Vol 2, No 9
6 March 2000
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 28 February 2000
On Monday 28 February, Jörg Haider announced his resignation as leader of the Freedom Party (FPÖ). Haider explained in a press conference that he is now only "a simple member" of the Party and did not want to appear as a "shadow chancellor." He saw his future role as an adviser and did not exclude to be the Party's candidate for the Chancellery when the parliamentary elections are due. He affirmed that his resignation had "nothing to do" with the international situation and he will focus on his role as Governor of Carinthia. Vice-chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer will replace him as head of the party and she immediately pledged to assure the "continuity" of the movement's policies.
The chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) Alfred Gusenbauer cast doubts on the significance of Haider's resignation and expressed his conviction that Haider will still "lead the FPÖ on a leash."
The international community received the news with scepticism and the Belgian Foreign Minister, Louis Michel, thought that "nothing has changed. Haider is not alone. The people who support him... are still here." Portuguiese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres said that the sanctions against Austria will not be lifted: "The problem is not Jörg Haider but what his party represents." The only positive signal came from Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini, who hoped that Haider's departure will lead the FPÖ away from extremism - in which case the sanctions against Austria could be reconsidered.
The resignation of Haider was accompanied one day later by the resignation of the FPÖ Justice Minister, Michael Kruger. Stress was the official reason for Kruger's departure and he was controversially replaced by a long-time friend of Haider and FPÖ lawyer, Dieter Böhmdorfer. The opposition denounced Böhmdorfer as a Haider-puppet and publicly regretted that the opportunity had not be taken to appoint an "independent" justice minister.
On Monday 28 February, two new FPÖ ministers made their first appearance on the international stage - Karl-Heinz Grasser at a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels and his colleague Herbert Scheibner at a summit of EU defence ministers in Sintra in Portugal. Scheibner described the meeting as "very constructive" but was snubbed by his European partners. Belgium for instance took the opportunity to announce the breakup of its military relations with Austria. Scheibner stated that an eventual Austrian membership of Nato would have to be postponed until the next legislature since the country had missed the first wave of enlargement and there was not the necessary parliamentary majority of two thirds in favour of an adhesion. The FPÖ and the ÖVP are indeed traditionally favourable to NATO membership but the Social-Democratic and Green oppositions have enough votes to veto it.
Contrary to Haider who talked last week of the euro as a "miscarriage," Grasser described the euro as a "wanted child," momentarily weak because of the strength of the dollar.
On Friday 3 March, the newly-appointed justice minister, Böhmdorfer, was in Lisbon for the informal summit of EU-justice ministers. His speech was boycotted by the Belgian, French, German and Italian delegations.
On Thursday 2 and Friday 3 March a bilateral meeting between Austria and the Czech Republic took place in Krems. Austria is, after Germany and Slovakia, the third trading partner of the Czech republic.
In a speech on Friday, Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel (ÖVP- People's Party) defended the policies of his government and stated: "I am not Dollfuss, Haider is not Hitler" [Chancellor Engelbert Dolfuss tried to keep the Nazis under control in 1930s Austria by adopting certain right-wing policies and working with the extremists - a strategy which eventually backfired].
The weekly opinion polls (Gallup-News 2 March) gave the SPÖ 30 percent of votes (down two percentage points compared to last week), the FPÖ 29 per cent (+1), the ÖVP 21 per cent (-1) and the Greens 16 per cent (+1). Were the Chancellor to be directly elected, the leader of the Greens Alexander van der Bellen would obtain 18 per cent of the votes, Schüssel 17 per cent, Haider 14 per cent and Gusenbauer 11 per cent.
Finally, the Vienna Opera Ball, boycotted this year by many personalities, took place as usual on Thursday night. Around 6000 guests attended the event, despite the presence of around 15,000 protesters in front of the opera.
Magali Perrault, 3 March 2000
Some Useful Websites (in German)
http://www.orf.at (Austrian TV)
http://www.apa.at (Austrian Press Agency)
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