Vol 1, No 23
29 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 20 November 1999
The negotiations between political parties regarding the constitution of a governmental platform have now entered their final stage.
On Monday, the second roundtable meeting between delegations of the Socialist Party (SPO) and the Freedom Party (FPO) took place. According to the spokesmen for the parties there were many differences and only minor points in common between their respective programs and objectives.
On Tuesday, the SPO and the Greens had what was described by Green spokesman Madeleine Petrovic as a "thoroughly amicable" discussion. The Greens, however, refused to give unconditional support to the SPO, should it decide to form a minority government.
On Wednesday, the SPO and the conservative Austrian Peoples' Party (OVP) met for the fifth time amidst mounting controversy.
Chancellor Viktor Klima (SPO) has repeatedly expressed his desire to seek the renewal of the "grand coalition" between the SPO and the OVP, but, according to defence minister Werner Fasslabend (OVP), the two former coalition partners are now more politically distant from each other than at any time in at least two years. The main bones of contention are the security policy and, more specifically, the neutrality issue.
Peter Kostelka (SPO) and the leader of the Greens, Alexander van der Bellen, have said that neutrality (Klima talks about "active" neutrality) is still a valid concept for Austria and that NATO membership would be extremely costly for the country.
The position of the OVP is, in this respect, fundamentally different. According to Fasslabend, participation in a defence alliance - first within EU structures and then possibly as a member of NATO - is the only viable option for Austria. Klima, however, stressed on Tuesday that he would not renounce the three "core elements" of the neutrality law of 1955: no war, no foreign troops in the country and no participation in a military alliance.
Finally, the third round of discussions between FPO and OVP took place on Thursday amidst rumours that the OVP might be willing to form a coalition with the FPO, following Haider's (FPO) statement that he would happily give his backing to an OVP-FPO coalition government led by Wolfgang Schussel (OVP and incumbent foreign minister), which would include Thomas Prinzhorn (FPO) as vice-chancellor.
OVP and FPO are certainly closer on security issues than OVP and SPO, yet Schussel and Andreas Khol (third President of the National Assembly) have both excluded the possible participation of the OVP in the next government.
On Thursday evening, SPO transport minister Caspar Einem declared that he was "not especially optimistic" about the SPO's chances to be part of the next government and noted that cooperation between OVP and FPO was probable.
Meanwhile, Joerg Haider is again at the centre of a political storm, following his professed intention to introduce tuberculosis tests in those schools and kindergartens with high percentages of foreigners. He also spoke of introducing a so-called "A-Card" (Austria-Card) for immigrants, which would include personal data, length of stay and fingerprints.
Green MP Terezija Stoisits called these suggestions a "racist reflex," and SPO Health Minister Lore Hostasch argued that there was no need for supplementary measures as far as the fight against tuberculosis is concerned.
On the diplomatic front, the Slovak nuclear plant at Jaslovske Bohunice is still a major concern for the Austrian government.
On Tuesday, Chancellor Klima remarked that closing the reactor in 2000 was "realistically impossible," but he nevertheless expects the Slovak government to give "signals" prior to the Helsinki summit that Bohunice will cease to be operational before the proposed dates of 2006-2008.
Magali Perrault, 26 November 1999
Some Useful Websites (in German)
http://www.orf.at (Austrian TV)
http://www.apa.at (Austrian Press Agency)
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