Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 7
21 February 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 14 February 2000

Magali Perrault

The international reactions to the inclusion of Jörg Haider's Freedom Party in the goverment continued largely unabated this week.

The new Austrian Social Affairs Minister Elizabeth Sickl (Freedom Party-FPÖ) received a cold reception during her first visit to a European summit in Lisbon on Saturday 12 February. Pointedly ignored by her counterparts, she stated in a speech (before which the Belgian and French delegates walked out) that "you can't solve any problems if you don't talk to each other." Significantly, the summit ended without the traditional photo-call.

On Monday, it was the turn of the new foreign minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner (People's Party-ÖVP) to try her luck with her EU-colleagues. Unlike what happened on Saturday, there was no walk-out during her speech. The Austrian representative noted that the initial distance of her counterparts gradually gave way to the establishment of "business-as-usual" contacts. She pleaded: "Leave Jörg Haider in Carinthia [the leader of the FPÖ is governor of the Land of Carinthia]. I am the foreign minister." She also (unsuccessfully) demanded the end of the bilateral sanctions against Austria.

Ferrero-Waldner's assessment that her experience during the EU-summit made her optimistic about a possible lifting of the sanctions was, however, contradicted by Austrian EU-commissioner Franz Fischler, who believed that the sanctions could remain in place for at least a year.

According to Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres who met Czech Prime minister Miloš Zeman on Tuesday, the sanctions have already proved effective in obtaining guarantees that Austria will not veto EU enlargement.

Jörg Haider was due to attend a meeting of regional organisations (as a representative of Carinthia) in Brussels on Wednesday, but he abruptly cancelled what was expected to be a controversial trip, claiming to have received "a very important invitation to an international meeting."

Haider indeed unexpectedly travelled to Canada and was reported to have met the editor of a Quebecois newspaper in Montreal. Canadian officials insisted that the leader of the Freedom Party was on a private visit. For the foreign minister, Lloyd Axworthy, Haider "has certainly the right to visit" the country but he had not been invited by the Canadian authorities.

Meanwhile, the social-democrats (SPÖ), now in opposition, had to choose a new chairman after the resignation of former Chancellor Viktor Klima. The two main contenders were the former interior minister Karl Schlögl and the former finance minister Caspar Einem, but the Party executive finally elected on Thurday Alfred Gusenbauer. The 40-year old Gusenbauer is the youngest chairman in the history of the SPÖ and is widely seen as a "pragmatic leftist."[1]

On Thursday, the new finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser (FPÖ) presented the figures for the 2000 budget. He stated that the deficit could reach up to 109 billion Shillings [7.8 billion USD] and announced a series of measures to allow Austria to fulfill the Maastricht criteria (which only allow a deficit of 62 billion Shillings [4.4 billion USD]).

Opinion polls published this week showed a significant decline in support for the FPÖ (27 per cent), and a stabilisation of the SPÖ at the level of its election results in October (33 per cent). The ÖVP, which in recent weeks had fallen under the 20 per cent threshold, seemed to regain the confidence of the electorate (24 per cent). The Greens and the Liberal Forum were respectively at 13 and 3 per cent.[2]

Magali Perrault, 18 February 2000

[1] ORF, 17/02/2000

[2] Opinion poll conducted by IMAS (Linz)

Some Useful Websites (in German)






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

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



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