The Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and his Czech counterpart, Miloš Zeman, met on Tuesday 31 October in Brno to discuss the controversy surrounding the
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Anti-nuclear activists expressed their disappointment with the outcome of the talks and erected new blockades on Thursday morning (intended to last until Monday evening).
Vice-Chancellor and leader of the Freedom Party Susanne Riess-Passer had argued on Monday that the Czech Republic would have to "respect the rules of the game" in terms of energy policy, "otherwise there would be no EU membership."
Getting the Czechs off nuclear energy
Furthermore, the opposition Social Democratic Party criticised Schüssel for his failure to obtain a closure of Temelín and called on the Austrian government to help the Czech Republic give up nuclear energy.
On Thursday, Schüssel stated that he understood the concerns of the protesters but condemned the blockades as a strategy that could give reason to "hard-liners in the Czech Republic to stop talking to us." He added that Austria had the legal duty to keep its borders open, and a blockade was therefore unacceptable. He asked the protesters to be patient for three or four weeks while further negotiations take place between the Austrian and the Czech governments.
Coalition in crisis?
11 police officers have been suspended from duty this week by the director of Austria's Internal Security Agency, Eric Buxbaum. This followed the disclosure last month that the Freedom Party might have stolen and/or used police data to discredit political opponents.
18 Freedom Party officials, including former party chairman Jörg Haider, are under investigation, and police raids have been conducted at the homes of several party members. Justice Minister Dieter Böhmdorfer, of the Freedom Party, has been accused of having used illegally obtained information when he acted as the Freedom Party's lawyer. He survived a vote of no confidence from the two opposition parties, the Social Democrats and the Greens, this week.
The affair has provoked tensions between the Freedom Party (FPÖ) and its coalition partner, the People's Party (ÖVP). Interior Minister Ernst Strasser (ÖVP) has rejected calls from the FPÖ for a dismissal of Buxbaum and was confident that the affair will be resolved soon.
Karl Schnell, the leader of the FPÖ in Salzburg, controversially compared the methods of Austrian police to the methods of the Gestapo—a statement later condemned by Riess-Passer.
Austria and NATO
General Secretary of NATO George Robertson was in Vienna on Thursday. He held talks with Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner and praised the contribution of neutral Austria to the Partnership for Peace program, citing the participation of Austrian soldiers in the Kosovo mission.
He welcomed the intensification of ties between Austria and NATO but refused to talk about the possibility of NATO membership for Austria, saying that "this should first be discussed by the Austrian people and the Austrian parliament."
Ferrero-Waldner similarly confirmed that NATO membership was for the moment not an issue but presented a plan which proposes to increase Austria's cooperation with the alliance along three lines: military cooperation, non-military (humanitarian) aspects of Partnership For Peace and political dialogue.
And in other news...
- The latest opinion polls published by the magazine News put the Social Democratic Party (32 percent) ahead of the People's Party (31 percent). The Freedom Party and the Greens have 21 percent and 13 percent, respectively.
- The executive committee of the Freedom Party in the Land of Styria was expected to meet on Saturday to elect a new leader. The move follows the party's bad results during the regional elections of 15 October and the resignation of the Regional party chairman, Michael Schmid. Schmid, who is also the Austrian infrastructure minister, has been leader of the Freedom Party in Styria since 1989 but declared that the two jobs had become incompatible.
- The world-renowned Austrian physicist Anton Zeilinger expressed his concerns about the future of scientific research in Austria this week in the magazine Universum. He said that a lack of funding and adequate research facilities could force him to leave the country to continue his work abroad. An estimated 2000 Austrians scientists already work and research abroad, mostly in the United States.
- Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel has been invited as a guest speaker to a conference of German employers, which will take place in Berlin on 21 November. He is likely to share the platform with his German counterpart, Gerhard Schröder. The German government does not think that this would be an opportunity for a mini-summit between the two leaders.
- The opposition Christian Democrats in Germany and their Bavarian allies of the CSU asked the German government to apologise to Austria for the sanctions imposed against the country by the European Union earlier this year and recently removed. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has strongly rejected such a move.
Magali Perrault, 3 November
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Today's updated headlines from Austria