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Austria report: Full text

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- This is the full text of the conclusions of a report by three "wise men" which recommends lifting diplomatic sanctions imposed by 14 European Union governments on Austria after the far-right Freedom Party joined the government.

1. Concerning the commitment of the Austrian Government to the common European values, in particular relating to the rights of minorities, refugees and immigrants:

-In line with our mandate and based on a thorough examination, it is our considered view that the Austrian Government is committed to the common European values. The Austrian Government's respect in particular for the rights of minorities, refugees and immigrants is not inferior to that of the other European Union Member States.

The legal situation in the three mentioned areas is well up to the standards applied in other EU Member States. In some areas, particularly concerning the rights of national minorities, Austrian standards can be considered to be higher than those applied in many other EU countries.

- The Government has also taken practical measures to improve its compliance with these values and standards, including by implementing the declaration that the leaders of the governmental parties signed on 3 February 2000.

The specific activities continued or introduced by the new Austrian Government to combat racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism show that in this field the Austrian Government is aware of the specific problems existing in the country.

Here again, the standard of the activities by the Government in order to effectuate a self-critical scrutiny of the past and to combat the obscuring of the crimes of the National Socialist regime and any kind of direct or indirect discrimination and xenophobic prejudices reflect common European values.

2. Concerning the evolution of the political nature of the FPO (Freedom Party):

- There are reasons why the description of the FPO as a right-wing populist party with radical elements appears to still be correct.

The FPO has exploited and enforced xenophobic sentiments in campaigns. This has created an atmosphere in which openly expressed remarks against foreigners became acceptable, causing feelings of anxiety.

- It is our opinion that the Federal Government should be as ready as the Federal President to condemn xenophobic or defamatory expressions.

- The FPO has also tried to suppress criticism by the continuous use of libel procedures.

- In contradiction with past FPO behaviour and statements by other FPO officials, the ministers of the FPO have by and large worked according to the Government's commitments in carrying out their governmental activities so far.

It is not excluded that with the passing of time new directions within the party may emerge. Whether this will happen remains to be seen.

3. Concerning the measures adopted by the 14:

- It is not within our mandate to pronounce ourselves on the lawfulness of the measures adopted by the 14 member states.

- The measures taken by the Fourteen member states of the EU have heightened awareness of the importance of the common European values, not only in Austria but also in other Member States.

There is no doubt that in the case of Austria the measures taken by the 14 Member States have intensified the efforts by the Austrian Government. They have also energized the civil society to defend these values.

- It is our opinion, however, that the measures taken by the 14 Member States, if continued, would become counterproductive and should therefore be ended.

The measures have already stirred up nationalist feelings in the country, as they have in some cases been wrongly understood as sanctions directed against Austrian citizens.

4. Recommendations arising from the report:

- We strongly recommend the development of a mechanism within the EU to monitor and evaluate the commitment and performance of individual Member States with respect to the common European values.

We are therefore in favour of the introduction of preventive and monitoring procedures into Article 7 of the EU Treaty, so that a situation similar to the current situation in Austria would be dealt with within the EU from the very start.

This would underline the fundamental commitment of the EU to common European values. Such a mechanism would allow from the beginning an open and non-confrontational dialogue with the Member State concerned.

-Through this monitoring procedure the Council should be able to follow up, evaluate and take actions concerning the development of a specific situation in an EU country.

Besides this monitoring procedure, a system of prevention should be put in place which would react through information and educational measures to any forms of direct or indirect discrimination or xenophobia.

- It is important that institutional arrangements within the Community institutions for furthering these aims are established.

These may include the creation of a Human Rights office within the Council reporting to the European Council; the appointment within the Commission of a Commissioner responsible for human rights issues; and, particularly, the extension of the activities, budget and status of the existing EU Observatory on racism and xenophobia, which is based in Vienna, in order to make possible the establishment of a full EU Agency on Human Rights.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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