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Monday, 7 August, 2000, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Should the EU drop sanctions against Austria?
The "three wise men" have paid their first visit to Vienna to assess whether the sanctions imposed on Austria by its EU partners should be dismantled.
They were imposed in protest at the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party, formerly led by Joerg Haider, in the Austrian coalition government.
What does Europe think? Should the 14-strong bilateral contact boycott end?
Europe Today's Mark Reid brought together Jacques Reland, Politics Professor at the Guildhall University here in London, and from Vienna the journalist Annaliese Rohrer with the daily paper Die Presse.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I think that Haider is an embarrassment and an outright demagogue. His apologies for the Nazis are totally ludicrous. However, he has not, to my knowledge, violated any civil and/or political rights within Austria, nor has he attacked any of his neighbours. A few asinine comments by a politician does not seem to warrant imposing a complete trade embargo on a nation.
The sanctions should never have been applied.
The propensity of our state and others to interfere in the internal affairs of other sovereign states is a very worrying aspect of diplomacy.
It would be a different matter if the Austrian government had actually done something adverse toward other states or even their own citizens.
Premature criticism of this nature is only likely to be counterproductive, causing the Austrian electorate to close ranks in support of their own elected government despite what others may see as its shortcomings.
Simon Roberts, UK
Austria is doing absolutely nothing wrong. The EU and US need to give us all a break. Austria is a European country; the same outcome can happen anywhere on this continent. There's a little bit of Haider in all of us. Let's not be hypocrites.
To Niel Hastings talking about the "right" of the
Austrian people to elect any government they choose.
What about the rights of the ethnic/religious/sexual minorities
to be treated the same as the rest of the Austrian people? It
is NOT a civil right to be able to discriminate against others no
matter how large a majority wish it, that would be a desire, a wish, but
definitelyn, NOT a right.
Jim Stevens, Strasbourg, France
I wish the EU would suspend Phoney Tony's rather sorry excuse for a government.
With or without Haider, Austria is a far better place for a minority to live than Saudi Arabia, where ethnic and religious minorities and women are officially treated as second-class citizens and persecuted if they dare to protest even a little. Yet, the United States, United Kingdom and other Western nations have no qualms in dealing with the Saudis. Rah! Rah! Petrodollars!!
Chris Hann, USA (Brit)
I think "Harry from Germany" has unwittingly hit the nail on the head. The problem with the Austrian government is that it IS whiter than white, and is very keen on the rest of the country being that way as well. Just because no specific international law has been broken does not mean that there is not a moral obligation to act in a preventative manner to stop the escalation of racism and bigotry.
The smug self-righteous EU sanctions on Austria is a worthless, empty and stupid gesture since it cannot be justified on any grounds whatsoever. Austria is an easy target in comparison to the gross human rights violation by Russia in Chechnya that the EU totally ignores (apart from France). The British government again looks hopeless on this count as well.
Not only should the EU drop sanctions, they should pay Haider compensation.
I believe that the Austrians are perfectly capable of electing the right government for them. Austria is not Germany, Haider is not Hitler; this is 2000 and not 1932.
The idea of EU intervention is not at fault it is their method and their timing. For God's sake let the Austrian people breathe!
Can we please dispense with the canard that Hitler was "elected" when he came to power? He was not. That this is widely believed is a testament to Goebbels' unpleasant talents as a propagandist: Hitler was levered into office by a backstairs coup under the nose of a complacent President Hindenburg.
The sanctions against Austria show EXACTLY what the EU is becoming. A big-brother society, where it will be illegal to criticise EU institutions and/or the currency miscarriage named the "euro". Go for it though, all you British New Labour Euro-lovers; surrender your country to Germany and France. I myself am Danish and am voting NO for Danish EMU referendum Sept 28th.
No Sanctions! No Sanctions! No Sanctions! That's the majority of the responses here. And what's this? We hail from the very countries that have imposed these unjust sanctions. Well now, that's odd.
Nitish Dass, USA
Marl forgets that one of the essential tenets of democracy is the protection of minorities. Fascism does not provide this and therefore, even if openly elected, is anti-democratic. It is therefore right and proper to exclude an anti-democratic government from the international community as recognition of their impropriety.
