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EU to Austria: Rightist Party In Govt. Will Mean Sanctions

By William Drozdiak
THE WASHINGTON POST -- DAVOS, Switzerland

In an unprecedented step against a member state, the European Union warned Monday that it would break off political contacts with any Austrian government that includes the far-right Freedom Party led by controversial Joerg Haider.

The dramatic threat of diplomatic sanctions by 14 of the EU’s 15 member states against a European ally reflected growing alarm over the rise of Haider’s party, which advocates a ban on immigration and a halt to expansion of the EU into Eastern Europe.

Haider, the telegenic son of a former Nazi official, led the Freedom Party to second place in parliamentary elections last October and is negotiating for his party to join a governing coalition. If he succeeds, it would be the first time since World War II that an extreme right-wing party would enter government in a Western democracy.

Prime Minister Antonio Guterres of Portugal, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, declared that after a frantic round of consultations the EU had decided on punitive measures if Haider’s party joins the Austrian government. They include freezing bilateral relations with Vienna, withdrawing support for any of its candidates for international posts and curtailing the role of Austria’s ambassadors in EU capitals.

“If a party which has expressed xenophobic views, and which does not abide by the essential values of the European family, comes to power, naturally we won’t be able to continue the same relations as in the past, however much we regret it,” Guterres told reporters in Lisbon, the Portuguese capital. “Nothing will be as before.”

Many EU members fear that the presence of far-right ministers in Austria’s next government would legitimize other right-wing movements that have challenged ruling establishments in France, Belgium and Italy. Neo-Nazi movements have also been on the rise in EU members Sweden and Germany, in addition to Norway.

The Freedom Party scored a record 27 percent of the vote in the Oct. 3 elections by promising to halt the influx of foreigners, block further expansion of the EU and sweep away ingrained corruption and cronyism that it says has poisoned a 13-year governing alliance between Austria’s Social Democrats and the conservative People’s Party.

After nearly four months of fruitless negotiations, Viktor Klima, the outgoing Social Democratic chancellor, last week gave up trying to persuade the People’s Party to renew their coalition.