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Western Press Review: Haider And Davos Draw Western Commentary

  • Don Hill



Prague, 1 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- As the likelihood grows that Joerg Haider may become part of Austria's government, the Wall Street Journal Europe asks in the first words of an editorial, "What are we to make of the Haider phenomenon?" A number of other Western commentators address related questions.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The EU's mostly socialist and statist leaders are missing something.

The Wall Street Journal Europe's editorial warns that Haider is not merely an Austrian aberration. The editorial puts it this way: "It is worthwhile to consider how a man like Mr. Haider has managed to attract so many votes. There are, in fact, some warnings here not merely for Austria, but for the larger European Union. Mr. Haider's successful appeals to xenophobia should be noted."

In the editorial's words: "Mr. Haider's party, like others of its ilk in Europe, exploits the vestigial human fear of foreigners with emotional language."

The newspaper adds these thoughts: "The EU's mostly socialist and statist leaders are missing something. The most powerful pro-immigration and enlargement arguments rely on a free-market idea of political and economic life. Their own states hardly meet that requirement, though they're moving in that direction. The ability of a man or woman to get up and move, besides being one of the bedrocks of liberty and a powerful check on tyranny, has the added advantage of being economic good sense."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: To label Haider a fascist insults the many decent Austrians who support him

From London, the Daily Telegraph turns the question around. Its editorial asks this: "Are 32 percent of Austrians Nazis?" The answer, says the editorial, is that they are not, and that neither is Joerg Haider. The newspaper says that Austria's two establishment parties loathe Haider because he and his followers virtually are alone in exposing the former government for operating "one of the most bloated and corrupt state machines in Europe." It says that the establishment parties fight back by branding him a far-right extremist.

The editorial puts its conclusions this way: "Mr. Haider is no saint. He is a mercurial rabble-rouser, ready to back any populist cause. But to label him a fascist insults the many decent Austrians who support him, as well as the true victims of 20th-century fascism. Foreign commentators do well to respect the decision of the Austrian electorate. And Mr. Haider's domestic opponents might profitably turn their attention to tackling some of the corruption that has grown up under their own patronage."

IRISH TIMES: Intervention is justified

The Irish Times agrees in an editorial that Haider and all of his supporters are not necessarily neo-fascists. But it says that he walks and talks like one. The editorial says that the European Union was justified yesterday in saying its members would isolate Austria if Haider's Freedom Party becomes part of the government.

The Irish Times says new elections may be a better alternative. The editorial puts it this way: "As an experienced minister for foreign affairs, [People's Party leader Wolfgang] Schuessel now must take full account of the diplomatic costs of this project [of forming a new government with Haider]. Austria's political isolation threatens to be much more serious than during the time of Dr. Kurt Waldheim's presidency."

The editorial continues: "The current president, Mr. Thomas Klestil, may conclude that Austria's national interest would be better served by fresh elections rather than such a perilous right-wing coalition. Austria's voters would in that case face a critical choice. Yesterday's warning by its EU partners is a remarkable and unprecedented intervention in Austria's domestic affairs. But it is justified by their concern to defend the values of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as the commitment to continental enlargement that has become a central part of its development."

DIE WELT: Punitive action against Austria would be extremely complicated and politically very delicate

Germany's Die Welt carries a commentary by Nikolaus Blome and Andreas Middel saying that EU leaders have been worried about the direction of the Austrian government, in the writers' words, "for far longer than was realized or admitted." The European Commission, however, may not go along with sanctions against Austria, the commentary says. The writers quote a spokesman for Commission President Romano Prodi as saying that, as a matter of principle, the commission does not interfere in the internal affairs of member states.

Of suggestions that the EU might strip Austria of some of its membership rights, the commentators write this: "Although such punitive action is possible under the terms of the last amendment to the EU treaty in 1997, it would be extremely complicated and politically very delicate. According to the Treaty of Amsterdam, EU heads of state and government can withdraw voting rights from a member if they detect serious and persistent infringements of the EU's principles of democracy, human rights, basic freedoms and the rule of law."

The writers say that such an action now, in their words, "seems hardly likely." They add this: "But if the EU did go ahead and try to limit Austrian membership, it would surely mean an unprecedented test for the organization."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Haider is a plausible and ruthless populist

An editorial in Britain's Financial Times speaks in one of the strongest tones of the commentaries surveyed. It says this: "Joerg Haider, leader of Austria's right-wing Freedom party, is a plausible and ruthless populist who has blatantly exploited anti- immigrant sentiments to gain support. He also cleverly manipulated popular feeling against the established political parties in his country, which, in effect, divided the spoils of power for five decades. His success can be measured by the fact that his party came second in last year's election, is now to be topping the opinion polls, and is on the verge of forming a ruling coalition with the outgoing People's Party."

The Financial Times editorial concludes with these words: "How the EU and the rest of the world should react is very sensitive. Ostracizing Austria might simply boost the popularity of Mr. Haider. He has certainly gained from being demonized in his own country. The other EU members have already signaled their intention to cold-shoulder any government that includes the Freedom Party: there will be no bilateral meetings, for a start. Going further before the coalition is formed could be counter-productive. The world will watch closely to see whether [Haider's negative] words are matched by deeds."

BOSTON GLOBE: New capitalism has come under siege by forces it has itself created

From Davos, U.S. syndicated international affairs columnist William Pfaff writes in the Boston Globe, among other newspapers, that the grave dangers of economic globalization may already be correcting themselves. In Pfaff's words: "The real threat to [this year's] World Economic Forum is not the anti-globalization protesters in the snowy streets of this Alpine resort. It is the fact that the consensus sustaining globalization has shattered, while the new capitalism has come under siege by forces it has itself created."

Pfaff writes: "The new globalism, which serves only business corporation interest, is already in crisis. Such is the real setting for this year's Davos meeting. In both cases the cause is easy to identify. It is the subordination of workers, customers, public and social interest -- even patriotism -- to profit.

"Democratic societies function and survive both nationally and internationally by finding an equilibrium among the interests of individuals and institutions. In the United States and much of Western Europe, the last two decades have seen gross distortions of the democratic balance of interests. Since that is politically intolerable, a movement to restore balance has begun."
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