydney with three medals: two gold medals in sailing (Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher in Tornado, Christoph Sieber in Mistral) and a silver medal in track and field (Stefanie Graf in the 800 metres).
Magali Perrault, 2 October 2000
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