Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 22
22 November 1999

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 13 November 1999

Magali Perrault

The demonstration against racism and Joerg Haider's Freedom Party (FPO) held on Friday 12 November in Vienna was, according to its organisers, a success. The number of demonstrators was estimated at 70,000.

The organisers also pledged to continue their campaign for the adoption of an anti-discrimination law and "passive" voting rights for foreigners in certain specific local or firm-level elections.

On Monday, the first face-to-face meeting between the Social Democrat (SPO) Chancellor Viktor Klima and Joerg Haider took place. Klima, however, firmly rejected the prospect of an SPO-FPO coalition, arguing that he did not think Haider could be "changed."

Klima expressed his preference for a renewal of the current "grand coalition" between SPO and the conservative Austrian People's Party (OVP). Were this option to prove impossible, Klima said he would then suggest to President Thomas Klestil the formation of a SPO-led minority government, which would also include "a wide range" of non-political experts - a solution he sees as "not the goal, but better than new elections".

Klima finally expressed his concern about the speed of the negotiations, and stated his belief that the current interim government was incompetent to make important decisions, most crucially as far as the state budget is concerned.

On Thursday, the parliament, which was elected on 3 October, held its first working session.

The anti-Proporz package, agreed upon last week by the SPO and the OVP and which aims at limiting the importance of party membership in the distribution of jobs in the civil service, was the object of heated discussions. The FPO's denunciation of the clientelist policies of the SPO and the OVP was, however, dismissed by the parties concerned as dangerous, because it sent the misguided message that all politicians are "worth nothing," according to SPO-MP Josef Cap.

On the diplomatic front, President Klestil was, on Monday and Tuesday, one of the guests of Vaclav Havel in Prague during the ceremonies marking the tenth anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. He emphasized the personal contribution Havel has made in returning "freedom and democracy in the heart of Europe."

Klestil also took this opportunity to participate in a "mini"-summit with his German-speaking counterparts, German President Johannes Rau and Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss.

On Wednesday, a minor row erupted over the comments of Slovenia's General Consul, Joze Jeraj, in Klagenfurt (in the Land of Carinthia). The Slovenian diplomat declared that he could not understand why Austria, and especially the Land of Carinthia (whose governor is Joerg Haider), has so many hesitations and reservations about Slovene membership in the EU. Jeraj was especially critical of a resolution adopted by the FPO-dominated Carinthian regional assembly which stipulates that Slovene membership should be made conditional, based on the closing of the Krsko nuclear plant and the recognition of the rights of Slovenia's German minority.

Similarly, the nuclear plant of Jaslovske Bohunice remains a major bone of contention between Austria and Slovakia less than one month before the Helsinki summit scheduled for 10 and 11 December. It is widely expected that Slovakia will be invited to start negotiations on EU membership at the summit.

Austria believes Slovakia's decision to close the plant between 2006 and 2007 to be insufficient. On Thursday evening, the National Assembly drafted a resolution which committed the government to take rapid steps in order to achieve the closing of the Bohunice reactor by next year. Regarding this, Klima expressed Austria's willingness to contribute financially to an EU-fund that would target the closing of unsafe nuclear plants in Central Europe.

With the exception of the FPO, however, the three other parliamentary parties, the SPO, OVP and the Greens, have refused to consider the option of vetoing Slovakia's EU invitation - foreign minister Wolfgang Schussel, for example, argued that Austria's objectives could be better reached through negotiations.

Magali Perrault, 19 November 1999

Some Useful Websites (in German)






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

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



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