Austria and the EU Sanctions

In February 2000 a very unusual political drama unfolded in Austria.  The newly elected federal government, led by the reformist People’s Party politician Wolfgang Schüssel, was placed under diplomatic sanctions by the European Union and ostracised from meetings of the European Council.  The trigger for this unprecedented demarche was the denunciation, behind closed doors, of his own government by Austria’s president, Thomas Klestil. 

Klestil was deeply opposed to the inclusion in the coalition of Joerg Haider’s Freedom Party.  The Austrian Freedom Party was a right-of-centre party which since 1956 had been a regular coalition partner of the Social Democratic Party, the main left-of-centre party, at the level of local and regional government.  Indeed, the FPO owed much to the SDP, which decades earlier had arranged for the Austrian Ministry of the Interior to provide it with state funding.  Schüssel’s sin, it appeared, had been to trump the Social Democrats at their own game.

The French president, Jacques Chirac, led an aggressive campaign of public vilification of the Austrian government.  Notwithstanding the stance adopted by France, it soon became apparent that the sanctions against Austria were unworkable and politically embarrassing to the EU.   WorldPR was deeply involved involved in developing the strategy to resolve this impasse and executing the campaign that resulted in the complete lifting of the EU’s sanctions against Austria.

Working closely with Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the Austrian foreign minister, a diplomatic tour of the key European capitals, including London, Paris and Madrid, was quickly organised.   A thoughtful and carefully researched paper looking into Austria’s political history and impressive social achievements since the Second World War was distributed in multiple languages to key audiences throughout Europe.  Meanwhile, a committee of external experts was assembled to provide a balanced and unjaundiced view of Austrian political affairs.   The three experts, Professor Jochen Frowein, the director of the Max Planck Institute in Germany, Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland, and Marcelino Oreja, a former Spanish government minister, gave the Schüssel government high marks for taking concrete steps to fight racism, xenophobia and anti-semitism.

The committee issued their clean bill of health and on 12th September 2000 the EU lifted all sanctions against Austria.

The European Union Lifts Sanctions Against Austria, The New York Times, 12th September 2000