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Thursday, 3 February, 2000, 21:06 GMT
Analysis: EU's forceful warning on Haider

Anti-Haider protestors in Brussels Anti-Haider protestors outside the Austrian embassy in Brussels

By John Palmer, director of The European Policy Centre in Brussels

The most surprising aspect of the furore created by the European Union's unprecedented warning about the dangers of bringing the far-right Austrian Freedom Party into government in Vienna is that anyone should have been surprised.

The admission of a party whose roots lie in a nostalgic attitude to aspects of Hitler's Third Reich by any other member state of the European Union would have been judged equally menacing.

The Heads of State and Government of the other 14 EU countries had absolutely no option but to send the clearest possible message that the advent of Joerg Haider's Freedom Party to government could not be allowed to pass unchallenged.

The European Parliament shows its disapproval

The strong but united declaration of the Portuguese Presidency of the EU - on behalf of the 14 - makes it clear that with the Freedom Party in government there can be no question of "business as usual" with Austria.

It is a stand which has been applauded by millions of Austrians who understand the dreadful damage which the invitation to the xenophobic far right party will do to the international standing of their country.

Democracy and tolerance

Perhaps one reason for the surprise which has been expressed in some quarters at the force of the EU reaction to Mr Haider's bid for political respectability arises from a misunderstanding of what the European Union is.

True, the EU has important economic and other ramifications, but it is above all else a political project.

From its inception the European Union has had the mission to build a sovereignty sharing community underpinned by the values of democracy, pluralism and tolerance.

Joerg Haider Haider: Remaining calm in the storm
Any doubt on this score should have been removed when the Amsterdam Treaty of closer European Union was agreed in 1996.

That treaty enshrines the democratic values of the Union in binding, legal terms.

It even makes provision for the possible expulsion of a member state which deliberately violates those democratic principles.

This is certainly not the case yet in Austria, but the other EU member states had a duty to warn the people of Austria that even sterner action will follow if some of the racist, discriminatory and intolerant policies of the ultra-right Freedom Party are implemented by a future government.


It would be quite wrong to imagine that, by announcing high profile diplomatic sanctions against Austria if Mr Haider's party is brought into government, Austria is being singled out for reprobation.

One reason why all the other EU member states took such a united stand was that they wanted to send a warning signal throughout the EU and beyond.

Far-right movements have sought to mobilise resentment against vulnerable national, racial and other minorities
It is not difficult to see why. During the past decade or two of recession, radical industrial re-structuring and very high levels of unemployment, there has been an inevitable disenchantment with established political parties in power.

That itself is entirely healthy.

Indeed the discontent has given birth to a variety of new political movements, such as the Greens, who now hold office in many EU countries.

However, in some member states, fascist and even neo-nazi movements have tried to exploit popular discontent and insecurity.

Extending the respectability of coalition participation to Joerg Haider's party risks boosting the credibility of similar far right movements elsewhere
Far-right movements have, with varying degrees of success, sought to mobilise resentment against vulnerable national, racial and other minorities as somehow to blame for unemployment or economic ills.

The scapegoating of immigrants and asylum seekers by the far right has brought - in some instances - rich political dividends.

It explains, in large measure, the growth of the National Front in France, the Flemish Bloc in Belgium and - to a degree - the far-right National Alliance and the Northern League in Italy.

Extending the respectability of coalition participation to Joerg Haider's party - even after his declarations in support of Hitler's economic policies and his defence of the war-time Waffen SS - risks boosting the credibility of similar far right movements elsewhere.

That explains the leading role played by right of centre leaders such as President Jacques Chirac of France, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and Spanish Prime Minister Jose-Maria Aznar, as well as social democrat, liberal and green EU government ministers, in sending the EU's warning to Austria.

Under scrutiny

Nothing which the 14 EU governments have announced threatens Austria's continued membership of the European Union or its participation in its institutions and day-to-day business.

That would only come into question if the Freedom Party were to try to use their government position to implement racist and anti-democratic policies.

Anti-Haider protesters picket the Austrian embassy in Rome Anti-Haider protesters picket he Austrian embassy in Rome
In the meantime, the United States and others in the international community have expressed support for the EU stand.

Austria's friends within the European Union hope and believe that the democratic majority of the people will be able to prevent any further worsening of the political crisis created by the invitation to the Freedom Party to join the government.

In an EU which is forging an ever closer political as well as economic union the Austrian people hold much more than the fate of their own country in their hands.

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See also:
03 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
MEPs back sanctions threat to Haider
03 Feb 00 |  Europe
Analysis: EU differences in spotlight
03 Feb 00 |  Europe
In pictures: Anti-coalition demos
31 Jan 00 |  European
Haider in power: A danger to Europe?
02 Feb 00 |  Media reports
Europe's press differs over Haider
03 Oct 99 |  Europe
Profile: Joerg Haider

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