Central Europe Review The International OSI Policy Fellowships (IPF) program
Vol 2, No 27
10 July 2000
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News from Austria
All the important news
since 1 July 2000

Magali Perrault


More debates about the sanctions this week when Austrian politicians reacted to last week's Portuguese attempts to put an end to the sanctions crisis. A committee of experts (still to be designated) is to prepare a report on the state of democracy in the Alpine republic.

However, France, one of the foremost supporters of the political sanctions, took over the EU presidency on Saturday 1 July for six months. French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin immediately provoked controversy when he suggested that the line taken towards Austria would remain unchanged and the sanctions would not be lifted before the end of December.

The former chairman of the Freedom Party (FPÖ), Jörg Haider, stated on Sunday 2 July that he was "on the other hand" not unhappy with the sanctions because Austria could delay the EU's eastward enlargement and, hence, "protect [our] Austria jobs." (ORF, 02 July 2000) He added that the intergovernmental conference due to be held in Nice in December would be a failure.

In another comment, Haider contended that Austria had a responsibility towards the other small European states, saying "what has been done to Austria today will be done tomorrow to other small countries like Denmark and Slovenia." (ORF, 05 July 2000)

On Monday, during a visit to Germany, Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel had, however, dismissed the threat of an Austrian veto on enlargement and declared that Austria will not use "the veto for the sake of the veto."

On Tuesday, the coalition (ÖVP/FPÖ) committee announced that the plans for a referendum on the sanctions would go ahead, despite last week's developments. A referendum could therefore take place on 29 October or on 26 November, depending on when the report is released by the committee of experts ("the council of wisemen").

Schüssel nevertheless noted that the procedure would be stopped if the fourteen EU partner states to decide to lift the sanctions before these dates.

According to a Gallup opinion poll published in the news magazine News, 73 percent of Austrians would vote "yes" in a referendum which would ask them whether they want the sanctions to be lifted (10 percent would vote "no" and 17 are "undecided").

Yet, there is a widespread scepticism about what the electoral consultation would actually achieve and 59 percent think that the referendum will not make any difference.

The public mood also seems to be turning against the EU. Only 16 percent believe that Austria should get out of the EU but 72 percent want the country to veto EU reforms. A further 59 percent want Austria to veto eastward enlargement.

Foreign relations

The Temelin nuclear plant is again at the centre of a controversy between Austria and the Czech republic after the Czech authorities started loading nuclear fuel into the reactor.

Austria has long had safety concerns about Temelin, only 60 kilometers from the Austrian border, and Schüssel called on Czech prime minister Miloš Zeman to allow more discussions on the issue.

The President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliev, was on an official visit in Vienna on Tuesday and Wednesday. He held talks with President Thomas Klestil, Chancellor Schüssel and Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

Ferrero-Waldner, in her capacity as president of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), will travel to Baku this week.

Klestil was in Kosovo on Wednesday, where he met the head of the civilian administration, Bernard Kouchner, and General Juan Ortuno, who commands the international peacekeeping forces in the region.

The Freedom party has established further links with the Italian "separatist" movement Lega Nord after a meeting between delegations from the two parties on Sunday 2 July in Klagenfurt, the capital of the Land of Carinthia (the region ruled by Haider).

Domestic news

Economy Minister Martin Bartenstein (ÖVP) expressed the government's wish to reach budgetary equilibrium before the end of 2003. Schüssel invited social partners and the four parliamentary parties to participate in a "reform summit" on 14 July.

On Wednesday, the National Assembly approved the government's plan to reform of the pension system. The two opposition parties and the trade unions had strongly criticised the blueprint, which include a rise in the age of early retirement by one and a half years.

The reform is to be implemented on 1 October. The Austrian confederation of trade unions (ÖGB) has, however, threatened to ask the Constitutional Court to rule on the constitutionality of the reforms.

The financial trust which is due to compensate slave
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labourers of the Nazi regime has been officially set up after an unanimous vote of the National Assembly on Friday. Maria Schaumayer, the government-appointed envoy for the issue, expects to collect ATS 6 billion (including ATS 500 million from the Länder and ATS 2 billion from the government). The rest is to be collected through an appeal to Austrian firms who have been asked to pledge 0.2 percent of their annual turnover to the trust.

The Social democratic party has called for a speedy resumption of the trial against Heinrich Gross, a psychiatrist who stands accused of having participated in the Nazi euthanasia programme during the Second World War. Gross, now 84, was deemed unable to follow court proceedings during an earlier trial in March and a Swiss expert was asked to assess his medical condition.

On MondayDer Standard published an opinion poll which showed that President Klestil remains a highly popular political figure, with a 53 percent approval rating, even if he now proves more popular among social-democratic voters than among sympathisers of his own party, the ÖVP.

Finally, Austrians like sport and the market for "fitness" programmes and fitness centres has been booming, with 15 percent of Austrians having attended fitness training or aerobics in 1998. In 1999, 650,000 Austrians were members of one of the 774 centres in the country (ORF, 05 July 2000)

Magali Perrault, 8 July 2000

Moving on:


Der Standard
Die Presse
ORF (Austrian TV)
APA (Austrian Press Agency)



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