Democratically elected governments represent the wishes of the people. The Austrian people have the right to elect any government, fascist or communist, they have the right to vote away their freedom. But they must remember the free nations of Europe have the right to ostracize any nation that places constraints on freedom.
While I am not sure that sanctions or the "cold-shoulder" treatment are the right thing to do, I would like to remind all the people that say the Austrian government was freely elected that Hitler and his government was also freely elected. But
60+ years ago, Europe did nothing and the consequences are well known. This time at least Europe is reacting, rightly or wrongly.
Personally I think we should drop the sanctions and give the Freedom Party the chance to prove or hang itself. Let's also make sure that it's VERY CLOSELY monitored.
Although the emotions against the choice of the Austrian people is very understandable, the government was elected democratically and should therefore be recognised as such. By the way, the 'sanctions, are highly symbolic, showing the Austrians that they made a poor choice. Austria's voting-rights in the union were and are still respected until the Austrian government does something that warrants full-fledged sanctions.
Jeremy DeWaal, USA
If the Austrian government has contravened any international laws, let the UN deal with it. If it has contravened any EU laws, let the EU deal with it. But first let's look at ourselves and make sure our governments are whiter than white.
I do not know whether sanctions were the best way to notify Austria of potential Nazism there.
What is certain is that Hitler was legally elected so you cannot use a legal election as defensive argument against a rotten system. If a nation chooses to elect a party, persons or system that is in conflict or in potential future conflict with the established human norms, the nation must suffer consequences in one form or the other.
Austrians have the right to choose the leader they want. But a world which has witnessed wars and massacres caused by racism/ fascism has the right to impose sanctions warning not only Austrians, but other countries not to disturb already divided people/ nations.
Joerg Haider was democratically elected and as such, the EU should not impose sanctions. They should impose them instead on the French for their actions against British beef!
Where did the idea of the Commission as a super-moral group, passing judgement on any people because of their democratic choices come from?
It makes one a bit worried about the Union. What will happen to the next people (could be you or me) who make choices concerning their local or national politicians which oppose the Commissions views of what's right or wrong? What will happen if the Commission itself, with its obvious powers, turns to "extreme" ways of looking at us, politics and other aspects of our lives?
Stephen Kenney, USA
Living in Switzerland, I have followed the development of Haider and his freedom party long before people started talking about him so widely. Although I do not support his politics, I feel that most of the charges being levelled against him bear little relation to who he is and what he really wants. Branding political opponents as neo-nazis is all too easy in a modern politically correct society. In my opinion, Haider is no more right wing than Thatcher was. Using trumped up fascist charges to enforce sanctions against a democratically elected government is untenable and counterproductive.
As a Brit who lives in Austria, and has for the last eight years, I can honestly state that the EU sanctions were made without a genuine understanding of the real issues prevailing in Austria. The coverage by the press was simply trial without any justification. When a country elects a democratically supported government, what right does anyone have to question his or her decision?
Personally, I am not a fan of Herr Haider. However, he has made no difference within Austria. It was a protest vote (look at the history) and the EU's reaction has caused more harm than good. Perhaps the gurus at the helm in Europe should investigate every country's actions where immigration is concerned.
I visited Austria two years ago and was terrified at the way they treat immigrants, especially the Turks. Therefore, I was not surprised, when the Austrians elected a racist leader.
The EU's sanctions against Austria is the apogee of hypocrisy and jeering at democratic norms. How can a nation be punished for electing someone they like? Maybe, to make it easier, the EU should appoint the Austrian government instead of waiting for "good" parties to be elected.
Jonathan, London, UK
The whole idea of sanctions was ill-conceived in the first place, pushed through mainly by countries like Belgium and France, both of whom have uncomfortably high levels of support for far right parties themselves, and questionable past records on tolerance and the preservation of democracy.
No one stands to win from keeping sanctions on Austria. As Haider is out of government, the sanctions should be lifted as all they will do is cause economic suffering for millions of Austrians and pave the way for a future Hitler.
