No big issue in Austria

Austrian Institute of International Affairs
Since Austria is not a member to NATO, its enlargement seems to be of no great concern for the country. The enlargement of the EU is seen – depending on which country – as a positive or negative thing. The admission of Croatia is seen as useful and welcomed, but the admission of Turkey is – to put it bluntly – not wanted. The European Neighbourhood Policy itself is a rather seldom discussed issue and no interesting information or statement could be found, except from the news itself that this policy approach exists and is seen as a useful tool to set various standards and help develop the countries integrated in this policy.

Good Looking – Poor Substance

Austrian Institute of International Affairs

The Austrian newspaper “Die Presse” compared Nicolas Sarkozy to the fire brigades, which tried to extinguish one fire after the other. He was present everywhere, presented ideas, visions and riveted the audiences’ attention, but when he left a vacuum was left behind. Although Sarkozy was bustling and tried to tackle many issues, he seemed to forget other urgent questions as for instance the problems in the suburbs of Paris.
The peace agreement between Georgia and Russia leaves many questions and problems unsolved and could cause more confusion because of its inaccuracy. Sarkozy pressed too hard on a Mediterranean Union, which nobody wanted except him and his agrarian reform is rather seen as a step backwards than anything else.[1] In brief, the French Presidency has shown Europe what can be done and how it could be done, but also how it should not be done. Sarkozy managed to put new dynamics into European politics, but his doings without taking care of consequences has left lots of confusion. Again the newspaper “Die Presse” put it very bluntly by saying that Sarkozy had raised so much dust, that on one side none could see where the European journey was going and on the other side the errors committed and the empty promises could be hidden quite well.[2]

The EU’s response to the financial crisis generally seen as mostly positive

Austrian Institute of International Affairs
The EU’s overall performance in reaction to the financial crisis is perceived highly positive, the president of the “Austrian Chambers of Commerce”, (“Wirtschaftskammer Österreich”, WKÖ) Christoph Leitl outlined the measures taken by Nicolas Sarkozy in France to fight the crisis and evaluated them as a way to follow.[1] Another positive statement was made by the Member of European Parliament Andreas Mölzer from the Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ), he stated that the Euro had proved itself during the financial crisis.[2] He also hoped for the European Central Bank to continue its work in the present way and for the Euro to behave as a shield against international financial gamblers.[3]
Former Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, stated in a press release that Europe’s reaction to the financial and bank crisis was right and very ambitious. He also emphasised that Europe had proved of being capable of acting properly in such critical situations.[4]

[1] “Leitl: ‘Sarkozy hat gezeigt, wie es geht.’”, Die Presse, 30 December 2008, available at: http://diepresse.com/home/politik/innenpolitik/440835/print.do (last access: 17 February 2009).

[2] The FPÖ represents the right wing and national interests and is highly EU sceptical.

Many issues to tackle – but also more engagement needed

Austrian Institute of International Affairs

The three top priorities for a re-definition or re-vitalisation of the transatlantic EU-US relationship is the establishment of peace and stability in the Afghan region, fighting climate change and the closing-down of the Guantanamo prison camp. Barack Obama is expected to demand more engagement in Afghanistan from the Europeans, not only in terms of financial support but also through the increase of troops deployed in the country.
In a commentary in the newspaper “Der Standard”, Austrian EU-Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner stated that it was crucial to revitalise the transatlantic relationship. As most pressing topics for both parties she mentioned the economical crisis, climate change and energy scarcity. On a more international level she highlighted the Middle East peace process, Afghanistan and the convention on climate protection as the three top priorities. But she was also very clear in saying that Europe would not get a better partnership for free, and that a lot of engagement from European side was needed.[1]

[1] “’Yes we can!’ Soll auch für Europa gelten”, Der Standard, 19 January 2009, available at: http://derstandard.at/druck/?id=1231152304020 (last access: 17 February 2009).

Conclusions of European Council seen mainly positive

Austrian Institute of International Affairs

Wolfgang Schüssel, former Chancellor and current foreign affairs spokesman of the Austrian Peoples Party (ÖVP), stated that the solution found at the European Council in December 2008 was a good proposal for Ireland and that he expected the schedule for the Lisbon Treaty to stay on time. The Lisbon Treaty is in his words “the central core for the EU for the next years”.[1]

The decision to maintain the “one state – one Commissioner” principle was generally perceived positively, only Johannes Voggenhuber, MEP of the Greens, expressed his concern that this decision would lead backwards into a re-nationalisation of the Commission.[2]

European Elections: Payoff or new chance?

The European Parliament elections in June 2009 are seen by the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) as an opportunity for a payoff with the parties which denied Austrians a popular vote regarding the Lisbon Treaty. The party keeps emphasising that it is not against the EU as such, but that it wants the EU to change, as they see current developments as a huge mistake.[3]