JANA WENDT: Benita
Ferrero-Waldner, welcome to Dateline.
You have just recently
met with your fellow EU Foreign Ministers. Do you think that the mood
is changing in relation to the imposition of sanctions on your country.
WALDNER: I think I do. There is a first hole in the wall and I think this
is important. There were six of 14 member countries that clearly said
that they would think it is now absolutely time to lift the sanctions.
JANA WENDT: And where
does your problem lie, is it France?
Well, there is I think France, there is Belgium and there are
a few other countries that are still quite reluctant. I think it is impossible
to keep up these sanctions. They are unjustified, they are absolutely
exaggerated and Austria has never preached any law. We are still a state
of law and I think the community has to be a community of law, so you
Australians should know that.
JANA WENDT: Well,
you told your fellow foreign ministers that there was a limit to the amount
of time that your government could be patient about these sanctions. What
did you mean by that?
Well, we know how the population reacts. There is a great frustration
and a great bitterness in the Austrian population that does not understand
at all that we should be the scapegoat for the whole of Europe and therefore,
there is the idea that if, in the next European summit nothing happens,
there should be consultation of the population showing that once we are
clearly saying yes to the European Union, but second we also clearly say
yes to the lifting of the sanctions.
JANA WENDT: The sanctions
were originally imposed because of the inclusion of the Freedom Party
in your government coalition. The EU found it offensive. In view of that,
do you think it was a mistake to go into coalition with the Freedom Party.
I think it was a mistake to put the sanctions on to us, because this is
an absolutely legitimate government, according to legitimate legislation
and the Freedom Party, if one does like the party or not, it is a democratic
party based on the Austrian constitution.
JANA WENDT: What has
happened by going into coalition with them is that you`ve brought a functioning,
modern democracy into pariah status.
No. I must tell you, this was really a party thing that was imposed
on us and this was absolutely wrong, and now of course some of the 14s
now accept that this was wrong, of course now it is a matter of face saving.
JANA WENDT: You`re
saying face saving on the part of the EU?
JANA WENDT: There
is still no doubt though, that Mr Haider does not share in the principles
that the EU espouses, his xenophobia and what is regarded as his “ugly
rhetoric” is an embarrassment for your government, isn`t it?
Firstly, let me say Mr Haider is no more the head of the party.
He has resigned. Mrs Vice-Chancellor Riess-Passer is now head of the party.
It seems that everybody wants to ignore these facts. And I also have to
say, we are one of those countries where the most foreigners have taken
in most asylum-seekers. Why does nobody ever speak about that?
JANA WENDT: Mrs Riess-Passer
has said herself at a recent party congress that the Freedom Party is
still the party of Joerg Haider. That`s a very clear message, isn`t it?
Well, I think she cannot change around from today to tomorrow
completely, but it`s clear that the Freedom Party with Mrs Riess-Passer
is clearly sticking to the government program and the government program
is a pro-European and non-xenophobic, a tolerant program is a continuation
of the Austrian tradition.
JANA WENDT: But even
since Mr Haider has withdrawn from the leadership of the party, he has
been extremely outspoken. He has for instance suggested that Austria withhold
its dues from the EU, that perhaps it even withdraws from the EU. He`s
not really retreating is he, Minister?
I think that he has retreated, but nobody wants to see that. He is now
a normal member of the Freedom Party, and you know, we are a country where
everybody can say what he thinks. That is democracy too.
JANA WENDT: But are
you really suggesting that the man who turned around the fortunes of this
party, who led it to victory and to government after all, is no longer
a significant voice in that party?
Yes, this is exactly what I am saying.
JANA WENDT: Do you
expect us to take that seriously?
Yes, because the Vice-Chancellor is now the new leader of this
party. Why don`t you see these signals.
JANA WENDT: Well,
Mr Haider hasn`t held fire as far as you, yourself is concerned. He has
recently attacked what he saw as your weak attitude in relation to the
EU by likening you to a child who has been made to stand in a corner.
Now, how is he able to get away with that? He is a coalition member after
Let me say, I get a lot of critics from other people too, but that does
not mean that I would change my life, and that`s exactly what I am doing.
I am going on if Mr Haider says something against or for me.
JANA WENDT: But Minister,
isn`t this situation slightly different. Mr Haider is a former leader
and a significant member of your coalition party. Now, isn`t it significant
that he should attack you in this way?
Well, I can only tell you he has resigned. What more do you want?
Normally, if a politician resigns in a special function, I don`t really
listen to that.
JANA WENDT: I suppose
the problem remains for those EU states who are still resisting the dropping
of sanctions, that they are sceptical that Mr Haider has changed his views
or withdrawn at all. Do you think there is a possibility that he is still
a force in the Freedom Party?
Well, I can tell you, I think you see the problem completely wrong.
I think the 14 member states have taken also these sanctions because they
themselves have problems in their own countries and they take Austria
as a scapegoat. I think they have really boosted Mr Haider`s importance
and I have always said this was completely wrong.
JANA WENDT: Do you
subscribe to that view then, that sanctions actually play into Mr Haider`s
I think they play especially into the hands of those in Austria and that
is the population in principle that now would like to be more bitter,
harder and tougher and I think this is wrong. For that reason, I have
also appealed to my counterparts to say “Don`t you see the damage you
are doing, not only to Austria, but to the European Union as a whole,
especially in a moment when we want to enlarge and when we also have to
take a deep reform of the Union, that is the real problem.
JANA WENDT: Okay,
Minister. You say that Mr Haider has withdrawn from the Freedom Party,
that gives you some freedom doesn`t it to tell me what you think about
his statements and his political stand.
I can tell you I`ve very often said that a few of his comments
were absolutely unacceptable, but at the same time, I also have to say
and indeed I try to be objective and fair, that he also has apologised
for many of them.
JANA WENDT: Do you
take those apologies seriously?
Yes, I do.
JANA WENDT: Minister,
can I switch to another issue altogether, that has come to our attention?
Did your government withdraw funding from a commemorative event at the
site of the Mauthausen concentration camp that took place on Sunday?
No, no. On the contrary, this funding and the whole Mauthausen
concert took place..it only took place in a different way, because, as
you know, we are having a great budget deficit coming from the old government
and this has to be tackled as the European Union said now very recently,
two days ago, so we have to do everything in a slightly less expensive
way. But, the concert took place and by the way, the concert took place
without any government member, which I also think was not correct.
JANA WENDT: You were
simply not invited, that`s the case isn`t it?
Well, exactly, and we paid for it.
JANA WENDT: Okay,
the organisers claim that the project which had been planned for five
years had a substantial amount of funding withdrawn by the government
just two weeks before that event. Does that send an awkward signal, do
No, not at all, because the event took place in a very nice way
and I think it`s a matter of how you do things, the quality is important,
not the quantity of money you put into that.
JANA WENDT: Alright,
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, we must leave it there, but we appreciate your