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Austria: Christian Democrats Sign Pact With Freedom Party

  • Jolyon Naegele



Austrian conservative leader Wolfgang Schuessel and far-rightist Joerg Haider yesterday signed a declaration setting out the responsibilities of their proposed coalition government. But RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele reports that Austria's president says he still needs time to review the proposals before he grants his approval.

Prague, 3 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The declaration, entitled "Responsibility for Austria -- A future in the heart of Europe" is an attempt to placate concerns -- those of Austrian president Thomas Klestil, of the international community, and above all of the European Community, of which Austria is a member.

The head of Austria's Christian-Democratic People's Party and probably the next chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, says the declaration is a blueprint for the proposed government with the far-right Freedom Party. He says the document clearly affirms the Austrian constitution and its obligations to Europe:

"What are we offering: firstly, a clear affirmation of the fundamental values set in the Austrian constitution and laws and in the European treaties. We want to maintain the highest standards just as Austria has been doing in recent years. Secondly, we want to affirm clearly our intention to deal correctly with our past. We know that Austria has much to work out. We are aware of this. We will do this with just as much conscientiousness, care and courage as other (political) constellations would have done. Perhaps we will have to be even more honest and courageous than others would have been. Thirdly, we offer a clear affirmation of Europe and the European Union, in part because of the bitter experiences of recent days. And, fourthly, we offer a program of renewal that should provide the country more freedom, dynamism, security and solidarity.

Schuessel and the head of the Freedom Party, Joerg Haider, presented the program to Klestil on Wednesday and met him again yesterday to present their proposals for the composition of the government.

The ever-populist Haider, speaking to a televised news conference after the meeting, emphasized the social welfare aspects of his program, particularly maternity and child support. But he also pledged that the new government would do away with the "party proportional" system that has divided up power and privileges for decades between two large political parties: the Social Democrats and the People's Party.

"You know that we have been in a confrontation with the government for decades ... over the question of doing away with the 'party proportional' system in Austria. This reform government has pledged to abolish this burden from the political system of Austria and thereby finally give people a bit more freedom and self-determination."

Klestil has deferred appointing the new coalition government, saying he wants to study its policies more closely. Meanwhile, in Brussels today, the European Union's parliament voted overwhelmingly to condemn the participation of the Freedom Party for what it said was legitimizing the extreme right in Europe. The move comes three days after the European Union informed Austria that its other 14 member states would not accept any bilateral official contacts at the political level with an Austrian government that includes the Freedom Party, nor would it support Austrian candidates seeking positions in international organizations.

Yesterday's Haider-Schuessel declaration says the new government would adhere to the "spiritual and moral values" which it says are the common heritage of the peoples of Europe.

The declaration also pledges the government to stand for "respect, tolerance and understanding for all human beings irrespective of their origin, religion or creed," and to "actively to combat any form of discrimination, intolerance and demagoguery."

The declaration pledges the government to work to eliminate xenophobia, anti-Semitism and racism and acknowledges the government's responsibility as regards the respectful treatment of ethnic and religious minorities.

It similarly pledges to uphold Austria's commitment to the protection of human rights, and it commits the government to a self-critical scrutiny of Austria's Nazi past.

All the pledges are responses to concerns voiced at home and abroad over allowing Haider's party into the government because of Haider's record of controversial statements. These have included terming the Austrian nation "an ideological miscarriage" and claiming Nazi Germany had had an "orderly employment policy."

Haider has since distanced himself from these remarks. In a speech last November, he apologized for his comments about Nazism, saying they were "insensitive" and "open to misunderstanding".

It appears president Klestil has accepted the Haider-Schuessel declaration -- albeit, according to Schuessel, with some reservations concerning passages on democracy and justice. But the president is in no rush to appoint the new government. Public opinion polls suggest calling early elections could only strengthen Haider.

Klestil may still, however, heed calls from some politicians for the appointment of a government of experts.

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