Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 2
17 January 2000

Austrian news review 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 8 January 2000

Magali Perrault

More than three months after the elections on 3 October, negotiations between the Social Democratic (SPÖ) and the Conservative (ÖVP - Austrian People's Party) parties, concerning the renewal of their 13-year-old governmental coalition, are still without result.

Three delegation meetings took place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but SPÖ leader and incumbent chancellor Viktor Klima, who received the presidential mandate to form a government in December, has still not managed to convince a reluctant People's Party.

ÖVP chairman Wolfgang Schüssel declared on Thursday that a coalition with the SPÖ was possible and that a final decision could be reached by the middle of next week. But he also emphasised that the party's executive committee is the only authority which has the power to ratify the outcome of the negotiations with the Social Democrats. Schüssel has been widely criticised within his party and some regional (Land) governors, such as Waltraud Klasnic, have expressed their scepticism and even opposition to the "grand coalition."

In a statement released on Thursday, President Thomas Klestil urged SPÖ and ÖVP to quickly "bring coalition negotiations to a positive end." According to him, the two parties have no interest in a collapse of the talks, which could lead to new elections.

Jörg Haider of the Freedom Party (FPÖ) has, meanwhile, argued that Klestil cannot accept the establishment of a minority government and has a constitutional duty to transfer the mandate to form a government to either him or Schüssel, should Klima fail to come to an agreement with the ÖVP. According to Haider, Klestil has the responsibility to consider a cooperation between the FPÖ and other parties as a credible option. Haider, therefore, stated his intention to present a governmental programme within a week.

An article in the tabloid Neue Kronen Zeitung (Sunday, 9 January 2000) that claimed there existed a secret pact between the ÖVP and the FPÖ has prompted wide speculations. According to the newspaper, Schüssel would become chancellor with the support of the Freedom Party. These allegations have, however, been rejected by both the ÖVP (ÖVP general secretary Maria Rauch Kallat: "We are negotiating seriously with the SPÖ... there is not a secret plan.") and the FPÖ (Thomas Prinzhorn, deputy speaker of the National Assembly: "This is the biggest nonsense I have ever heard.").

A series of public opinion polls seems to show that the protracted negotiations have negatively affected the popularity of the SPÖ and the ÖVP - to the benefit of the FPÖ and the Greens. A Gallup survey published on Thursday by the magazine News even puts the FPÖ (31%) ahead of the SPÖ (30%) for the first time, with ÖVP trailing behind at 23% and the Greens making significant progress with 12% support of those polled.

On the foreign policy front, Austria will hold the presidency of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2000. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Schüssel defined Austria's main objectives: the stabilisation of the Balkan region, the search for a political (rather than military) solution in Chechnya and the increase of OSCE commitments in the Caucasus and in Central Asia.

Magali Perrault, 14 January 2000

Some Useful Websites (in German)






http://www.orf.at (Austrian TV)

http://www.apa.at (Austrian Press Agency)



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