Freedom Party sets out election programme
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The Freedom Party presented its programme for the forthcoming elections in Vienna on Friday. The priority of one candidate, Helene Partik-Pable is to avoid a "Red-Green" (Social Democrat-Green) coalition in Vienna and to campaign on two main issues: immigration and the fight against drugs.
A few hours later, the incumbent Social Democrat Mayor of Vienna, Herbert Häupl, entered the political debate. He stated that his aim was to gain 40 percent of the vote and to ensure that no regional government could be established without the Social Democrats. He also explicitly rejected any post-election cooperation with the Freedom Party and expressed his hope for an electoral campaign focused on "ideas," not personal attacks.
The government announced on Tuesday that the immigration quota for 2001 will remain fixed at 8518 people, the same as for the year 2000. Up to 1613 information technology and science "experts" will be allowed to enter the country (600 more than last year). However, the quota for asylum-seekers from Kosovo (518) has been cancelled for 2001.
The plans were heavily criticised by opposition parties and human rights organisations. The government has been accused of aiming for "zero immigration" and of lacking a long-term and coherent immigration and integration policy. There have also been calls for an increase in the number of "experts" allowed to enter Austria.
Too many medical students
The Health Secretary, Reinhart Waneck, announced this week that Austria would soon have too many doctors and general practitioners. According to published forecasts, Austria should only need one thousand more doctors than today in the year 2020. Some representatives of Austria's general practitioners have therefore called for a more stringent selection procedure for medical school.
The selection of students according to their academic results has, however, been heavily criticised by student representatives who argue that giving more information to young people willing to start medical studies is a better solution than introducing selection and more examinations. The opposition parties have also rejected the government's plans. The Greens, for instance, have argued that studying medicine can open the door to many different professions.
And in other news...
- The leader of the Social Democrats, Alfred Gusenbauer, assessed Austria's situation after one year of People's Party-Freedom Party government this week. Declaring that the government now functions "at the cost of Austria's future," he criticised the government's social reforms, the deterioration of political life and the diplomatic isolation of the country.
- The King of Jordan, Abdullah II, was the official guest of President Thomas Klestil and chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel on Tuesday and Wednesday. During his talks with the Austrian leaders, the king pleaded for the rights of the Palestinians and called for more Austrian investment in Jordan.
- The Governor of the Land of Lower Austria, Erwin Pröll, met the Minister President of Flanders, Patrick Dewael, on Wednesday in Baden. Talks focused on the prospects for increased cooperation between the two regions in the fields of education, culture and technology.
- The Social Democrats of Carinthia have launched a political offensive against the governor of the region, the former leader of the Freedom Party, Jörg Haider. Herbert Würschl denounced the "fascist" methods of Haider and described him as "a bad caricature of [the former Chilean dictator] Augusto Pinochet."
- Vice-Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer was the first female guest-speaker at the conservative German club "Frankfurter Tafelrunde" (the Frankfurt Roundtable), which is exclusively for men, on Friday 25 January. She talked about the reform plans of Austria's coalition government.
- The Education Minister, Elisabeth Gehrer, who is set to present her plans for the reforms of Austria's higher education system, is facing strong criticisms from the universities. Trade unions have also been calling for new strikes.
- On Tuesday the Minister for Social Affairs, Herbert Haupt, announced a financial plan to facilitate the entry of handicapped youths into the job market.
- Finally, Austria will be expecting great things from its skiers (especially from the national hero Hermann Maier) during the world ski championships, which will take place at a ski resort in Tirol, St-Anton.
Magali Perrault, 26 January 2001
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