Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 6
14 February 2000

Austrian news review C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Austria
All the important news from Austria
since 6 February 2000

Magali Perrault

The new ÖVP-FPÖ government has this week taken office amidst international and domestic criticisms.

The new chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel, was accused by the leader of the Greens Alexander van der Bellen of having led the country into isolation and failing to anticipate the reactions of the international community to the participation of the Freedom Party (FPÖ) in the government. Van der Bellen also described the leader of the Freedom Party Jörg Haider as the "Upper Chancellor."

Schüssel announced on Wednesday the introduction of a compensation scheme for the victims of the National Socialist regime: "the new government will press for former Nazi slave labourers, who after all are now at an age where they need help quickly, to get justice". The chancellor added: "Austria today is a stable democracy... I call upon all our critics... to review their prejudices and preformed opinions in the light of realities."

Haider distanced himself from his earlier threats to use the Austrian veto within the EU. He said that he will not intervene in the policies of the government, adding that: "it is a government whose programme I have signed. I would be a fool to destroy this historical success."

The chairman of the Freedom Party, however, accused President Thomas Klestil and former Chancellor Viktor Klima of deliberately asking the international community to react to the formation of a coalition between the conservatives and his party. On Tuesday, Klestil released materials concerning his contacts with Austria's EU partner states, which appeared to disprove the claim that the president had asked for sanctions to be implemented against the country.

Haider further claimed that Klima had offered the Freedom Party two to four ministerial portfolios in exchange for FPÖ support of an SPÖ-minority government. Klima immediately denied that he had made such an offer and branded Haider a "liar." Haider replied that he "no interest" in arguing "with a frustrated former Chancellor."

Haider also contended that the Freedom Party is "like [Tony Blair's] Labour... there are quite a lot of similarities between our programmes." This was rejected by the British government ("we would utterly reject any comparison between the views of this government and the Freedom Party") and a British trade show which was due to be opened in Vienna by the Prince of Wales was called off on Tuesday.

The fourteen EU partner states have frozen bilateral relations with Austria even if Austrian representatives will still attend formal multilateral summits. The Portuguese president Jorge Sampaio has cancelled a planned visit to Vienna (Portugal holds the EU presidency) but the new Austrian social affairs minister Elisabeth Sikl (FPÖ) was on Friday due to attend a meeting of the EU social affairs council in Lisbon. Her Belgian and French counterparts Laurette Onkelink and Martine Aubry intended to ignore the Austrian representative.

A spokesman for the European Commission stated on Monday that the Commission saw no evidence that Austria has committed a breach of EU law. Romano Prodi sent a letter to Schüssel stating: "I am sure that, as set in your declaration 'Responsibility for Austria - A future in the Heart of Europe', you will demonstrate the same commitment as shown by your predecessors to the construction of Europe and the defence of the common European values of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law" (The Scotsman, 8 February).

The new foreign minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner (ÖVP), emphasised that she was "the Foreign Minister and Herr Haider will ... be Governor of Carinthia" and added that Austria was firmly committed to EU enlargement. In an interview with the American channel CNN on Thurday evening, she also asked the international community not take Haider too seriously: "why do you not listen to what the Foreign Minister says ? Why do you always only listen to the Governor of Carinthia?".

The European People's Party, the umbrella organisation which represents the Christian-democratic political formations in the European parliament has postponed to next month a decision about the eventual suspension of the membership of the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP).

Heavily criticised by the Spanish, French, Italian and Belgian conservatives, the ÖVP, however, received the support of the German CDU and its Bavarian sister party the CSU. The chairman of the CSU and Bavarian Ministerpräsident Edmund Stoiber has been critical of the EU states' reaction and President Klestil was on Friday on an official visit to Bavaria.

The United States have followed the EU lead and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will closely "observe" future developments in Austria. Haider remarked: "the powerful president of the United States, the leading world power publishes a declaration about a small provincial politician in Europe. I think that he should inform himself better."

The Austrian artistic community has widely expressed its opposition to the ÖVP-FPÖ government and the director of the prestigious Salzburg Festival G&érard Mortier disclosed that, given the political circumstances, he will give up his position after this year's festival.

More demonstrations have been planned, notably on Saturday 12 and Saturday 19 February. The new interior minister, Ernst Strasser (ÖVP), believes that the situation will however probably soon die down.

Magali Perrault, 11 February 2000

Some Useful Websites (in German)






http://www.orf.at (Austrian TV)

http://www.apa.at (Austrian Press Agency)


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