Elections in Vienna
Helene Partik-Pable, the Freedom Party's (FPÖ) leading candidate for the municipal elections in Vienna, on Wednesday criticised the city's Social Democratic Mayor Herbert Häupl's comments that his party will not aim for a "fixed coalition agreement" with other political forces.
According to Partik-Pable, this merely confirms what she sees as the de facto co-operation of the Social Democrats and the Greens in the municipal council and is a ploy to defend Social Democratic rule in Vienna with the help of the Greens and the People's Party (ÖVP).
Meanwhile, the People's Party announced this week that the former Freedom Party delegate to the Vienna council, Rüdiger Stix, would be in 13th position on the ÖVP's list. Stix left the FPÖ parliamentary group in 1998.
One year of a "black-blue" coalition and a busy week in the National Assembly
Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and Vice-Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer gave a joint press conference on Thursday to mark the first year of the FPÖ-ÖVP coalition. Schüssel assessed the government's actions as positive and emphasised its willingness to reform "not only the administration but also the state." The Chancellor also argued that the government had launched a debate on important issues such as neutrality and defence and praised the good collaboration between the two ruling parties.
On Wednesday, the Austrian parliament had unanimously approved plans for the financial compensation of the victims of "Aryanisation" (confiscation of property during the Nazi era). The Austrian state has committed itself to the payment of EUR 413 million in total (with a first instalment of EUR 163 million to be made available soon).
In a joint declaration signed by all parliamentary factions, the deputies expressed their "regret" at Austria's failure to offer compensation to the victims immediately after 1945. Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel concluded the debates with a speech, in which he stated that Austria could not "apologise" for its history but had finally acted—even if "too late"—to compensate the victims of the National Socialist era.
However, another government bill, which proposes the creation of a media authority in Austria (to be called KommAustria), was rejected after the opposition parties (the Social Democrats and the Greens) voted against it. The bill, which would have required a change to the Constitution, needed to be approved by two-thirds of the deputies. The opposition has denounced the lack of consultation on the issue and the politicisation that it could bring to Austrian media.
The opposition also criticised what it sees as the failure of the government and of the agriculture minister, Wilhelm Molterer, to address the BSE crisis. An accusation rejected by the Minister, who argues that the problem is a European issue, not simply a national one. The National Assembly subsequently confirmed the ban on animal feed to cattle. The health minister, Herbert Haupt, contended that Austria is one of the safest and most health-conscious countries in Europe as far as the quality of food is concerned.
During another debate, on security policy, the interior minister, Ernst Strasser (ÖVP), refused to agree with some Freedom Party deputies and argued that Austrian democracy was not endangered by left-wing extremism and that unauthorised demonstrations will still be allowed, as long as they remain peaceful.
The defence minister, Herbert Scheibner, has started to unveil the first details of Austria's new military doctrine. A parliamentary debate is due to be held on the subject in the course of February.
And in other news
- Russian President Vladimir Putin will be on an official visit to Austria next week. He will hold talks with President Thomas Klestil, Chairman of the National Assembly Heinz Fischer, leader of the Social Democratic Party Alfred Gusenbauer and leader of the Green Party Alexander van der Bellen. Putin will also take a day off to attend the world ski championships in the Tyrolean resort of St-Anton.
- Peter Sichrovsky, general secretary of the Freedom Party and member of the European Parliament, on Wednesday welcomed the decision of the EU to formalise the rules according to which sanctions could be carried out against a member state. According to Sichrovsky, a mandatory "hearing" for the state before the possible introduction of sanctions is a novelty that the EU felt compelled to introduce following the unfairness with which Austria was treated last year, when fellow EU members launched sanctions against it.
- Carinthia, the region governed by the former chairman of the Freedom Party, Jörg Haider, has instituted the payment of child and family benefits as of 1 February . An estimated 15,000 people are expected to benefit from this measure.
- The state prosecutor in Linz, Siegfried Sittenthaler, has unveiled a plan to offer convicted right-wing extremists the opportunity to take a university course specifically designed to provide historical knowledge of the National Socialist era and its atrocities.
Magali Perrault, 2 February 2001
ORF (Austrian TV)
APA (Austrian Press Agency)
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