Vienna, Linz; 14 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Austria's far-right Freedom Party today launched a referendum against the controversial Czech nuclear plant at Temelin, close to the Austrian border. Backers are seeking to block Czech efforts to join the European Union unless the Russian-designed station is closed.
Prague has promised to tighten safety at Temelin but says closure is out of the question. The petition will not change the Czech Republic's position on the issue in any way, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said in an interview for the 14 January issue of the Austrian weekly "Profil."
"I don't see one single reason for the Czech side to change its position on Temelin on the basis of the Austrian referendum," Kavan is quoted as saying in the interview. "Austria cannot change this Czech decision."
The poll is not legally binding. But correspondents say a high participation rate could put pressure on Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel.
The move has caused a rift within his two-year ruling coalition, with Schuessel's center-right Austrian People's Party (VP) opposing the referendum. One opinion poll published on the eve of the petition drive showed the effort could garner about 900,000 signatures, or 15 percent of the electorate.
People's Party (VP) Economics Minister Martin Bartenstein charged the petition was "a veto trap" and "deliberately misleading" in a recent television debate. The people supporting it would in reality not be signing against Temelin, but against the Czech Republic's EU membership, he said. Schuessel and other VP negotiators, in their contacts with Prague, have already achieved maximum safety standards for the nuclear power station, added Bartenstein.