Tension over tuition
The protests against the government decision to introduce university tuition fees continued this week. Education Minister Elisabeth Gehrer repeated that the tuition fees are only a small and fair compensation for the fact that every student costs the Austrian taxpayer ATS (Austrian Schilling) 101,000 (USD 6500) annually.
The government was, however, criticised by President Thomas Klestil. After meeting with student representatives on Friday, Klestil emphasised that socio-economic circumstances should not become a decisive factor in allowing young people to receive higher education.
The leaders of the student movement pointed out that tuition fees could not be considered as a payment in exchange for a service, because of problems with overcrowding and serious administrative deficiencies. A demonstration is due to take place on Wednesday 11 October in Vienna.
Trade dispute settled
Alternatively, however, there was a positive development for the government in the dispute concerning the wage demands of civil servants. A compromise agreement has been signed by the trade unions and salaries will increase by an average of ATS 500 (USD 30) a month.
Victim compensation settled
The Austrian government finally reached an agreement with the US government and US lawyer Ed Fagan concerning its plans for the compensation of the surviving victims of Nazi slave labour and concentration camps. Maria Schaumayer, the government special envoy on the issue, expects to be able to start the payments to the victims before the end of the year. The deal, which commits Austria to the payment of a total sum of ATS six billion (USD 380 million), is to be signed on 24 October with representatives of the US and six Central and East European states.
The negotiations on the restitution of so-called "Aryanised" properties will now begin, following the conclusion of the deal for compensation of victims of Nazism. The government advisor, Ernst Sucharipa, will not consider returning properties to their former owners more than fifty years after the events, but stated that a sum of about ATS 70,000 (USD 4500) per person (a total of ATS 2.35 billion, USD 150 million) would be made immediately available as a first step.
Tension over Temelín
The Temelín nuclear power plant is still at the centre of tensions between Austria and the Czech Republic. A group of around 100 Austrian demonstrators managed to block the Austrian-Czech border at Wullowitz for a couple of hours on Friday evening. The protesters, singing the anthem of the Land of Upper-Austria and shouting "We want to live," pledged to continue their blockades and actions against Temelín. The Czech government is protesting against the perceived inaction of Austrian police forces and threatening to take the matter to the EU authorities in Brussels.
Haider has a suggestion
Jörg Haider, governor of Carinthia, the Land which borders on Slovenia, repeated this week that the abrogation of the so-called AVNOJ decrees should be a prerequisite to Slovenia's EU membership. These decrees planned the expulsion of the German minority from post-Second World War Yugoslavia.
He also argued that Slovenia's German-speaking community should have more rights and more recognition as a distinct ethnic group. More generally, Haider suggested that the idea of EU enlargement should be given up, and replaced with the negotiation of a customs union between the EU and Central European states.
Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, however, contradicted Haider and defended the concept of enlargement in an interview with Kurier. Schüssel also argued that the idea of admitting "groups" of countries into the EU was not practical and should be replaced by an approach which recognises the individual performance of each applicant state, granting admission only if a country fulfills certain criteria.
Controversy: Cougar versus Black Hawk
Defence Minister Herbert Scheibner announced this week that the Austrian army will acquire nine US-made "Black Hawk" helicopters. The decision is controversial because the "Black Hawk" costs significantly more than its rival, the European Eurocopter "Cougar." Scheibner denied that the decision against the Eurocopter was political, and stated that the higher technical performance and safety of the "Black Hawk" justified its price.
The aircraft will be used by the army for civilian as well as military purposes. One of the main motivations for the purchase was to be able to mount more effective emergency rescue operations in the Alps (following several deadly avalanches in recent years). The opposition was critical of this more expensive choice.
Styrian regional elections
The Styrian regional (Land) elections will take place on 15 October. According to opinion polls, the People's Party is likely to reinforce its hold on the regional assembly with 40 percent of the vote. The outgoing governor, Waltraud Klasnic, looks set to gain a new five-year mandate. The Social Democrats, led by Peter Schachner-Blazizek, are expected to come second, with around 30 percent.
Magali Perrault, 6 October 2000
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