Vol 1, No 17
18 October 1999
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
9 October 1999
The definitive results of the 3 October elections were officially announced on Tuesday 12 October, following the counting of around 250,000 postal votes. Despite the hopes of the leaders of the People's Party (OVP), Joerg Haider's Freedom Party (OFP) managed to hold on to the second place - even if by the extraordinarily small margin of 415 votes.
The OFP and OVP are thus ex aequo in terms of both percentages (26.91 per cent) and mandates (52 seats each), and the Greens have gained one more seat (14 seats).
On Thursday, President Thomas Klestil asked incumbent Chancellor and leader of the winning party, the Socialist Party (SPO), Viktor Klima to start discussions with the three other parliamentary parties about "the objective contents of a future governmental programme". Observers remarked that a mandate to start "discussions" was not the same thing as a mandate to form a government, but Klima declared himself convinced that this was just a matter of time.
The political scientist Fritz Plasser pointed out that Klestil had innovated by communicating to Klima a list of ten points that should be the object of coalition talks, including for instance the consolidation of the budget, the strengthening of the economic situation, the clarification of the security policy of the country, the maintenance of social security standards and the abolition of the Proporz system.
Chancellor Klima will have the chance to start negotiating with leader of the OVP and current foreign minister Wolfgang Schuessel during the EU-summit, which will take place in the Finnish town of Tampere. However, the participation of the People's Party in the government remains problematic after the party executive's decision on Tuesday to go into opposition, following its third place in the elections.
Meanwhile, Joerg Haider was in Paris and London on a "good-will" tour on Wednesday. In Paris, he dissociated himself from the policies of Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National and claimed an affiliation to the Gaullist party. Asked about his comments on the Waffen-SS and the labour policies of the Third Reich, Haider said: "We have from time to time made mistakes, which have led to misunderstandings", adding that, "there is no man without flaws." He defined the FPO as a "traditional party" whose philosophical roots can be traced back to the 1848 revolution. As governor of the Austrian Land of Carinthia, Haider contended that he had managed to maintain a "peaceful and positive relationship" with the regional Slovene minority. As far as the issue of EU enlargement is concerned, he declared himself favourable to a "long transition period," and stated that the FPO's critical attitude towards the EU was one of the main reasons for its electoral success.
In London, the FPO-leader was greeted by an angry crowd of about 50 demonstrators shouting slogans such as "Haider is a Nazi" and "He is not welcome here".
Discussions about the formation of a new governmental coalition appear set to be long and difficult, and the possibility of a SPO minority government as well as the likelihood of new elections (which could constitutionally be held as early as January next year) are already being widely discussed in Austrian political and media circles.
In addition, the environment minister Martin Barteinstein declared on Tuesday that Slovak membership to the European Union is in jeopardy as long as the "high-risk" atomic reactor of Jaslovske Bohunice remains in operation.
Finally, and to finish on a perhaps lighter note, the joint Austro-Hungarian bid to host the European football championship in 2004 failed to convince European football authorities, despite the high-profile support of Chancellor Klima and Hungarian Prime minister Viktor Orban.
Magali Perrault, 15 October 1999
Some Useful Websites (in German)
http://www.orf.at (Austrian TV)
http://www.apa.at (Austrian Press Agency)