Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 3
24 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 17 January 2000

Magali Perrault

This week has seen the rise and subsequent fall of Chancellor Viktor Klima's hopes to renew the coalition between Social Democrats (SPÖ) and Conservatives (ÖVP).

On Monday, Klima (SPÖ) and his counterpart Wolfgang Schüssel (ÖVP) had reached an agreement on heated issues, such as the budget, the pensions, the privatisation programme and the reduction by ATS (Austrian schillings) 15 billion of salary costs. Rumours surfaced of secret negotiations between the ÖVP and Jörg Haider's Freedom Party (FPÖ) about the possible appointment as chancellor (with the backing of the FPÖ) of the ÖVP governor of Styria, Waltraud Klasnic, but they were quickly denied by both parties.

The last point of disagreement, therefore, seemingly concerned the country's security policy, but a compromise was reached on the issue on Wednesday. Under a SPÖ-ÖVP government, Austria would not join NATO (an essential component of the Social Democratic platform) but would participate more actively in European (EU-WEU) security structures (one of the Conservatives' demands).

Three factors, however, contributed to the sudden collapse of the negotiations and the decision by the SPÖ to end the coalition talks on Friday.

First, the re-partition of ministerial responsibilities became a matter of dispute when the Conservatives asked to be put in charge of the finance ministry - currently held by SPÖ member Rudolf Edlinger. The Social-Democrats, however, refused to give up one of the most important ministries, Edlinger even stated that "letting the Finance Ministry go to the ÖVP would be the same thing as to give a dog the responsibility to keep a stock of sausages."

Secondly, Klima and Schüssel had to face very strong criticism within their parties.

ÖVP general secretary Maria Rauch-Kallat, for instance, estimated on Tuesday that only 1/3 of ÖVP members were in favour of the renewal of the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition (1/3 wanted the ÖVP to go into opposition and the last third called for a cooperation with the Freedom Party)[1].

Finally, trade unions linked to the SPÖ failed to support the two-year increase in the age of early retirement, which had been included in the coalition agreement.

As a consequence, Klima informed President Thomas Klestil on Friday that the "efforts with the ÖVP have been unsuccessful."

The Chancellor has excluded the idea of a coalition with the FPÖ, but nevertheless still hopes to be able to form a SPÖ minority government, which would include independent experts and could gather cross-party support.

Haider, meanwhile, rejected the idea of a SPÖ minority government as well as the prospect of early elections. According to the FPÖ chairman, four options remain:

1) an SPÖ-ÖVP coalition, 2) an FPÖ-ÖVP coalition, 3) a government led by a Chancellor independent of any party or 4) a government constituted exclusively of experts. He added that his party was "ready to discuss" any of these possibilities [2].

Alexander van der Bellen, leader of the fourth parliamentary force, the Greens, blamed the ÖVP for the breakdown of the ÖVP-SPÖ talks and declared that the occasional support of his movement for a SPÖ-led minority government was conceivable [3].

Magali Perrault, 21 January 2000

[1] Der Standard, Tuesday 18 January 2000

[2] ORF, Friday 21 January 2000

[3] Der Standard, January 21 2000

Some Useful Websites (in German)






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

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



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