Constitutional debate over role of presidency
The controversial governor of Carinthia, Jörg Haider (Freedom Party, FPÖ), launched a new political debate on Thursday following a statement in which he asked for a constitutional change that would lead to the abolition of the presidential function. According to Haider's plan, current presidential responsibilities would then be transferred to the chancellor of the republic.
Vice-Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer (FPÖ) has expressed her "personal" support for Haider's proposal and said she hopes a debate on the issue will be opened. The project to create a super "Chancellor-President" has been firmly rejected by the People's Party (ÖVP) and by Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel. However, Schüssel stated that he saw no reason to change institutions that have proved their effectiveness.
The two opposition parties, the Social Democrats and the Greens, have also denounced Haider's plan, characterising it as an attempt to create an "authoritarian" system and take revenge on President Thomas Klestil, who did not hide his opposition last year to the People's Party—Freedom Party coalition.
The Czech Temelín nuclear plant still makes headlines in Austria. About 500 people demonstrated on Friday afternoon in Wullowitz in Upper-Austria. Some of the protesters then went on to blockade the border between Austria and the Czech Republic until 1.23 in the morning—a time that marked exactly fifteen years since the explosion of the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl.
The Austrian government has refused to support the demonstrations and blockades, but it has officially expressed to the Czech government its continuing concern about the nuclear complex's safety. The Czech foreign ministry has accused Austria of interfering with the "right of the Czech Republic to freely choose its energy policy."
Austria's bad image
An opinion poll published on Saturday by Die Presse confirmed Austria's negative image in the neighbouring European Union applicant states. The poll indicates that only four per cent of Czechs see Austria as supportive of their EU application. Temelín is one of the many factors that might explain this figure among Czechs, but the same basic attitude prevails among Slovenes (11 per cent) and Poles (15 per cent). Slovaks (at 23 per cent) and Hungarians (at 45 per cent) are more positive in their assessment of Austria's support for their EU membership.
Controversial "integration treaty"
Peter Westenthaler, chairman of the FPÖ's parliamentary group, proposed on Thursday a controversial "integration treaty" that would require new (non-EU) immigrants to Austria to "integrate" into Austrian society through a number of measures, including compulsory attendance of German language classes. He added that the government should aim to reduce immigration quotas in forthcoming years.,/P>
Andreas Kohl, head of the ÖVP parliamentary group, called the proposal interesting, since "integration is an important objective of the government." However, the Social Democrats and the Greens strongly criticised the project.
Haider still losing popularity
An opinion poll published on Saturday by Krone shows a continuing decline in Jörg Haider's popularity, one year after his resignation as head of the FPÖ.
Haider appeared in 11th place among the 15 most popular Austrian politicians, ranking behind two other FPÖ members, Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser (whose growing popularity is confirmed by his second place ranking) and Vice-Chancellor and leader of the FPÖ Susanne Riess-Passer (in sixth place). According to the poll, only 24 per cent of Austrians have a positive opinion of Haider, and a mere 13 per cent want him to return to federal politics.
And in other news...
- On Friday 26 April, Austria celebrated the 56th anniversary of the founding of the Second Republic. In a speech delivered on the occasion, Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel announced that the government is working on a major reform of Austria's civil service.
- US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) archives on Nazi leaders and agents were officially declassified on Friday. They appear, however, to provide no new information or evidence concerning former Austrian President Kurt Waldheim.
- Another poll published by the newsmagazine Format on Thursday showed that 53 per cent of Austrians are against a potential Social Democrat-Green ("red-green") coalition, and 76 per cent think the Social Democrats have not yet become an efficient opposition party.
- Social Democrat Michael Häupl was re-elected mayor of Vienna on Friday during the first session of the newly elected regional assembly. The Social Democrats hold an absolute majority of 52 seats (out of 100) in the Vienna Parliament. Häupl, who has been mayor since November 1994, has expressed his desire to collaborate with the Greens and the ÖVP on various issues.
Magali Perrault, 27 April 2001
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