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The Freedom Party, however, was criticised by the Social Democratic and Green opposition, as well as by its coalition partner, the People's Party (ÖVP).
Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel reaffirmed his commitment to enlargement in a speech he delivered on the Austrian National Day, 26 October. He stated that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are important "partners" of Austria and that it is in Austria's best interest to develop good relations with its neighbours.
The European Union is, according to the Chancellor, a "part of [Austrian] identity," even though they might have occasional disagreements.
President Thomas Klestil reinforced Schüssel's message and emphasised the "historical significance of EU enlargement."
The latest rendering of the Eurobarometer published this week however appeared to demonstrate that the Austrian population is increasingly sceptical about EU enlargement. The public opinion poll conducted in April and May 2000 showed that only 30 per cent of the population are in favour of enlargement—a drop of five per cent from last year when the poll indicated that 35 per cent was in favour. Only the French are less supportive of enlargement than the Austrians.
The National Day, celebrated on 26 October, turned into an occasion for political leaders to make important programmatic speeches.
The leader of the Green Party, Alexander van der Bellen, took the opportunity to repeat his party's opposition to Austria's NATO membership and his commitment to a policy of active neutrality. Van der Bellen criticised what he saw as the attempt of the governmental coalition to lead the country into NATO and noted, "two-thirds of Austrians are against NATO membership. Yet, the Foreign Office prepares an 'intensified dialogue' with NATO."
The issue of neutrality was also a central theme of a speech delivered by the Social Democratic President of the National Assembly, Heinz Fischer. Fischer contended that neutrality should be preserved because "the European states most committed to the principle of solidarity are the neutral states." He described Austria, Finland and Sweden as role models.
Temelin meeting is on
Wolfgang Schüssel is due to meet with Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman in Brno on 31 October to discuss the issue of the Czech nuclear plant in Temelin.Zeman stated however, that he would not attend the summit if the blockades of the Austrian-Czech border start again.
And in other news...
- An opinion poll conducted by the Fessel Institute for the Wiener Zeitung showed that 65 per cent of Austrians are "very proud" to be Austrians, while 27 per cent are "relatively proud". Furthermore, 77 per cent consider Austria a nation and 14 per cent believe that Austria is slowly becoming a nation.
- The Freedom Party remains shaken by revelations that some of its leaders might have had access to confidential data about political and media personalities opposed to the party. Fifteen politicians, including the governor of Carinthia, Jörg Haider, and Hilmar Kabas, the leader of the party in Vienna, are said to have been named during the inquiry which is still continuing into the affair. Wolfgang Schüssel promised on Thursday that every accusation will be investigated, but the Freedom Party Vice-Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer was convinced that the accusations against her party are unfounded. The leader of the Social Democratic Party, Alfred Gusenbauer, criticised Schüssel for his willingness to defend its coalition partner, despite evidence of serious wrongdoings
- Following the resignation of Elisabeth Sickl as social affairs minister, Herbert Haupt was appointed this week. As the Austrian minister in charge of women affairs, he attended an EU summit in Paris. He noted that he was not a "curiosity," because Finland, Ireland, Spain and Portugal also have male ministers responsible for women affairs.
- Austria tries to improve its image in Slovakia and the Slovak newspapers Narodna Obroda and Praca published on Thursday special features on Austrian economy and culture.
- The governor of Styria Waltraud Klasnic was in Moscow this week with a delegation of business leaders and politicians to explore opportunities to increase the economic links between the Austrian Land and Russia.
Magali Perrault, 27 October 2000
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