Temelín controversy heats up
The protests against the Czech decision to start operating the nuclear reactor at Temelín were stepped up this week.
Temelín, which has been operational since Monday, is 31 miles away from the Austrian border and has been criticised for its deficient safety procedures. Border blockades between Austria and the Czech republic in Wullowitz have intensified as several thousand demonstrators (including many school pupils) have gathered. The Czech Prime Minister, Miloš Zeman, launched an ultimatum to the Austrian government on Wednesday, arguing that the blockades are a breach of the freedom of movement, which is at the heart of the association agreements between the Czech Republic and the EU.
Austrian Environment Minister Wilhelm Molter, however, rejected Zeman's appeal and stated that he would not curb the rights of citizens to protest. Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel added that he would not use violence to stop the "peaceful rallies" and said he was prepared to meet Zeman. He refused the idea that an end to the blockades should be a prerequisite.
On Friday, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan finally instructed the Czech ambassador to the EU, Ramiro Cibran, to ask Brussels to intervene.
All Austrian parties appear to support the protests. However, only some members of the Freedom Party, such as the governor of Carinthia, Jörg Haider and the Infrastructure Minister, Michael Schmid, argued that Temelín would be "the main issue for a Czech EU membership." Schüssel intended to raise the question of Temelín during the EU summit in Biarritz this weekend and was critical of the fact that two letters that he sent to the Czech government in August had not been answered.
The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, and his Polish and Slovak counterparts, Jerzy Buzek and Mikuláš Dzurinda respectively, who were in the Czech Republic on Friday for a meeting of the Visegrád group, called for an end to the blockades and gave their support to the Czech Republic.
EU summit in Biarritz
Following the end of the bilateral political sanctions last month, Austria will attend this weekend's EU summit in Biarritz as a rehabilitated member of the EU. Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner declared on Thursday that Biarritz would be "an important summit, which should aim to restore the confidence in Europe."
Schüssel and Ferrero-Waldner, however, opposed the reform plans to establish rotating commissioners for the small member states like Austria, and argued that the principle "one state, one commissioner" should be applied.
Austrian diplomacy wants to protect the interests of small states within the EU, but is expected to agree with the idea of a binding EU Charter for basic rights and the establishment of qualified majority voting on "procedural" questions (but not on "vital" questions).
50,000 students demonstrated on Wednesday in Vienna against the introduction of university tuition fees. There were also rallies in Salzburg (3500 protesters), Innsbruck (10,000) and Linz.
The Education Minister, Elisabeth Gehrer, has confirmed that the bill introducing tuition fees of ATS (Austrian Schilling) 5000 (USD 311) per month from May 2001 will be approved by the council of ministers on 17 October. The government hopes that tuition fees will allow it to invest ATS one billion (USD 62,988) in higher education and increase the quality of Austrian universities.
The Social-Democratic and Green opposition criticised the government decision to go ahead with the reform without having consulted the student community and representatives.
Regional elections in Styria
The regional elections in Styria will be held on Sunday 15 October. According to opinion polls, the People's Party appears to remain in control of the Land with 42 percent of the votes (five percent more for the last elections in 1995). The Social-Democrats were expected to win 30 percent, the Freedom Party 17 percent and the Greens 7 percent.
And in other news...
- The Freedom Party, who governs the Land of Carinthia, wants to open Carinthian representations abroad, in the Italian region of Veneto and in Slovenia.
- Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner held talks on Thursday in Vienna with her Hungarian counterpart János Martonyi. Austria and Hungary want to increase their cooperation and intend to establish a "strategic partnership." Austria is to further the Hungarian application to the European Union, while NATO member Hungary could help neutral Austria to develop its links with the alliance.
- The People's Party was in disarray in Carinthia after Reinhold Lexer, who was dismissed last month by the regional executive from his post of party leader in the region, stated his intention to run again for the position when the executives meet on Saturday.
- Former Minister Barbara Prammer (Social Democrats) called this week for the resignation of Social Minister Elisabeth Sickl, criticising her for the negative impact of her policies on the status of women.
Magali Perrault, 16 October 2000
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