The Austrian people made their choice and the world must accept that choice, be it a right-wing party that comes to power or a left-wing one. The mandate of the public must be respected.
The EU hypocrisy is maddening. It is the EU's policy that is fascistic, hypocritical and imperialistic against many other countries. What kind of threat is Haider? Please stop underestimating our intelligence. The EU must do other actions to show whether its democratic rhetoric is real. They are just making Haider a hero with their policy. Is this the aim?
The sanctions against Austria should be dropped as they are a slap in the face for democracy. Joerg Haider was fairly elected by a democratic process. Furthermore, Austria has accepted more refugees from Kosovo than any other country in Europe. As far as multiculturalism is concerned, they are top of the league. The fact that both liberal and right-wing agendas are represented in their government is only a threat to those who would rather dictate than rule by democracy.
William Dryden states that this is "an example of the unelected EU Commission going against the...".
As usual this is British Eurosceptic hyperbole - the Commission didn't impose the sanctions, the elected heads of Government did. The commission doesn't even support the sanctions. Do get your facts straight before commenting.
Deborah Thomas, UK
Simon Dresner is wrong to state that Hitler was democratically elected in 1933; he actually came to power, he did not receive any majority electoral mandates until he had been in power for well over a year: Hitler is not a model for suppressing democracy on the grounds that it sometimes gets things wrong - the German public in fact took a lot of persuading to give him the backing he sought. And it should be noted that this "persuading" was done against a backdrop of feeble international protests which enabled Hitler to appeal to German nationalism.
C Moore of UK what planet are you from? You do talk a load of nonsense. I have got every right to criticise the EU. Why doesn't Austria impose sanctions against left wing socialists?
Italy never faced sanctions when it had right-wing extremists in government.
The sanctions against Austria are hypocritical and counter-productive. They are only helping Haider.
So, you can vote for whoever you like these days as long as its someone those in power like. Not a million miles from Stalin, Hitler or Mussolini really. Goes to show, there's nobody quite so authoritarian or fascist as a liberal!
Sean Fear, UK
Nothing of what happened in Austria was done undemocratically. It was just free citizens voting for the one they found the best. Sanctions on such a matter is actually what should be questioned.
To read some of the comments made, one would have thought that full-scale economic sanctions had been imposed upon Austria.
In fact, they seem to amount to little more than an exclusion from EU summit photo calls.
I also do not think that the rationale behind the sanctions was completely unfounded; countries are free to elect whatever government they chose, but to belong to the EU countries must embrace certain democratic, liberal and tolerant ideals. Given Haider's track-record it was not unreasonable that the EU should feel a great deal of apprehension at the inclusion of the Freedom Party in the government.
C Moore, UK
Both Parties (FPÖ and ÖVP) still try to overtake the complete country. Opposition is treated sometimes like a criminal act. And there are still every week thousands of people protesting against a racist party in the government. These people don't want a politic where marriage and Catholicism is the declared right behaviour and all other forms are not. ÖVP keeps laws against homosexuals that they can (and some are) still be imprisoned. These laws are in heavy conflict with the European human rights. Is this democracy?
The sanctimonious and hypocritical stance taken against Austria, particularly by the governments of the US and Belgium is galling. Only when they have got their own houses in order can they start laying down the law to others. Haider and his party only have a minority support. The policy of sanctions against Austria is as unfair and stupid as those against Iraq and Serbia.
Hitler was democratically elected in
1933. According to the logic of
some of your correspondents, we
should have done nothing to stop
him. Jorg Haider isn't exactly Hitler,
but he's the closest thing to him
in Europe today. Haider has called
for the arrest of opposition
politicians who criticised the
formation of the coalition. He
doesn't have much respect for
William Dryden, UK
I agree that no sanctions should have ever been imposed. Are we living in a democratic Europe? Apparently not.
