Compulsory tests for BSE
Austria introduced compulsory tests for BSE on Tuesday on cattle over the age of 30 months in conformity with a
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All the tests have been negative thus far, but some scientists have warned that this does not necessarily mean that Austria is "BSE-free." According to Herbert Budka, professor of neurology at the University of Vienna, the tests do not provide the consumers with "absolute safety."
Future of the Social Democrats
The leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), Alfred Gusenbauer, stated this week in an interview for the Austrian television (ÖRF) that the objective of his party was to win the next parliamentary elections due in 2003. He added that the SPÖ could cooperate (and possibly form a government coalition) with the People's Party (ÖVP) and the Greens, but he excluded any collaboration with the Freedom Party (FPÖ).
In another interview for the Austrian daily Kurier on Wednesday he argued that, despite the emergence of more moderate politicians in the FPÖ, the party still remained "Haider's party" and therefore a partnership remained an impossibility for the Social Democrats. In another interview, Gusenbauer said that if the results of regional elections due in Vienna in 2001 permitted a coalition between the Social Democrats and the Greens would be possible.
Controversies about child benefits
The two parties in the government, the People's Party and the Freedom Party, appear to be at loggerheads over the reform of the child benefit system.
Some Freedom Party politicians such as Vice-Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer and Governor of Carinthia Jörg Haider have argued that the general extension from January 2002 of child benefits (Kindergeld) for children up to the age of three (without indexing on the family's earnings) is possible and financially realistic. This is something heavily contested by some members of the People's Party.
The Economy Minister Martin Bartenstein (ÖVP) and the Social Affairs Minister Herbert Haupt (FPÖ) are now trying to reach a compromise between the two positions. The two parliamentary opposition parties, the Social Democrats and the Greens, have expressed reservations about the extension of child benefits, a measure they perceive as regressive with regards to the issue of the employment of women.
Optimistic figures on unemployment
Unemployment is decreasing in Austria, according to the official figures published this week. The number of job seekers (217,136) in December 2000 has decreased by 10.4 percent from December 1999. The unemployment rate (measured according to EU standards) stood at 3.1 percent at the end of 2000. In his New Year's address, Chancellor Schüssel suggested that the country could reach full employment within the next two years.
And in other news...
- Former Infrastructure Minister and member of the Freedom Party, Michael Schmid, (who resigned at the end of last year after a few months in office) faced authorities from his party this week. They accuse him of forfeiting the rules of the Freedom Party by accepting the ATS 136,000 (USD 9500) he earns monthly as a "ministerial pension." A meeting held on Friday was adjourned without a decision on the former minister's fate. Schmid could be expelled from the party.
- In a New Year's address looking back on 2000, Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner argued that the end of the EU's sanctions was a success for Austrian diplomacy. She emphasised the idea of a "strategic partnership" between Austria and the Central European applicant states.
- President Thomas Klestil, in his New Year address, reiterated Austria's commitment to EU enlargement and contended that enlargement would have a positive impact on Austria's "economy and security." He also said that Austria did have common interests with its neighbours.
- However, in an interview on enlargement with the Austrian Press Agency (APA), the Vice-Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer welcomed the fact that the idea of transition periods before the full liberalisation of the labour markets with applicant states seems to have gained wider currency among EU member states. She added that transition periods were necessary to protect Austria's labour market.
- In an interview for the magazine Format, Christoph Leitl, chairman of the Chamber of Economy (Wirtschaftskammer), argued that Austria should actively promote the immigration of information technology experts from Central and Eastern Europe to Austria. Leitl suggested the signing of bilateral agreements with EU applicant states.
- Vice-Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer commented this week on the strikes of schoolteachers which took place on 5 December last year. She criticised the trade unions and argued that such strikes could damage a child's education and that some measures should be taken to avoid a repetition of these actions.
- In another interview for Austrian TV, Riess-Passer stated that she could perhaps be the candidate of the Freedom Party for the chancellery in 2003, adding immediately that "Haider as chancellor" remained the goal. According to the Vice-Chancellor, this is not a contradiction but rather "shows that there is in the FPÖ many people qualified for this office."
- Peter Paul Rainer, a politician from South Tirol who is accused of the murder in 1997 of his former political associate, the founder of the South Tirolean Freedom Party (Südtiroler Freiheitliche), was arrested in Vienna on Wednesday evening. The arrest is the result of cooperation between Italian and Austrian authorities and Rainer now faces extradition to Italy. He has already been condemned there in absentia to 20 years in jail and will now be tried again.
Magali Perrault, 5 January 2001
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ORF (Austrian TV)
APA (Austrian Press Agency)
Today's updated headlines from Austria