Thursday

20th Feb 2020

Austrian minister quits over EU referendum clause

Austria's pro-European foreign minister Ursula Plassnik has refused to be part of the country's new governing coalition because it did not rule out future referendums on EU treaties.

"I was not ready to serve as an EU warranty or fig leaf for a government where some of its members do not distance themselves enough from a fruitless and energy consuming alliance with EU-critical forces," Ms Plassnik told Die Presse.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The minister's center-right OVP party formed a "grand coalition" with the populist Social-Democrats (SPO) at the weekend, following two months of talks that locked Austria's resurgent far-right factions out of power.

The new SPO chancellor, Werner Faymann, declined to insert a clause into the coalition pact guaranteeing that future EU treaties will be ratified through parliament instead of referendums, prompting Ms Plassnik's departure, she explained.

Instead, the coalition signed up to a "self-destruct clause" under which the two parties can seek EU-wide or national referendums by mutual agreement. In case of disagreement, the government would be dissolved.

The OVP and SPO both officially want the Lisbon treaty - which was ratified by the Austrian parliament in May - to come into force.

But in tendering her resignation, Ms Plassnik recalled that Mr Faymann and the then SPO chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer in July wrote a letter to Hans Dichand, the editor of the tabloid Krone newspaper, pleading for national referendums on EU affairs.

"Future changes on the EU treaty, which touch upon Austrian interest, should be decided through a referendum in Austria. The same applies to a possible EU accession of Turkey, which would overstrech, in our view, the current EU structures," they said, as part of the SPO election campaign.

"It is not about cutting 'the people' out. Mr Dichand [the editor of Krone] is not 'the people.' It is about explaining carefully and clearly the EU and its co-operation with Austria. The EU must not be chased as a scapegoat through the villages. This is false and brings Austria to a dead end. And Austria is no dead end country," Ms Plassnik told Kleine Zeitung.

A coalition cannot assume governing responsibilty and have an "official pro-EU line," but at the same time "enter a coalition with EU opponents," she added. "It shouldn't be the case that Austria becomes a risk country [in terms of future EU integration]."

The Austrian public is the most eurosceptic in the union - only 28 percent had a positive view of the EU in a June 2008 survey, the lowest among all 27 states.

The majority of Austrians also wanted a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, with 59 percent saying they wanted a popular vote in a Gallup poll in April 2008.

EU leaders face major clash on rule of law budget link

One major issue dividing member states in the ongoing budget negotiations is inserting a direct link between EU subsidies and the rule of law. While the biggest battle will be over figures, the rule of law conditionality also creates tension.

Analysis

Is Belgium heading for new elections?

Belgian coalition talks have hit a wall nine months after elections, posing the possibility of a new vote, which risks making the country even harder to govern.

Central Europe mayors join in direct EU funds plea

They call themselves the "Pact of Free Cities". The mayors of Budapest, Bratislava, Prague and Warsaw want EU funds to bypass their governments, in order to fight climate change and populism.

Analysis

German domestic turmoil prolongs EU leadership gap

A leadership contest is back on in German chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling CDU party - which could decide not only the centre-right's future but also Germany's European policy. Berlin has been absent from the EU and will likely remain so.

Salvini relishes possible migration 'kidnapping' trial

The Italian Senate will vote on Wednesday whether the far-right leader Matteo Salvini should be brought to court for 'kidnapping' 131 migrants last year, when as the interior minister he refused to allow them disembarking in an Italian port.

Analysis

EPP's Orban struggle exposes deeper mainstream dilemma

Europe's largest political alliance was once reformed to dominate EU politics and band together like-minded, but at times, very different parties. Now increasing political fragmentation in Europe seems to pull it apart.

Five new post-Brexit MEPs to watch

Five MEPs to keep an eye on from the 27 new members who are joining the European Parliament this week, following the UK's departure from the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  2. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us