Vol 1, No 19
1 November 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 25 October 1999
The Parliament, elected on 3 October, convened for the first time on Friday 29 October.
First-time MPs constitute one third of the assembly, and the percentage of female MPs has decreased from 28.4 to 26.8 percent. Since Madeleine Petrovic was replaced by Alexander Van der Bellen as leader of the Greens' parliamentary group, women have not held any dominant position.
Social Democrat (SPO) and president of the national assembly since 1990 Heinz Fischer, was comfortably re-elected. His deputies (second and third presidents) are, according to constitutional traditions, Thomas Prinzhorn (who represents the second strongest political formation, Jorg Haider's Freedom Party - FPO) and Andreas Khol (Conservative Party - OVP).
However, the election of Thomas Prinzhorn was marred by controversy over his racist comments about foreigners, condemned by both the SPO and the OVP.
The next parliamentary sessions are scheduled for 18 November and 15 December.
Austria commemorated the 44th anniversary of the neutrality law (adopted in 1955) on 26 October, which inevitably provoked a new round of debate and discussion about the future of Austrian security policy.
President Thomas Klestil called for reform of the army and expressed his desire to start a debate about the creation of a professional army. Klestil added that this should be done before deciding what Austria's place will be within the new European security structures.
The head of the OVP group in the European Parliament, Ursula Stenzel, declared that Austria should not exclude NATO membership in the long term, whereas the leader of the Greens, Alexander Van der Bellen, argued that neutrality was, "a modern idea, since neutral states can fulfill important functions as active mediators in a conflict."
Chancellor Viktor Klima did not specifically address security issues in his official speech, but he did, however, call for an "integration offensive." He added that the fight "against racism, fascism and anti-Semitism" is one of the essential principles of the Second Austrian Republic and that Austrians will not "allow this principle to be put into question."
In spite of the Brooklyn Jewish community's protests, Jorg Haider's planned participation in the New York Marathon, scheduled for 7 November, will be allowed, according to organizers.
On the public relations side, FPO member of the European Parliament Peter Sichrovsky was in Israel on Wednesday, where, as a Jew, he asserted that the Freedom Party was "neither anti-Semitic nor racist" and that Haider was not a Neo-Nazi. He did not deny that there exists in Austria a potential for racism and anti-Semitism but argued that the situation was infinitely "better than in Germany."
According to a public opinion poll conducted on 12 and 13 October, 83 percent of people surveyed believe in the existence of an "Austrian" nation. This figure constitutes a significant increase compared to 1998 (77 percent) and provides confirmation of a suspected long-term trend. For instance, in 1956 only 49 percent of Austrian citizens believed in the existence of a distinct Austrian nation.
Finally, negotiations between the four parliamentary parties are now in full swing. On Thursday, OVP chairman Wolfgang Schüssel met with Jorg Haider. Chancellor Klima will consult with an OVP delegation on 3 November, with the Greens on 4 November and with the FPO on 15 November.
Magali Perrault, 29 October 1999
Some Useful Websites (in German)
http://www.orf.at (Austrian TV)
http://www.apa.at (Austrian Press Agency)