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Tuesday, 8 February, 2000, 16:38 GMT
EU trims meeting amid Austria fears

Joerg Haider The EU objects to Joerg Haider's Freedom Party


By Alison Roberts in Lisbon

Portugal, the current holder of the European Union presidency, has scaled back the programme for this weekend's meeting of EU ministers amid unease that a member of Austria's far-right Freedom Party will be taking part.

This is the first time that Portugal has faced the issue of whether to invite a member of Austria's newly-appointed government to a ministers' meeting.



The traditional family photograph that usually shows ministers happily intermingling has been cancelled
In the case of the informal Employment and Social Affairs Council scheduled for Friday and Saturday, the Austrian minister concerned, Elisabeth Sickl, is a member of the Freedom Party whose presence in the ruling coalition is causing such controversy.

Belgium, for one, had argued that the Austrians should not be invited to informal EU meetings, but on the basis that the diplomatic sanctions against Austria announced last week by its EU partners apply only to bilateral relations.

Portugal - with the backing of most other governments - went ahead and invited Ms Sickl to attend.

Agenda overshadowed

However, there are a number of changes to the programme.

The traditional family photograph that usually shows ministers happily intermingling has been cancelled.

There will be no television coverage of the dinner on Friday night, and the social programme, a prominent feature of informal meetings, has been called off.

Portuguese officials are vexed that the meeting, whose agenda includes subjects relevant to the extraordinary summit on employment to be held in March, will be overshadowed by the controversy.

But there is strong support in Portugal for the sanctions against Austria.

Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio telephoned his counterpart in Vienna on Monday to confirm the cancellation of his long-scheduled state visit to Austria, which was to take place in early March.

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See also:
08 Feb 00 |  Europe
Austria faces no confidence vote
06 Feb 00 |  Europe
Haider threatens treason inquiry
04 Feb 00 |  Europe
Right-wing leaders puzzled over Haider
03 Oct 99 |  Europe
Profile: Joerg Haider

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