Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 8
28 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 21 February 2000

Magali Perrault

On Saturday 19 January, about 200,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Vienna to express their opposition to the coalition between the People's Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party (FPÖ).

Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel stated on Monday in an interview for the French daily Le Figaro that he believed the chairman of the FPÖ, Jörg Haider, had changed and had become more "responsible" and "serious." Haider meanwhile told the Greek newspaper Eleftherotypia that the Freedom Party was "much more tolerant" than other parties and supported the European "ideals of De Gaulle and Adenauer."

Schüssel added (this time in the Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung) that the policies of the Freedom Party had changed as far as the EU enlargement was concerned and denounced the fact that, whereas it took the European Union six months to implement sanctions against Serbia, it took only six days to take sanctions against Austria, "a member of the family."

The Chancellor's comments were sharply criticised by the opposition and the Green deputy Peter Pilz and the new leader of the Social-Democratic Party (SPÖ) Alfred Gusenbauer for one warned against what they called the "Haiderisation of Schüssel" and the People's Party.

On Wednesday, Schüssel offered to start talks with the organisers of the big demonstration but the offer was rejected by Doran Rabinovici (of the "Democrative Offensive"). According to Rabinovici, Schüssel's early comments about the revolt of "old-68ers and the Internet generation" made his proposal insincere.

On Thursday, Haider provoked a new controversy after his description of the launching of the euro as a "miscarriage." Othmar Karas, ÖVP spokesman for economic and monetary affairs in the European parliament rejected Haider's argument. For Karas, Haider's declaration contradicts the preamble of the governmental coalition which makes clear that a "participation to the monetary union was and is an important condition for the future of the economy and labour in Austria." Karas contended that the euro was an important "step on the way towards European integration."

On the international front, the opposition to the participation of the Freedom Party to the government is still evidenced by the freezing of bilateral relations with Austria.

Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman expressed the total support of the Czech Republic for the sanctions ("the only reasonable solution") and saw Haider as an obstacle to EU enlargement.

Other voices, such as the former French culture minister Jack Lang, however argued for an "active presence" and support of the international community for the Austrians who oppose Haider. The president of the European Parliament, Nicole Fontaine, defended the sanctions but saw the demonstration of Saturday 19 February as a "symbol" for democracy.

In an interview with the Belgian daily De Standaard, the chairman of the European Commission Romano Prodi stated: "My reaction against right-wing extremism will always be strong... I do not think however that a boycott against Austria is the right method."

Schüssel and Foreign minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner warned that the end of the bilateral relations between Austria and its EU partner states might have consequences for Austrian policies because of a lack of consultations and information.

According to Schüssel (in WirtschaftsBlatt on Friday), were the sanctions to remain implemented for a long time, this would have an impact on the internal coherence of the Union: "we need the EU and the EU needs us."

Ferrero-Waldner met her Hungarian counterpart János Martonyi in Budapest on Friday and reaffirmed the "continuity of [Austrian] foreign policy": "Austria fully supports EU enlargement and Hungary is in this process a front-runner."

One minor consolation for the new government also came from Switzerland. Unlike much of the EU, the country has not suspended bilateral relations with Austria, and Schüssel and Ferrero-Waldner are due to make their first official visit as Chancellor and Foreign Minister. According to a "diplomatic" tradition, Switzerland is normally the first country visited by a new Austrian chancellor.

Magali Perrault, 25 February 2000

Some Useful Websites (in German)






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

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



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