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Tuesday, 15 February, 2000, 11:51 GMT
Analysis: Strong views on far right

children playing A Belgian school makes a stand against the far-right in Austria

By Europe correspondent Colin Blane

European Union leaders have decided to keep up sanctions against Austria while they see how the new government performs.

Across Europe, there is still strong feeling about the coalition of the far-right Freedom Party led by Joerg Haider.

EU developments are being watched by extreme right parties all over Europe.

teacher Albert Brahy had been visiting the same village for 30 years
In Belgium, the innocence of the playground has been touched by the politics of the far-right.

Primary school children at Ecole Princess de Liege should have been skiing in Austria during their winter break.

Teachers cancelled the trip when the Freedom Party joined the Austrian coalition.

Headmaster Albert Brahy, said he had been visiting the same Alpine village for 30 years.

"It is very difficult but far right is far right. It is dangerous to go their way."

The school lost its deposit and is now taking the children to France instead.

Austrian surprise

The strength of reaction to Joerg Haider's party - even in schools - has taken Austrians by surprise.

The Austrian ambassador to the European Union, Gregor Woschnagg, said he was personally hurt by the response.

He said: "I cannot understand people deciding not to ski in Austria. We are committed to Europe."

Questions have been raised about the grounds for sanctions against Austria.

Observers say they are not legal measures but moral and political ones.

John Palmer of the European Policy Centre in Brussels believes EU leaders were anxious not to give legitimacy to Joerg Haider's views.

Italian far-right

In Italy, near the Swiss border, supporters of the Northern League have been at a rally addressed by their leader Umberto Bossi.

They are sympathetic to Joerg Haider and don't agree with EU measures against Austria.

autograph signing Umberto Bossi signs autographs at one of his rallies
The far-right did share in Italy's coalition government back in 1994 - and they're manouevring for position again now.

Umberto Bossi is passionate in denouncing immigration - which, he says, is causing a crime wave.

It is this attitude his potential allies find hard to take.

Mr Bossi also objects to anything which could be described as European Union pressure.

"I think the response to Austria is an over-reaction and It could rebound on the EU.

"You have a situation where unelected bureaucrats are criticising elected politicians."

Mr Bossi hopes to be a power-broker in the next Italian Government.

EU watch

But now the European Union leaders have spoken out against Austria they might be willing to act against other far-right coalitions in future.

Professor Alberto Martinelli of the University of Milan says Joerg Haider touched a delicate nerve.

He said: "He made policy statements on immigration which not only concern a contemporary problem, but which are framed in the language and way of thinking of a terrible European past which must be over forever."

In Belgium, the recent gains of the right-wing Vlams Blok have brought comparison with Austria's Freedom Party.

The Vlams Blok complain that the European Union leaders' response is anti-democratic.

So will the EU try to influence elections on grounds of ideology in future?

European Commissioner Chris Patten says there is no question of the EU telling anyone how to vote.

He said: "What we are talking about is a consensus for the way we operate collectively."

What seems to be happening over Austria is that the EU is placing much greater emphasis on the need for common European values - at a time when more than a dozen new countries are preparing to join.

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See also:
14 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Cook warns Haider on human rights
10 Feb 00 |  Europe
Diplomatic snub for Austria
14 Feb 00 |  Europe
Yugoslavia flight ban lifted
13 Feb 00 |  UK
Haider 'to sue' in Churchill row
09 Feb 00 |  UK
Charles' Austria boycott attacked
08 Feb 00 |  Europe
EU trims meeting amid Austria fears
04 Feb 00 |  Europe
Haider: View from the streets
03 Oct 99 |  Europe
Profile: Joerg Haider

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