Austria

Austrian Institute for Foreign Affairs

Heinz Gärtner

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1. Euroscepticism and European Parliament election

Economics and jobs

Low expectations for the French EU Presidency

Austrian Institute of International Affairs

The start of the French Council Presidency has been clearly overshadowed by the Irish ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty; therefore the expectations have been set rather low. Besides, due to the ups and downs in Austrian politics the media focused rather on the government crisis and other related topics. Therefore the main question discussed in the media was and is how the French President and the Presidency will solve the ongoing or reopened crisis in the EU. Another topic of interest was the issue of the Mediterranean Union, which Sarkozy plans to promote and intense, especially regarding Germany’s role. It has to be said that due to history and the neighbourhood, Germany has been always observed closely.
 

Ensuring stability on the Western Balkans

Austrian Institute of International Affairs

The stabilisation of the Western Balkans and its integration into the European project in the middle and long run has been one of the priorities of the Austrian foreign strategy. Generally speaking, comments, be it from the side of politicians or the media, have been rather benign in regard to the Western Balkan countries, whereas Austria is known to be one of the greatest opponents of a possible Turkish EU membership.
 
Whereas Austria’s official foreign strategy aims to keep up a European perspective for Balkan countries, the Austrian public shows rather low support for further enlargements. And this trend seems to gain further momentum with the increasing feeling of insecurity in light of media reports on increased crime and the fear for the maintenance of the welfare state. Only Croatia’s accession is generally supported by the Austrian public. Even members of the FPÖ have expressed their support for Croatia’s accession.
 

Europe of ‘different speeds’ no solution

Austrian Institute of International Affairs

The reactions in Austria ranged from expressions of regret to ones of approval, depending on the political party or the ideological background. The ruling SPÖ-ÖVP[1] coalition initially accepted and respected the Irish vote, and expressed the need for a better communication between ‘Brussels’ and the European population. Also, the Greens expressed their regret for the outcome, but stated that the governments were the ones to blame due to the lack of democratic principles and the disregard of social issues. The two right wing parties – the BZÖ[2] and FPÖ – were both content with the vote and the BZÖ called the ongoing ratification process in other EU member states a farce since they regarded the Lisbon Treaty to be dead.
 
Other voices like the Austrian Federation of Trade Unions (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) suggested that the discussion should not be left to the EU opponents and that more communication was needed. The Union also insisted on the integration of more social issues. A more radical voice – Richard Wagner, writer and journalist in Berlin – said, in a maybe not entirely serious comment, that Ireland should be given the status of Turkey.

No obstacles for parliamentary ratification – but some calls for a referendum

Austrian Institute of International Affairs

After the signing of the Lisbon Treaty Austria’s Chancellor Gusenbauer declared that the country would quickly ratify the treaty. In mid January 2008 the Lisbon Treaty was approved by the SPÖ–ÖVP coalition cabinet and passed on to the parliament.
 
Ursula Plassnik (ÖVP), Minister for European and International Affairs, declared she is expecting an intensive debate but a speedy authorization process in the parliament so that the proceedings will be finished by mid 2008. Observers do not see any obstacles to this timetable as the two coalition parties and the largest oppositional party, the Greens, have signalled to approve the treaty.
 
Communication with citizens
 
Chancellor Gusenbauer stated that one of the EU’s communication problems was the fact that common decisions are mainly based on compromises which have to take many different interests into consideration. Gusenbauer also mentioned that he aimed at strengthening political communication with the people, in order to better explain the significance and the contents of EU regulations. Gusenbauer criticised in this context the reflex to call the whole EU into question when people are not content with some decisions or regulations. He argued that the link between criticizing single issues and questioning the whole could only be broken by better communication.
 

Europe of ‘different speeds’ no solution

Austrian Institute of International Affairs

The reactions in Austria ranged from expressions of regret to ones of approval, depending on the political party or the ideological background. The ruling SPÖ-ÖVP[1] coalition initially accepted and respected the Irish vote, and expressed the need for a better communication between ‘Brussels’ and the European population. Also, the Greens expressed their regret for the outcome, but stated that the governments were the ones to blame due to the lack of democratic principles and the disregard of social issues. The two right wing parties – the BZÖ[2] and FPÖ – were both content with the vote and the BZÖ called the ongoing ratification process in other EU member states a farce since they regarded the Lisbon Treaty to be dead.
 
Other voices like the Austrian Federation of Trade Unions (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) suggested that the discussion should not be left to the EU opponents and that more communication was needed. The Union also insisted on the integration of more social issues. A more radical voice – Richard Wagner, writer and journalist in Berlin – said, in a maybe not entirely serious comment, that Ireland should be given the status of Turkey.

Presidential elections in Austria

Austrian Institute for International Affairs.

Hakan Akbulut

In the reporting period, the presidential elections of 25 April 2010 were the major issue dominating domestic politics and related debate. Apart from the incumbent, Heinz Fischer, a Social Democrat running as an independent candidate, Barbara Rosenkranz from the Freedom Party and Rudolf Gehring from a small party called the Christian Party of Austria (CPÖ) ran for the office. However, given Heinz Fischer’s popularity, combined with the ideological affiliation and comparatively unglamorous careers of his challengers, there existed no doubts that Fischer was going to win. Thus, the election campaign lacked any excitement. Nevertheless, the personality of Barbara Rosenkranz and the general attitude adopted by the People’s Party during the election campaign caused some controversies.
 

Climate and energy policy – Copenhagen and beyond

Austrian Institute for International Affairs

Hakan Akbulut