I feel we are punishing the Austrians and not the political regime. Perhaps Haider and co. should be asked to step down and new elections be held. The EU should be given powers to impose this when democracy is at risk. I also go along with informing the population about the dangers of a far right political regime
I find the hypocrisy of sanctions unbelievable. Is there a single case in which sanctions have caused a political change in the country intended? Sanctions are merely an excuse for non-action, an escape from confronting an embarrassing situation. Haider's politics are not that different from Europe's, which is shameful, the only difference is that he doesn't hide the fact. The issue turns my stomach.
Sanctions punishing a country for the way they voted smack loudly of one thing - totalitarianism. Democracy is the right to choose as you please, not as someone else pleases. Anything else is Democracy in name only.
Serge Grynkewich, Philippines
Lets not kid ourselves. The Austrian F.P.Oe party has the same fundamental philosophy as the Nazi party. Hence, any solution should not be politically motivated but rather deal directly with the issue.
Sanctions against Austria are useless but what else could we do? If some countries need to be alone for a while why can't they withdraw themselves out?
Strange how democracy is acclaimed and celebrated - until a country elects someone who dares to violate the rules of political correctness. Then, democracy means nothing and the perpetrator must be destroyed. So much for 'democracy'.
The EU should never have imposed sanctions in the first place. When Austria is re-instated as a full member nothing will have changed.
If, you want Austria to be a Nazi
state just exclude them over one
man. That is 'Haider'. The Austrians
are important to the EU. This thing
looks like a club of elite chauvinists
more and more each day. Stop it.
Trade makes for a prosperous world.
What more do you really want?
One sure way to get someone's support is too impose sanctions because they have been voted in. It gives the whole country a "them against us" feeling. I know that if this happened in the UK even if I didn't like the fascist politics that the MP represented I would get in a rage over the EU interfering with our countries political process.
The sanctions should be dropped. It's nothing more than EU governments trying to dictate to Austrian people who they can and cannot vote for. Not only was it a gross over-reaction, it also shows why many people in Britain are sceptical about being members of the EU political programme.
The EU had no right whatsoever imposing sanctions in the first place. Does this mean that if any country within the EU elects a government that the EU doesn't like it will impose sanctions? It's time for England to leave.
Sanctions should never have been imposed in the first place. This was the result of a free, democratic election. When Robert Mugabe ignores the result of an election the EU is up in arms. When the EU decides to ignore the result of an election it gets called democracy. The EU would be better off addressing the reasons why people voted for a neo-Nazi group in the first place.
The problem is that Austrians do not have a clear understanding of the concept of multiculturalism. Unfortunately, sanctions are not a good "educational" tool. We've seen that sanctions imposed against the Milosevic regime have proved useless. As a result, the EU should invest more money into an efficient public relations campaign that would educate citizens across the EU (not just Austrians) about the economic and social benefits of sharing a given "national" territory with other ethnic groups.
Richard T. Ketchum, USA
Sanctions should remain until the Austrian government adopts a friendly immigration policy. EU countries ought to adopt a uniform policy with no exception. Germany should be urged to deal with anti-foreigner violence, or face the same sanctions. Otherwise it is unfair to single out Austria only.
We have seen an increase in the popularity of far-right political parties in France and Germany so why single out Austria? Furthermore, it is surely dangerous to override the rule of democracy and the views of the people of Austria. Continued sanctions can only strengthen the position of Mr Haider and increase his support.
Like it or not, the Austrian government is democratically elected. So why doesn't the rest of Europe respect the choice of the Austrian people no matter how bad their choice or government is.
Should there have been any "sanctions"?
The FPÖ was legally elected. The coalition negations were legal and the coalition government is legal according to the laws of Austria.
There are no sanctions against Mugabe in Zimbabwe who ignores the laws of his country and the High Court of his country and seems to lead his country into anarchy.
Is it any of our business who the Austrians have in Government? I think the actions of the EU set a dangerous precedent - what if the US suddenly decided it didn't like our (allegedly) socialist government and imposed sanctions on us until we ousted them?
This is quite simple, the sanctions should have never been imposed. I guess it was just a sign its typical knee-jerk reactions.
28 Jul 00 | Europe
EU mission holds talks in Austria
28 Jul 00 | Europe
'Wise men' begin Austria mission
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